Company Culture: Finding the Right Fit

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As a friend told me about some reservations that she’d been having at her new workplace, comparing the competitive nature of her colleagues to “The Hunger Games,” I couldn’t blame her for reconsidering her decision to accept the position.

My friend’s revelation got me thinking about the job search process and how we as young professionals often become so focused on how we’re the right fit for the employer that we forget to consider if the company culture is right for us.

While most of us have heard the term “company culture,” I’d argue that it’s still one of those ambiguous phrases that can be difficult to describe. In a 2013 New York Times article, Josh Patrick of Stage 2 Planning Partners defined office culture as “what you value, what is important for you and your company.”

When considering what we value most in a job, among the first things that come to mind are typically salary and benefits. While undoubtedly important, money isn’t everything and our generation has come to equally value the workplace itself; sometimes even sacrificing a lower salary for a more suitable culture.

Young professionals work hard (before playing hard) and, according to Geoffrey James of Inc., seek to be rewarded accordingly when it comes to perks and promotions. We don’t want to be seen as kids, instead value our voices being heard, opportunities for professional growth and fair treatment by senior-level employees and older colleagues. Although we thrive in a team setting, we expect others to pull their weight and to be able to work independently rather than being constantly micromanaged.

Perhaps most importantly, we desire a personal life. While long hours are often to be expected, we appreciate having realistic goals set for us as well as ample time to complete our work so we can hit the gym at the end of the workday before getting home to watch The Bachelor or some Monday Night Football.

But how do we ensure that we’ll arrive at this comfort level? Finding the right fit begins by determining what you value in the workplace and then asking the necessary questions during the job search and interview process.

Job seekers are encouraged to conduct informational interviews with individuals at a prospective employer in order to not only learn about potential openings, but to get a better feel for its company culture as well. Utilize personal connections to get in touch with individuals that also work there and ask for their honest opinions. Be proactive; there’s nothing wrong with cold contacting folks whose information you find on company websites and LinkedIn.

When you find yourself in the interview itself, have a number of questions prepared to ask different people at various levels of the company. Make an effort to talk with both veteran employees and new hires. In terms of the questions themselves, be sure to ask these potential colleagues about their favorite aspects of the company culture, any complaints they may have and how often staff meetings are held. For one resource, Scott Ginsberg of poses seven insightful questions you should ask during the interview.

Moreover, keep in mind that unlike skills, the right fit cannot be learned. What criteria are most important to you and how does your company culture match up?


Zach Burrus is currently a public relations professional in Richmond, Va., with experience in both political and sports communication. He graduated from the University of Missouri and the University of Notre Dame and holds degrees in political science, journalism and strategic communication. Mr. Burrus is an active member of PRSA National, PRSA Richmond and the PRSA New Professionals Section. He can be reached at

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  • Elexis Hill

    Finding a job that offer more than a great salary and
    benefits is great advice. I am a current student getting prepared to graduate
    and work professionally fulltime. I have debated numerous of times what type of
    setting I want to work in. From experience with internships, I have done task
    that were demanding but paid well and jobs that were flexible but didn’t pay as
    much. I notice I was happier doing my internship that didn’t pay as much
    because I enjoyed the company’s environment. The job that was demanding went
    from exciting to stressful and played a part on my social life. Overtime from
    experience I learned more about what I like and dislike and will probably
    continue to do so as I grow in my profession.

  • Brooke Hayden

    I took over a year off from college right before my senior year and worked at a place where I made excellent money. I was in a manager position without any experience and loved the salary but over time, I started realizing that it was definitely not what I wanted to do my whole life. It took a couple months and a lot of discussions with my parents (who both have two college degrees) before I decided to call it quits and finish my degree. That experience has definitely made me more hesitant when applying and interviewing for jobs. There are other things that are priority to me rather than making a lot of money. Therefore I couldn’t agree more with setting your own demands for what kind of company you want to work for. As graduates, we need to be focused on the long term goals we have in mind and looking at where we want to be in 10-20 years.

  • tressalynne

    I completely agree that having long-term goals are very important. However, keep in mind that there are many paths to the same destination. Be careful not to get tunnel-vision. :)

  • AlanaH

    tressalynne, thank you for emphasizing the importance of not having “tunnel vision,” or as I see it– the importance of exploring the fluid path towards a fulfilling career. Our opportunities and priorities change as we do. It’s crucial that young professionals invest ourselves in seeing what’s out there, and especially, in the values, passions, and dreams evolving within and for us.