Tips to Figure Out Workplace Culture

There are ways to suss out a company culture before saying “yes” to the role!
Sarah Si
Sarah Si
Editor, gradsingapore
Tips to Figure Out Workplace Culture-featured image

There’s almost nothing worse than starting your new job to find that the organisation’s personality and character don’t align with your values and expectations. If your company’s workplace culture isn’t something that you can fit into, you’ll quickly find yourself enduring low job fulfilment, or even struggling to perform. But if you’re a good match, you can enjoy job satisfaction, and even develop yourself both professionally and personally.

Sussing out workplace culture over the relatively short recruitment process is not an easy undertaking. In fact, in the annual Singapore 100 Leading Graduate Employers Survey 2021 conducted by GTI Media Singapore (S100 Survey), 39% of respondents even stated that getting information about workplace culture was the most difficult thing to get about a prospective company. So, to get around it, you’ll have to intentionally go out of your way to figure out whether it’s a match for you during, and even before, your interview.

Before taking the plunge, follow these tips to help you understand the culture of your prospective company before you sign on the dotted line!

Do your research

The best place to start your research is to take a good look at the company’s website. Take a good look at the language used in their Mission and Vision, and see what you can infer from it. For example, the use of the word “innovative” hints at a culture open to creative ideas and forward-thinking. Even photos on the company website can give you a peek into the culture there! Team photos are a good indicator of a culture of diversity and inclusivity, and if the same is true of photos of the management team, so much the better.

Job descriptions and other external sites that host reviews and opinions of your prospective company are other avenues of research as well. But as you go about your research, you’ll inevitably come across both positive and negative aspects of the organisation. The words “ability to meet deadlines” in a job description may mean no work-life balance, for example. But don’t let this bother you! Everyone has different values and expectations of a company and role, so you shouldn’t just base your assumptions on the last source you took a peek at.

Tips to Figure Out Workplace Culture - 01_V1_Company website

Be early on the day of your interview…and discreetly snoop

Even though companies are still holding video interviews, most will ask you to go physically to the office for at least one interview. This is the time to take the chance and unobtrusively observe office life!

Although this isn’t exactly a foolproof way to ascertain workplace culture for yourself (especially as not all employees will be physically there), you’ll be able to see how happy (or unhappy) those present are. If the office is too quiet, it may indicate a culture of overwork, as everyone is too busy trying to meet short deadlines. Similarly, if employees walk past each other without greetings, it could be because the work environment is unfriendly. Your observations alone may not make or break your decision, but at least you’ll have a reference to turn to later!

Tips to Figure Out Workplace Culture - 02_V1_Environment

Ask questions during your interview

Near the tail end of your interview, you’ll most likely get the question, “Do you have any questions for me?” This is your chance to ask about the company workplace culture! Take note, though, that the key to asking about workplace culture is to ask indirectly.

In other words, avoid asking questions that’ll get you “yes” or “no” answers, and instead ask after daily tasks. How teams communicate with each other is another talking point, as is work from home policies, especially if the initiatives are to continue post-COVID-19. The answers you get here may be on the open-ended side, but you’ll be able to see how healthy (or unhealthy) a company workplace culture is!

Tips to Figure Out Workplace Culture - 03_V1_Questions

Read between the lines

The way in which your questions are answered is just as important as the questions you ask. Take note of your recruiter’s body language when they answer. Are their arms crossed to show that they’re on the defensive? Or do their answers sound like they’re being reluctantly dragged out? Do the answers sound rehearsed, much like your recruiter is trying to hide something?

Take note to pay closer attention to what’s being emphasised, too. For instance, if an answer sounds like, “We allow employees to wear jeans and shirts to the office on weekends”, you’re either looking at a bad joke, or a workplace culture of overwork.

Tips to Figure Out Workplace Culture - 04_V1_Decode Interviewer

Although these tips can help you figure out what the workplace culture at your prospective company is like, they're not exhaustive. Don't take it too hard if you misjudged the company's environment. There are other elements to job satisfaction, and you may still end up enjoying your time working at the company.