When it comes to company culture, people often assume there is a distinction between large corporate environments and start-up cultures.


Do you tend to automatically assume large corporations have a static and / or outdated workplace culture? This stands to reason. Their sheer size suggests that change would be difficult to implement (although COVID-19 has shown us that it doesn’t have to be). What’s more, getting it wrong comes at a greater cost, which can make risk averse leaders more nervous then they should be.

It’s also easy to assume that start-ups are small, agile, and more inclined to restructure. However, let’s not forget that we once assumed that start-ups wouldn’t or couldn’t go global (and oh, how mistaken we were!).

All this to say that assumptions and stereotypes often fall short. Corporate environments can have static and rigid management and start-ups can be unstable. In saying this, the reverse is also true. With that in mind, it’s no wonder determining cultural fit can be so difficult for candidates during their job search. Defined as a set of shared values, goals, attitudes and practices that characterise an organisation, a company culture is what impacts how you work and interact with others. It influences whether you want you to strive or do what’s expected of you, no less, no more.

So, when considering a job offer, how can you make a more accurate assessment of its workplace culture? And how can you tell if it’s likely to match your needs and wants?

Let’s find out…


Defining what’s important for you

First and foremost, it is paramount for you to know and / or figure out what’s important for you to be and do your best at work. Now is the time to determine what makes you feel motivated at work and what kind of environment will suit you best

For some people, anything less than a formal office environment would feel strange. A strict dress code, long lists of policies as well as a silent office space might be what you need to feel safe, secure and productive… However, if you prefer a slightly more casual culture, with flexible hours and a relaxed dress code, then make sure you pick the right organisation as the outcome won’t be the same

To do so, it is important that you ask yourself the right questions:


– What is important for you at work?
How do you prefer work relationships to be? Do you prefer being casual with your manager? Being able to work flexible hours? Not wearing ties? Having a clear managerial hierarchy enabling you to know where you stand?


– How do you like to collaborate with others?
In meetings in closed boardrooms? During spontaneous catch-ups in the middle of the kitchen? Over coffee?


– How much do you like getting to know your colleagues?
Do you prefer clear boundaries between your work and private life? Are you happy to be more open with the people you work with? Do you like eating on your own or do you prefer sharing with your team members?


– Are you after a high salary or are you willing to compromise on this for better benefits?


– Is the office an important place for you or would you be happy to work for a company that has decided to make remote working permanent?


Every workplace is different and like a lot of things in life, you might not be able to tick all of your boxes. Yet, knowing what matters to you, what your values are and what makes you get up in the morning is essential in knowing what types of company culture work best for you.


Assessing a company culture prior to being hired

With strong employer branding strategies as well as social media, it is much easier for businesses to sell the dream as well as exaggerate benefits to attract top talent. However, it’s important to remember that company culture goes much deeper than what’s visible on the surface or what is shared publicly.

With that in mind, how can one properly determine a company’s culture?  


During the interview

Recruiters use the interview process to determine if you’ll be a good fit, so why not use this opportunity to do the same? Stumped for ideas? Here are a few you may consider:


– Do you have flexible working arrangements?

– What was organised last year for Christmas or the End of Financial Year celebration?

– Is giving back important for your organisation? Do you have a CSR strategy in place?

– How is the office space structured?

– Do you do pulse surveys? If yes, how often? Could you give me an example of a piece of feedback you captured through one of your surveys, which you then acted on?

– How would you qualify the company culture in 1 word?

– Why do you work here? What makes you stay?

– If working from home: how do you ensure your employees stay engaged? What has the business put in place?


Want to find out more post interviews? Ask employees!

Who better than current or past employees to give you honest feedback on how it really feels to work for the organisation?

On LinkedIn, it has never been easier to see who works where and does what. Once you’ve selected the company and landed on their LinkedIn page, go to their “People”  section and filter employees by department, role and / or location. 

Treat this as a reference check of sorts. By speaking to a person in a similar position to the one you’re applying for or in the same department, you’ll quickly be able to gauge how the company culture comes into play.  The goal is not to make friends (yet) but simply to get an authentic report on company culture.



When you go out and consider restaurant options, how do you proceed? What about when you want to buy a particular product but hesitate between two brands. How do you choose? Chances are that you look at their reviews, whether it be on Google, TripAdvisor or any other review websites.

So why would analysing a company be any different? In this regard, Glassdoor is the go-to platform to look for reviews and ratings. Beyond this, Glassdoor offers a lot of valuable information to job seekers. So if you want to learn more about a company, you should definitely start there!


How to assess a company culture in a remote setup?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, many companies have deployed working from home arrangements and some have even decided to make this a permanent setup.

So when looking to join, how can one “feel” the energy? How can you make sure the company invests in its culture without having in-person connections nor a physical environment?

This is a tough one as we’ve spent years in offices, engaging with one another in-person and creating internal events favouring connection and proximity.

Nevertheless, remote working intensifies what a company’s culture is truly about, what their values are and what matters to them. Although you may not be able to ask questions around the setup of the office to understand the management structure, other questions can be just as relevant and provide you with the hints you need.

– Which collaborative platforms do you use? 

– How do you make sure people collaborate and don’t feel isolated?

– Do you organise virtual internal events?

– How do you celebrate milestones, birthdays and anniversaries?

– How often do you catch-up with your team-members? In which format?

– How do you ensure people remain productive and don’t get distracted?

– Do you track work or productivity?

These may not be easy questions but they are necessary ones that will help give you the insights you need to make an informed decision.

At the end of the day, whether remote or not, company culture is not something you can easily “see” but more something you experience. As such, it’s best to mix technical / factual questions with emotional ones so as to get a fuller picture.


The company culture of the organisation you work for plays a large role in both your professional and personal life. 

Regardless of your job title, responsibilities or salary, your company’s culture is what will make you wake up on days when you feel down, days when you feel you have no purpose. A company culture that supports you and is aligned with your values and needs is one that will allow you to be your best self. All in all, the company culture you choose is one that you’ll want to fight for, one you’ll want to compromise for and one you’ll want to support. This is especially important in times of crisis or turmoil, such as during the current   COVID-19 pandemic.

Do you have any other ways to determine company culture? Share them with us! We’d love to hear your tips!


Celine Senior HR Advisor

About the Author:

With over 20 years' experience in Human Resources, working across both government & private sectors, Celine is an expert at her craft. As a Senior HR Advisor, Celine has extensive experience working across different industries, advising clients on a wide range of HR topics.
Read more about Celine Rethore.