Discovering your career

Career Center Confidential: What Is Company Culture?

And why should I care about the company structure?

Webster and Google provide some great technical definitions. See also LinkedIn, Forbes, and every other content space that focuses on business and career. However, my definition looks a little different. I teach my students that it is important to deconstruct the world around you, especially for minority populations that are often excluded from the creation and definitions of language. For me, company culture is the environment created by people in a company, business, institution, or organization that helps or hinders productivity and learning. Company structure, on the other hand, details the legal operation of a company or organization.

While culture and structure seem like drastically different aspects of career, they are not mutually exclusive. A terrible company culture can render a structure useless. Likewise, a company that is poorly structured can make it very difficult to establish a healthy company culture. Your goal is to find a company that speaks to both aspects. Below are several tips to gaining insight into a company’s culture and structure.

Culture

  • You’ve heard that employers will visit your social media (not just LinkedIn). You can visit your potential employers’ social media as well! The job descriptions or the interview will show you your direct reports or potential coworkers.
  • Read the mission, vision, and purpose/values of the company. If you prefer a company that also supports a cause of which you are passionate, those are places to find that information.
  • Check the reviews! There is a bit of a learning curve when reading reviews, but you can often get a great sense of the company, good or bad, just by those reviews. Also, look for the employer’s responses to negative feedback.

Structure

  • Search for an organizational chart of the company to get an idea of the flow of information. You would be surprised at how complicated they can be.
  • See if the company has a foundation or nonprofit “arm”. Some of the larger companies have a separate entity that is designed to support social causes.
  • Read the job description. A good job description includes more than job duties. It can include direct reports and other details about the company.

A mix of the two

  • Culture & Structure: Interviews are great places to find out about the company culture and structure. After you’ve researched the company, you can ask the question directly, “how would you describe your company culture?”

It is important to remember that the job to which we apply, the company for whom we work, and the people with whom we work are not going to be perfect. There will be times where a colleague that you typically work well with is getting on your nerves. There will be miscommunication or added work that can make the experience more frustrating. That’s ok. Your focus is to bring your best self to any environment and when you can’t, be honest and put in the work to learn, heal, recover, and try again.

About the author: Ian Houston is the Associate Director of Career Development at the University of West Georgia.

Check out more tips from career center professionals in our on-going series, Career Center Confidential.

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