Discussion Thread

  • 1.  How to Crack Company Culture

    Posted 04-26-2021 11:41 AM

    I wanted to start a thread on about the topic of "company culture". 

    In my experience, every company I have worked either alongside or directly for has their own company culture that seems to influence everything from general office environment, employee schedules, and dress code to work ethic, technical competency expectations, and employee interaction with one another. 

    Some environments are much more laid back than others, and some offices can be very formal.
    Some places have members and leaders who create a strong sense of team unity, and even friendship. Others are spaces where each person acts more like an island unto themselves. 
    And of course, all of these things can come in a mix of good and bad, such as a stuffy office comprised of people who are excellent at communication when it comes to work, or a laid back office where banter is easy to come by but professional development is lacking. 

    So, what does one do when they are looking at a new company and want to understand what the culture is like there?

    Reading the company website has often felt like reading a "company resume" - one where they showcase all of their achievements, while leaving out the story of what it is like to work there while completing these projects. 

    That leaves a lot of people with just the interview process to try to develop a feel for the place they are considering. 

    In my own experience, I tend to ask my interviewer directly "What do you enjoy about working here?" Sometimes, this question can put people on the spot if they do not anticipate it, and I feel that the way they choose to answer can be very insightful. I myself have been asked this question while interviewing others. On bad days when I have been working on a project I do not find rewarding, I can still answer truthfully that "I enjoy working here because I like the people and because I believe in the mission of our organization." So, if an interviewer can't give you an answer that seems sincere, it may be something to consider. 

    I also tend to feel better about a company when I am introduced to other members of the team. This can be more common during a second round interview. Meeting more of the team and seeing more of the office can help you get an idea of what the day to day might feel like in a group. Do the other members seem comfortable around each other? Do they know what each other works on? Are they similar to you in age or have something else in common that might make working there feel more enjoyable? 

    Do you have any experiences to share, or tips to suggest about how to understand more about the culture of a prospective new job?


    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer

  • 2.  RE: How to Crack Company Culture

    Posted 04-28-2021 11:55 PM
    Thanks for starting this discussion, Christopher! I agree with the insight you shared.

    The first time this crossed my mind was when a guest speaker in college told us that just as much as your interview is about the company deciding if they want you, it's also about you deciding if you want be to with them.

    Here are a few of my recommendations on how to get a feel for the company culture:
    • If not already part of the interview process, ask if you can tour the office and meet a few of the people you'd potentially be working alongside.
    • Be active in industry activities (ASCE, AIA, engineers' nights out, Engineers Without Borders, advisory boards, etc.), and pay attention to how others talk about their offices/companies. What is said informally over time can be informative.
    • Seek out former employees you know and inquire about their experience. Don't seek out gossip, but ask what made them go elsewhere. It may even be that what made them decide to move on is something you see as a positive. Not everyone has the same ideal office culture.
    • If you know people in related fields that work with the company (architects, developers, contractors, government agencies, etc), ask them what it is like to work with their employees.
    • Especially for younger engineers: see if you know anyone that interned for them. They'll have a pretty good idea of what the day to day environment is from their time there.
    • If you are an undergrad still, see if the company is open to letting you shadow someone for a few hours or for a day. Being in the office for a few hours will at a minimum give you an idea of how the employees interact with one another.

    Nothing will give you a perfect picture of the culture, but it is a good idea to do what you can to not be caught off-guard.

    Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE
    Tulsa, OK

  • 3.  RE: How to Crack Company Culture

    Posted 04-29-2021 10:13 AM
    Thanks Heidi, these are all great suggestions too. I really like that you pointed out that reasons for one person choosing to leave might be the same reasons another person would be interested in staying.

    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer

  • 4.  RE: How to Crack Company Culture

    Posted 04-30-2021 09:48 AM

    I like Heidi's advice on following up on leads and connections. As for asking questions during an interview, a strategy that avoids putting people on the spot with an open ended question is to ask more directed questions that don't require a value judgment. A general approach would be to identify what's important to you and then pose questions  aimed at elucidating the issue of importance. For example if being able to contribute to decisions on policy or work allocation is important, you could ask about how these type of decisions are made? This would give you insight into the company's leadership style, e.g., consensual or command and control.

    On a personal note, I was obvious to company culture for the early part of my career.  I was aware of intercompany differences via interactions with peers from other companies but did not make connection with culture. For me it was partly due to self-awareness but mainly that I was happy in my role. I eventually caught on and learned how decoding company culture can be a means of understanding and explaining behaviors and enabler for working with others to get things done.

    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX

  • 5.  RE: How to Crack Company Culture

    Posted 05-07-2021 04:05 PM
    Q. "So, what does one do when they are looking at a new company and want to understand what the culture is like there?"

    First, if I may, I have learned that the factual evidence for this answer is

                          "It's the way they do things around here."

    i.e., Not what they write, say or put up posters about.

    The "Evidence" is what people working within that company have experienced as a f(t).

    Meaning that whatever it was, say a couple of years or so ago, may not be the case now.

    It's generally about the observed behaviors of executive and senior managers that have modeled

    "What's ok" and "What's not" with respect to their:

    1. Entry-level employees.
    2. Senior managers and technical staff.
    3. Administrative staff at all levels.
    4. Field technical and administrative staff.
    5. Regulatory staff.
    6. New client executives and their representatives.
    7. Repeat clients.
    8. NGO representatives.
    9. Supported level of time and financial support for employees.
    10. Pay for time worked after their basic work-week hours are done.

    The daily challenge these executives and senior managers face is how to build the necessary company culture for having success with their spoken principles/management philosophies.

    1. Lorsch     --        Published 1986         --           Economics              --        California Management Review

    "The core beliefs of top managers can inhibit strategic change by producing "strategic myopia" so that the natural response is to keep managing in the same old way. A company's culture can thus become an invisible barrier which impedes the process of adapting to changes in the firm's technological, regulatory, and competitive environment. The author presents several steps needed to break this invisible barrier, including making beliefs visible, using outside directors, bringing in new blood, and encouraging flexibility throughout the ranks of middle management."


    Stay Healthy!                   Cheers,                      Bill

    [1] https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Managing-Culture%3A-The-Invisible-Barrier-to-Change-Lorsch/754e3dfe15d81b3e2e9a582529b7e99413d21ac1?p2df

    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880

  • 6.  RE: How to Crack Company Culture

    Posted 10-21-2022 09:29 AM

    My definition of company culture is "how things really work around here when the chips are down."

    Stu Walesh

    Stu Walesh PhD, PE
    Consultant - Teacher - Author