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Why research counts: How to find a company culture that works for you

90,000 hours. That’s how much time the average person spends at work over a lifetime, according to the author of Happiness at Work: Maximizing Your Psychological Capital for Success, Jessica Pryce-Jones, in Psychology Today (Accessed 2023).

While Pryce-Jones’s estimate is likely to fluctuate on a case-by-case basis, one thing we can agree on is that work takes up too much of our time to spend it with organizations that do not align with our values and expectations.

Whether you are looking for a role that makes you happy, or are currently in a position that meets all your needs, it is helpful to understand all the factors contributing to your overall satisfaction as an employee. This is where company culture comes in. 

Company culture at a glance

A company’s culture can be so many things, which makes it difficult to define. At a high level, company culture is the assortment of characteristics, values, goals, attitudes, and practices that make up an organization’s identity. 

Company culture includes anything from broad topics like compensation and benefits, to more specific ones like mental health support and dialogue. See the graphic for more examples.

Graphic image of the possible components of company culture.

The metric for success in organizational culture is not cut-and-dry because there are so many factors to consider. Ideal work culture can look very different from person to person — and that framework could even evolve over time.   

Time is especially relevant when it comes to the organizations themselves. The ability to foster a thriving culture is almost dependent on an ability to evolve and a willingness to change. By listening and being proactive rather than reactive, companies have the potential to create a positive environment that pivots with the changing world.

Company culture in practice

Because each company has its own “recipe” for culture — for better or worse — it is essential for you, as a job seeker or professional, to understand what works best in your career. When it comes down to it, a role could be a great fit for one individual but completely misaligned for another.

With organizational culture, it might be hard to know what you want until you see it or experience it. This is why open dialogue on the topic is so useful. 

Let’s look at how two industry professionals (IPs) have experienced company culture in their own careers, and break down how those experiences have shaped their criteria for alignment.

Meet Nishtha Arora

Nishtha Arora is a frontend developer with Pluralsight, a technology company focused on workforce development. 

Arora was ready to trade her non-technical consulting role for something more tech-savvy and signed up for the Coding Boot Camp at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin). 

Nishtha Arora

One program and two job switches later, Arora is grateful for the great company cultures she’s encountered and the knowledge she’s gained along the way.

My first job was at Match. I was very lucky to be a part of that company, I learned so much. That was my initial career in frontend technologies, and as a web developer.

I was at a point where I needed to work from home because of family preferences. That was the reason why I made a switch into my current company, who was giving me a full time remote opportunity, and so I could just work from home.

When I was looking for change, obviously perks and benefits is the top priority: you need to earn to live. So, I was looking for a pay up.

I guess company culture is like it’s – it’s like a top priority for me. At least every time I’m looking for a company or interviewing for a company, the first thing I look for is their culture.

Arora’s experiences with company culture:


Positive
  • Friendly, professional, and timely HR communications
  • Strong diversity and inclusion ratios
  • Positive interview experience reviews
  • Low employee turnover
  • Evidence of healthy exposure to and communication with company leaders
  • Diverse leadership at top levels
  • Mentorship programs and opportunities
  • Vibrant office culture with open exposure to colleagues during interviews
  • Competitive salaries and compensation
  • Work-from-home flexibility
  • On-the-job skill development opportunities
  • Encouragement of work-life balance and boundary setting
  • Organizational agility with a focus on adapting to new technologies
  • Sustained positive culture post-reorg
  • Open platforms for feedback and opinions
Negative
  • Pressure to expedite interviews and the general hiring process
  • Lack of communication from recruiters
  • Negative Glassdoor reviews
  • Inexperienced workforce despite company maturity
  • Ambiguous or biased job postings
  • Homogeneous workforce representation
  • Evidence of limited employee upward mobility on LinkedIn
  • Unreasonable time zone or working hour requests
  • Unequal treatment of contractual employees
  • Exclusion from perks and benefits

Meet Bri Aguilar

Bri Aguilar currently works at Fossil Group, Inc. as an e-commerce developer. 

After receiving her undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Arlington in Exercise Science, Aguilar knew she needed a change. 

She made a pivot and served in the United States Marines, but an injury caused her to change course once more. 

A headshot of Bri A.
Bri Aguilar

After completing the Full Stack Web Development program at Southern Methodist University, Aguilar found her calling in tech.

Literally ever since I was probably in — I don’t know, middle school? Elementary school? — When I started playing sports all the way up into college, and even in the military. Obviously it’s very — There’s a lot of camaraderie in sports, and the military especially.

So when I was interviewing with Fossil, you know, they were telling me how they were switching, or they were migrating over to Salesforce. And, so, everybody kind of was in the same boat, as far as how much or how little they knew about Salesforce. And we were all working together, we all would have to work together.

Being a developer specifically, I wanted to work with a company that revolves around team and having a team and not only having a team, but being a team.

We worked in teams so much, and we had collaborative work in the SMU Bootcamp, that I knew that I wasn’t just going to be working by myself.

Aguilar’s experiences with company culture:


Positive
  • Clearly communicated plans for on-job learning, training, and technology in interviews
  • Effective company-wide communication
  • Support for employees during layoffs
  • Inclusive global work structure
  • Comprehensive onboarding
  • Collaborative teamwork and learning structures
  • Skill development for all employees
  • Hands-on tech product exposure
  • Fully remote work option
  • Leadership transparency and prioritization of time
  • Cultural learning and inclusivity focus
  • Proactive onboarding with ample resources
Negative
  • Questionable gut feelings about leadership or hiring teams
  • Unclear contract language and unreasonable requests
  • Restrictive noncompete clauses
  • Verbal compensation promises or guarantees and odd pay structures
  • Rushed decision phase during hiring
  • Elusive or empty learning opportunities
  • Prioritization of company success over employee well-being
  • Misaligned expectations for contracts, internships, and full-time positions
  • Unpaid roles with significant responsibilities
  • Discriminative practices towards non-permanent employees

Like Arora and Aguilar, you should keep your current and past experiences in mind when considering switching companies or departments, as well as any red or green flags. Make sure to protect and prioritize your worth as both a professional and human being by periodically checking in with your boundaries, values, and work-related preferences throughout your career. 

If you aren’t feeling as sure as the industry professionals and need help knowing where to start when it comes to alignment, have no fear — we’ve got tips and advice for that in Unlock your dream career: Expert tips and strategies for finding your perfect fit.


The humanity paradox: Thriving in the age of automation

In the age of artificial intelligence (AI) and hiring automation, it’s easy to feel lost in a digital crowd. It’s easy to feel overshadowed by algorithms and data-driven decision-making. However, there’s a compelling paradox at play here: In a world increasingly dominated by technology, your greatest asset may very well be your humanity.

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