Understanding Company Culture

Posted: January 15, 2022

What does “company culture” mean to you? And how does (or should) it influence your job search? For this week’s blog, we sat down with Senior CSE student, Aastha Gupta, to hear her perspective on understanding company culture before (and during) the interview. 

Question: When you hear the term “company culture” what does that mean to you? 

Company culture to me means how people at the company treat each other in a professional environment. It means communication methods, acceptance (or not) of diverse groups, and friendship! 

Question: When you were looking for co-ops and as you consider full-time jobs, what are you looking for in a company regarding its culture? 

Something that I have looked for in the past and continue to look for in company culture is acceptance. Whether that means being accepting of different cultures, sexualities, or ideas, I think an accepting company culture should be the cornerstone of every company. An accepting environment makes me feel more comfortable bringing my full self to work every day, especially as a woman where I am represented by only 30% of the population in my field of computer science. The last thing I want to do is be someone who I am not 40 hours per week at my job, so an accepting company culture is big for me! I also look for generally lax environments that are sympathetic. I personally do not want to be working at a job where deadlines and the job itself are an end-all-be-all. Obviously, your work is important, but I want my company to recognize that I do have a life outside the job and that they should respect that! If a company doesn't recognize that boundary, then that's a HUGE red flag for me! 

Question: What research have you done during the job search into companies to try to learn more about what their culture is like? 

My absolute favorite way to get insight into company culture is anecdotes from peers. While anecdotes from recruiters/older employees is still great, I find that peers are always the most honest with me and not afraid to talk about what they don't like/what the company could work on rather than just keeping the conversation to the positives. You can find candid anecdotes like those on Glassdoor, Handshake, and by meeting with friends/professional connections that have worked at the company in question. Even somewhere like Reddit can talk about company culture if you're looking in the right places! 

Question: Are there any questions you have asked during an interview to try to understand culture better? Or that you wished you had asked and plan to in the future? 

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started, the best way that I have found to get insight into company culture is to ask how the company has handled the pandemic. You can ask things like "what did [insert company here] change to accommodate for the pandemic?" and "besides adding work-from-home options, has [insert company here] provided any other sort of assistance to help with the stress of the pandemic? Whether that be flextime, financial assistance, mental health resources, physical health resources, virtual socials, etc.?" Depending on the answer, you'll be able to tell if the company is sympathetic and understanding about these trying times, or if they just care about output at the end of the day. I also love to ask the question "does [insert company here] encourage relationships with work friends outside of work or do anything to foster those relationships?" I think this question lends itself well to answers about company socials, fostering an open and welcoming environment to allow for cross-functionality between teams, and communication. 

Question: Anything else you want to comment on regarding this topic? 

I don't know if this fits into company culture necessarily, but I like to ask about dress code (for non-manufacturing environments). I think that also hints at company culture. Companies that are cool with jeans and a blouse/polo tend to be a lot more chill in my experience. I like business casual as a happy medium between a fun & friendly environment and a professional environment. 

Now that Aastha has shared what she thinks about and looks for during the job search, we encourage you to consider your priorities and what type of environment you hope to work in.   

“A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms.” — Ed Catmull, President of Pixar