Keep Your Radar up to Assess Cultural Fit

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If the Job Fits

Five questions you should ask before accepting your next IT job.

When I worked at MSNBC, people often wore shorts and flip-flops. Some people brought their dogs to work.


That's in stark contrast to Rob Enderle's description of 1980s IBM, where a man was called on the carpet and accused of being a rebel for wearing a pastel blue dress shirt, rather than a white one. (That's interesting in light of Swiss bank UBS AG's newly-released 43-page manual for employees on how to dress to impress. My favorite tip for men: Black knee-high socks are preferable as they prevent showing bare skin when crossing legs.)


I also once was hired for a website editing job, but every change had to go through the editor in chief. I couldn't even add or delete a comma without her approval. On the third day, I quit.


My colleague Ann All wrote yesterday about how costly bad hiring decisions can be, citing examples of the interview process at Zappos where cultural fit plays a major role. I also saw a piece on Business Insider by Charlie O'Donnell, an entrepreneur-in-residence at First Round Capital, on the importance for startups to build a great company culture as a means to attract top talent.


But for job candidates, it can be tough to assess whether you and the prospective company are a good match. Seeing people in shorts with dogs provides some clues to the casual nature of the workplace, but it's more difficult to discern issues such as whether the internal politics will actually allow you to succeed.


In a Washington Post piece, Aspire! career coach Randi Bussin says of company culture:

Culture is important because it can affect you in many ways-the hours you work, the availability of flextime and telecommuting, how people interact, dress, employee benefits, office layout, training and professional development. As you can see, culture affects just about everything that relates to your work.

She says it's important to start by assessing what you want in a job. Then ask pointed questions during the interview and networking interviews. (You can find current employees on LinkedIn and other professional sites.) Bussin suggests asking questions such as these:


  • What three words or phrases would best describe the company/department culture?
  • Does the company have a stated set of cultural values?
  • Can you describe the environment here?
  • What is the company's attitude toward educational and professional development?
  • What types of employee achievements are recognized?


Then by walking around, take note: Do employees look happy? Does the office layout promote collaboration? For IT folks, another tell-tale sign is to look at the equipment. Is it up-to-date or are people still using TRS-80s?


Interviewers may be assessing you on everything from whether you have visible tattoos to your interactions with the receptionist or van driver back to the hotel. You should be doing likewise.