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

A magnifying glass highlights the word Culture.

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 A.

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). 

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.

Green flags from Arora’s experiences:

  • Early communications with HR are friendly, professional, and timely
  • Good ratios for diversity and inclusion
  • Reviews talking about a positive interview experience
  • Low turnover rates for employees
  • Periodic informational sessions with leaders at the company
  • Diversity at the top levels of leadership
  • Great parental leave benefits
  • Mentorship programs and opportunities
  • Vibrant in-office culture and open exposure to potential future colleagues during interviews

Red flags from Arora’s experiences:

  • Pressure to schedule interviews or expedite the hiring process
  • Never hearing back from a recruiter during the hiring process
  • Negative Glassdoor reviews
  • The majority of employees just started at the company, despite its maturity
  • Unclear job postings or biased and pointed language in the job requirements
  • Images of a homogenous workforce
  • Employees on Linkedin with little upward mobility at the company
  • Requests to work consistently on a completely different time zone

Positive examples of company culture in Arora’s career:

  • Competitive salaries and compensation packages
  • Work from home flexibility
  • A social team environment
  • Opportunities to learn new skills and competencies on the job
  • Work-life balance and healthy boundary setting
  • Organizational agility with a focus on adapting to new technologies
  • Support with training and upskilling
  • Ability to retain a positive culture or level of employee satisfaction after a reorg
  • An open platform for complaints, critiques, and opinions about business matters or employee experiences

Negative examples of company culture in Arora’s career:

  • Unequal treatment of contractual employees
  • Exclusion from perks, benefits, and other rewards

Meet Bri Aguilar

A headshot of Bri A.
Bri A.

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. 

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.

Green flags from Aguilar’s experiences:

  • Communication of shared plans for learning, growth, and new technologies during the interview
  • Effective company-wide communication from the CEO to contractual employees
  • Care, concern, and resources for former (and current) employees during a layoff
  • A functional and inclusive global work structure
  • Comprehensive onboarding experiences

Red flags from Aguilar’s experiences:

  • A questionable gut feeling when talking to leadership or hiring teams
  • Contracts with unclear and nuanced language, or unreasonable requests
  • Noncompete clauses with career restrictions
  • Odd pay structures, future promises, and compensation guarantees presented verbally
  • A company that rushes the decision phase during the hiring process

Positive examples of company culture in Aguilar’s career:

  • Collaborative structure focusing on teamwork and collective learning
  • Employees up-and-down the ladder learn new skills and competencies together
  • Hands-on experience with various tech products
  • Fully remote work
  • Leadership transparency and prioritization of time
  • Work transition facilitation during layoffs
  • Cultural learning experiences and a focus on inclusivity
  • Proactive onboarding with employee support and resources

Negative examples of company culture in Aguilar’s career:

  • Learning is earned by employees, not guaranteed
  • The company’s success takes precedence over an employee’s
  • Contractual and internship positions have different expectations than full time positions
  • Unpaid positions with big responsibilities and client-facing initiatives
  • Non-permanent employees treated as “lesser”

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.

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