10 steps to your ideal tech company culture


Company culture can be hard to define, but determining if you’ll actually be happy and successful at a company can be even trickier.

That’s why we recently partnered with PowerToFly to host a webinar on all things culture fit, featuring insights from tech leaders at Elpha, a community for women in tech, and The Zebra, a search engine for auto insurance.

Based on our experience building and fostering great company cultures from scratch, we’ve rounded up the best advice for figuring out which organizations are truly inclusive and diverse, and finding a company culture that lets you thrive.

How to determine what “good culture” means for you

You can’t find the right culture fit unless you first come up with your ideal company culture—including everything from your preferred office environment to your personal work style and the types of people you enjoy working with the most.

Reflect on your personal priorities and values

Determining your core values is the very first step, including what you want your day-to-day interactions with your coworkers, managers and other departments to look like. Think about what you consider to be fulfilling work and prioritize which things would make you happiest on a daily basis, whether that’s having a flexible schedule, working on intellectually stimulating projects or developing apps used by thousands of people.

Your motivations, goals and values often change over time, so reflecting on them can also help you decide if it’s time to make a career move.

Identify the personalities you enjoy working with the most

Studies show that if you like your coworkers, you’re not just more likely to enjoy your job, you’re more likely to be satisfied with life overall. That’s why it’s important to think carefully about the personalities you mesh well with.

Do you prefer your coworkers to be professional, methodical and organized? Or do you enjoy working with people who are energetic and innovative with a good sense of humor? If you like working alongside people who love routine, for example, you might not get along with a team that relies on instinct, rather than formal guidelines.

Think about your deal breakers

According to Cadran Cowansage, Co-founder & CEO of Elpha, it’s important to “know where you are willing to compromise, and where you aren’t.” For example, if fast-paced work is important to you, a company that moves slowly probably won’t be a great fit.

Take Katharine Zaleski, Co-founder & President of PowerToFly’s deal breaker: “If I were at a company that didn’t let me be transparent about the work we were doing, I wouldn’t be able to survive there.”

How to research if a company is the right culture fit

After establishing what “good culture” means for you, it’s time to see if the company reflects that—which you can do before you even step foot in the office.

Pay close attention to the job description

At Elpha, Cowansage has built a company culture where people feel comfortable and safe expressing different viewpoints. She seeks diverse candidates to foster this culture by making sure Elpha’s job descriptions include welcoming language. Plus, she doesn’t include any job requirements that aren’t actually required.

Another telling sign of a diverse work culture is how welcoming the company is to people with non-traditional backgrounds. If the job description lists an engineering degree as part of their must-haves, its culture might be very different than companies like Elpha and The Zebra that give people from all backgrounds the opportunity to be part of the interview process.

Conduct reverse reference checks

The best way to get candid information about a company’s true culture is by talking to real people who currently work at the company, known as “reverse references.” The simplest way to find a reverse reference is by reaching out to employees via LinkedIn and asking for a quick informational phone call or chat over coffee.

Make sure you choose someone on the team you’re interested in working for (not an HR person, for example), since this will give you a better, more realistic idea of the day-to-day work experience. Consider asking questions like:

  • What’s a typical workday like on your team?
  • What’s the management style at the company?
  • When was the last time you took a vacation?
  • What kinds of opportunities for career advancement are there?
  • What do you find to be most fulfilling about working here?
  • What would you think would be the biggest challenge coming in?

Sending a cold message can be nerve-wracking, but it’s actually a win-win. A lot of companies offer referral bonuses to their employees, so they’re incentivized to meet with people like you. Plus, you’ll get the chance to make meaningful connections in your industry—and possibly even get referred to your ideal role.

Check online reviews

Reading reviews directly from current and former employees can give you an overall sense of the company culture and help you evaluate if it aligns with your personal and professional goals and values.

Do some investigating on Indeed Company Reviews to find insights from real employees. There, you’ll get intel on everything from work-life balance to management styles you can expect to encounter to the pros and cons of working at the company.

What to look for during the hiring and interview process

Companies aren’t just interviewing you—you’re interviewing them, too. Here are a few things you should look for (and ask about) during the hiring and interview process to make sure the company is a good fit for you:

Language cues and buzzwords

Start by asking the hiring manager about the company’s values. Manijeh Noori, VP of Engineering at The Zebra, says that buzzwords like “we’re all a big family” and “work hard, play hard” are often red flags. That’s because they don’t say anything about daily interactions at the company and blur the boundaries between work and personal life.

Instead, Noori suggests looking for words that describe real, day-to-day interactions:

“The culture is going to change. And so if you’re asking them what they value and what’s important to them, then at least you can be a little more confident that the culture is going to change, but it’s always going to revolve around collaboration, and compassion, and low ego [or] whatever you’re looking for.”

Comfort level talking about diversity

If diversity matters to you, according to Cowansage, you should ask the company why diversity matters to them. Look for authentic responses that are specific to the company and show that they’ve thought carefully about diversity and inclusivity. It’s a good sign if they can articulate their approach to building a more diverse culture—but it’s usually a major red flag if their answer seems canned or if they’re uncomfortable with the topic.

How (and when) they interact with you

The behavior of the people interviewing you can be very telling of the culture. “Are they responsive to you in a way that seems human?” says Zaleski.

It’s also important to pay attention to emails you receive from HR and the hiring manager during the hiring process. What kind of language do they use? For example, emojis can signal a laid-back culture, while highly professional language might mean a more formal workplace.

Do you get emails later in the day or on the weekend? This can reveal a lot about the company’s work-life balance. (Keep in mind that this isn’t always reflective of the culture since recruiters can have a different schedule than engineering and a hiring manager can work late without expecting you to.)

Budget for cultural initiatives

Another way to gauge a company’s culture is by asking about cultural initiatives, such as employee resource groups (ERGs). ERGs are employee-led groups that foster a sense of belonging, build community and advocate for more inclusive workplaces. For example, The Zebra has groups like Affinity, which supports minorities and The Shebras, which supports women.

Ask if the company facilitates the creation of these types of groups and if there’s a budget for creating new ones. This will show you if diversity and inclusion is truly part of the company’s DNA, or if it’s just a small (or even nonexistent) part of life there.

Discover your ideal workplace culture (in just two minutes)

With an understanding of your core values, and armed with the right questions and tools to help you identify red flags and determine if a company is the right fit, you’re well on your way to landing your dream job.

Want to learn even more about your ideal company culture? Sign up for Seen to take our exclusive Work Style Assessment. In just two minutes, you’ll get an amazingly accurate summary of your personality. Plus, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the work style, office environment and company culture that matches your unique personality, values and preferences.

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