In the modern world of job searching, finding a position that is a good match has more to do with company culture than any other factor. However, many job seekers don’t know what to look for when trying to determine the workplace culture. Some things are obvious, such as the physical aspects of the work environment – for example, many introverts are not comfortable working in an “open office” design, where there is very little separation from one person’s workspace to another. However, how can you gauge the real flavor of the office during the interview phase?
One of the biggest indicators of a company culture falls back into the importance of diversity.
Defining workplace diversity
According to BusinessDictionary.com, diversity is defined as “similarities and differences among employees in terms of age, cultural background, physical abilities and disabilities, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation.” (Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/workforce-diversity.html#ixzz3teUk7q1G)
When interviewing with a company, take note on if they have a diverse workforce. Smart companies understand that it can take an extra effort to hire a diverse workforce, but it also helps them gain a competitive advantage as the company’s culture becomes more flexible thanks to the diverse points of view.
Diversity of thought
There is another aspect of diversity that is not as readily apparent as the outward physical characteristics. This is the “diversity of thought,” which reflects how the employees actually think and approach their work. For a real forward-thinking company, it is necessary to employ people who actually offer different perspectives in how to solve problems or to apply their area of expertise.
For example, in one of my past roles, I provided the recruitment for a small business in the Denver area. The original founders of the company were brilliant engineers, who also happened to be some of the most introverted people I had ever met. When it came time to hire new employees, they heavily favored candidates just like them, regardless of the role. They valued an engineering background above all other qualities, having convinced themselves that their products were so technically complex that only engineers could properly represent what they were manufacturing.
However, problems quickly arose once the company tried to expand. They hired several Sales Engineers – again, emphasizing the engineering aspect. Unfortunately, they failed to understand that they really needed smart SALES people who could be trained in the technical benefits of their products. The core problem here is that people who are drawn to sales usually have an entirely different set of soft skills and personality traits than engineers. By only hiring engineers, their sales continued to slump to the point that the company struggled to survive.
Diversity of roles
Another common problem that a company may face is hiring too many managers. While many people know about the challenges of large companies generating a wide base of middle-level managers, this issue can impact small companies as well.
For example, another small company that I worked with had 70% of their workforce with the phrase Manager, Director, or Vice President in their title. Out of all 10 employees, only 3 of them were actual “boots on the ground” employees, performing the day-to-day work of the company. Even when the company decided to expand their operations, they hired another Vice President rather than a team of employees to provide the heavy lifting to get the new venture off the ground and profitable.
When interviewing with a new potential employer, be sure to ask about their company structure and how many managers would be in place over you. If the company is extremely top-heavy, it could be an indicator of problems to come.
Finally, take note of how well a company actually implements their diversity programs. Some companies may make a real effort to hire diverse teams, yet struggle to retain those same staff members. Rarely is this because of blatant racism or other discriminatory actions, but more of a case of just not thinking about things from the other person’s point-of-view.
For example, with one of my past positions, I had a wonderful assistant who just happened to be Jewish. On December 1st, the owner of the company told her she had to put up all of the Christmas decorations for the office. Of course, she wasn’t very pleased with this directive; however, she did as she was asked.
The real problem started when the owner came by to review her work and proceeded to complain loudly that the decorations weren’t done correctly. My assistant defended her ground, pointing out that she had never put up a Christmas tree before and really didn’t understand what this was all about.
I almost lost my outstanding assistant that day, as she was ready to walk off of the job based on the insensitivity of the owner. In the end, I finished the decorations because keeping her on my team was critical to our long-term success.
Knowing where you fit
Diversity can be a great indicator of the workplace culture for any job. Along those lines, it’s important to define what you are looking for in an employer. Do you want a loud, fast-paced collaborative environment where you can bounce a lot of ideas between team members? Or do you favor a quiet workplace where you can concentrate on your tasks with little interruption? Are you driven to meet new people or do you prefer to work alone?
By defining the elements of company culture that appeal to you the most, you are more likely to identify the opportunity when it comes along. And remember, diversity in all of its forms can be one of the best subtle and covert ways to gauge company culture during the interview process.