Understanding the “culture” of a company

Nancy Anderson
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One of the most important decisions you can make when deciding which company to work for is deciding whether the company’s culture is right for you.

If you were ever a member of a fraternity or sorority in college, you might have experienced this feeling of “culture.” Deciding which company to work for is kind of like deciding which fraternity or sorority to join – each house (or company) has a certain personality and feel to it; you might get along better with some people than others, for reasons that you can’t totally explain.

Each company has its own unique culture. I never fully understood what this meant until I’d been out in the work world for a few years, but it’s true. Every company has its own specific values, common goals, shared assumptions, and ingrained ways of doing things – this is what we mean by “culture” when we talk about a company. (And big organizations have many different cultures within them – the Legal department works differently than the Printing department, which is also culturally different from the I.T. team, Customer Service or Tech Support centers.)

It might sound hard to believe that a company employing thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of people could actually impart a unique culture that all those people have in common. But I think it’s true. The best companies find ways to create a certain shared understanding among all of their employees: “This is what our company stands for, this is our mission, and this is our way of doing things.”

There is still room for individual creativity and variation within a company culture, but the culture provides certain guideposts. Here are a few tips to help you evaluate company cultures and decide whether a particular company is the kind of place where you want to work:


  • Language: How do people talk about their work? Do they use a lot of corporate jargon, or are they more down to earth? Do people use technical terminology, sarcasm, swear words?


  • Demographics: How diverse is the company? Is it mostly men, mostly women, mostly white or more ethnically diverse? Are there people of all ages, or is the company mostly made up of one generation (Baby Boomers, Gen X or Millenials)? Diversity is a huge factor in deciding whether a company is a good place to work; if you don’t feel that there are many people like you at the company, then you probably won’t feel comfortable or successful there.


  • Work styles: Do people go out for long, sociable team lunches, or do people eat brown bag lunches by themselves at their desks? Can people keep their own flexible schedules, or does everyone show up right at 8 a.m.? Do people punch out at 5:30 or burn the midnight oil? If you can get a sense for the work schedules and preferred styles of working, this will help you understand the company culture and decide whether you want to be part of it.


  • Personalities: What do you think of the people you meet at this company? How do people dress? Do people seem engaging, personable, humorous, creative, sarcastic, reserved, or aggressive? Are you interested in learning more about the people you meet? If this company was a cocktail party, would you want to stay longer or find an excuse to leave early?

Company culture can be complex and hard to define, but it’s one of the major factors in determining whether you’re a good fit for a job and whether you’ll be happy at work. Give some thought to finding out more about the company’s culture before you accept a job offer – and if you’ve been at a job for a year or two and are starting to feel uncomfortable or isolated, the company’s culture might be to blame.

Ben Gran is a freelance writer and marketing consultant based in Des Moines, Iowa. He is an award-winning blogger who loves to write about careers and the future of work.

Find logistics job listings – in all sorts of company cultures – at http://www.logisticsjobsite.com/


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