While you should explicitly explore corporate culture during the interview process, knowing something about it beforehand can help you interview. Learn how.
During the interview process it’s important to make sure you understand and align with the corporate culture–and that the corporate culture aligns to you. (If you want to learn how, see Not Sure How to Ask about Corporate Culture during an Interview? Blame Me.) Oftentimes you want to know something about the culture before you walk in the door (virtual though it be in some cases).
Having a sense of the culture before you begin can help you during the interview process. Aligning to the dress code is an obvious benefit. Knowing how formal or casual to be in your demeanor during the interview process can increase the chances of a fit. Are jokes ok during the interview process? Even helpful? Are people the type to get down to business, or is it a culture where everyone is friendly with co-workers, and they want someone who will fit into that?
If you know someone who works there, the answer is easy: ask them. Of course, even that isn’t without limitations. In a company of twelve people, there’s likely one single company culture. In a company of twelve thousand, or even twelve hundred, don’t assume there’s one standard culture throughout the company. In the TV show The Office, the upstairs workers under Michael Scott and the warehouse workers under Darryl Philbin had different workplace cultures. If your contact is in a different team or physical office, make sure they can speak about the culture of the group you’re potentially joining.
Since most of us don’t have a contact at the hiring company, we’ll need other techniques. It starts with the company’s website and media. Look at the pictures and videos of the office. How are they dressed? What's the body language of the people? Obviously posed photos aren’t as true to the in-office culture (similarly attire worn when doing the volunteer day at the park cleanup is not necessarily the office dress code).
What about the tone and style on the website? Is it formal? Fun? High energy? Academic? Focus on the corporate website and not the website for the product lines, as we’ll discuss below.
Continue with social media. Start with Linkedin since that tends to mirror the corporate side of companies. Looking at others, like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, can be insightful, but again, be cautious. A specific brand’s social media (or website) may have a tone appropriate to the customers, which may differ from the internal corporate culture. There are plenty of brands being snarky on social media; I wouldn’t recommend snark in an interview (unless you’re trying to be the social media manager for that brand).
Look at people on the team as well, the hiring manager and your potential peers. What are they posting on Linkedin? How about their professional talks and writing? If you see them doing a conference talk on YouTube and being very casual, it’s probably (but not guaranteed to be) not that different from how they are in the office. The other social media (not Linkedin) shouldn’t be used because how someone is on social media may be different from how they are on in the office. Even then, their LinkedIn style might be more formal or generic, just to be safe, even if their current employer is more lax. In general, be cautious when assuming an individual’s persona online is the same as in person. The audiences are inherently different.
A good rule of thumb is always to be slightly more conservative than the interview team.
When you are in the interview process and think you have a sense of the culture, go slow. Again, you can use the questions referenced at the start of this article to explicitly learn about the company and team culture. But as you try to match the style, go slow, and look for the reaction. Don’t just start cracking jokes because you heard them make one or they said they like humor.
A good rule of thumb is always to be slightly more conservative than the interview team. If they’re in t-shirts and sneakers, wear a polo or and dress shoes. If they’re in polos, wear a button down. Bring out your suit if they’re in button down shirts. (Sorry if those references are a bit male oriented–I’m not as current on the formality range of women’s office wear.) If they joke around a lot, joke around a little. If they are formal, be slightly more formal. On whatever the spectrum, be slightly more conservative.
Finally, don’t overthink this. It’s not a perfect science. When in doubt, stay slightly more conservative and you should be fine.
A key, although often overlooked, part of the interview process is understanding the office culture. Knowing a little about it as you begin the process can help you better align and connect throughout it. Investigating ahead of time and staying slightly more conversative is a good way to take a step in the right direction without overstepping.
It’s critical to learn about corporate culture before you accept a job offer but it can be awkward to raise such questions. Learn what to ask and how to ask it to avoid landing yourself in a bad situation.