Fitting in with a company’s culture

You’ve landed what you thought was your dream job. Then after you’ve been with the company for only a short time, it hits you that you’re the proverbial square peg in a round hole. You simply don’t fit in. Perhaps it’s the way the company treats its employees, or the way people behave in the office. Is the dress, time keeping or atmosphere simply not what you’d expected? Disappointment sets in – the company culture and you mix like oil and water. If only you’d known what the place was really like before applying.

What is a company culture?
‘Most of us would recognise Elvis’ talent – and that he could never have landed a job at Microsoft. But it could be just the place for you.’

All companies have a culture whether they designed it, or it just evolved over time – it’s the value system of the people working there – what’s important to them in terms of everyday aspects of behaviour like beliefs, opinions, attitude, social class, age, dress, personality.

Corporate cultures are affected by industry sector, size, where the company is located, personality and vision of founders or current heads. It’s a bit like a cult – and if you don’t know the rules, you’re unlikely to survive, let alone prosper. My 18 years in career consultancy has shown me that time and time again career success goes to those who fit best into the cult.

So how do you know if the culture is right for you?
The right culture is one which reflects your personal value system, one where you find easy rapport with other members. What are your values, beliefs, ambitions and motivations?

Yet as a professional recruiter I can tell you that 90% of people cannot say, when asked, exactly what drives them.

Try this quick test – answer these questions.

  • What really motivates you?
  • What are your career values?
  • Where exactly do you want to be in one/five years?
  • What core career beliefs do you operate by?
  • What are your ambitions?

When you’ve answered these questions about yourself, then apply them to the company where you’re applying for a job. The commonest answers to the above questions from company members define its culture.

Assessing the culture
Now you now have a clearer picture of your personal profile, you need to assess the culture of the company you want to work for, to establish their values, style, beliefs, motivations and goals. Here’s how.

The culture of the company is everywhere. It comes over in its employees, its offices, its advertisements and dealings with the public. Think about the image Virgin has built for itself for example – hip, a bit off-beat, and forward thinking (thanks largely to the image of its bearded, jumper-wearing founder). Compare it to the image of some City banks whose head would no more be seen in a jumper at work than they would in a Batman outfit. These people expect the same for their employees.

Checking out the culture of the company can be worth the trouble, given all the effort a change of job involves. Start by putting in the company name into an Internet search engine and reading everything written about it. From what you read would you want to be part of this company?

Get hold of the annual report, read any press cuttings you can get your hands on, and try and find someone who already works there. Perhaps the company’s Human Resources department has some literature that will give you a feel for the place. Or just visit it (if possible) several times before making up your mind.

Is it a place with a clear culture? Those which do tend to indicate a company which is going places. McDonalds, Marks and Spencer, Microsoft, Virgin, Amazon all have a clear identity and values.

Making use of that information to help you choose
Take clothes as one indicator: it’s not how employees dress that’s important, but how they dress in relation to one another. It’s not the particular value set that’s important in itself, but that you and they share common core values. Fashion is all about fitting in knowing what is currently vogue. When people are alike they tend to dress alike, and this becomes the group norm. It’s a clear signal to you of what you have to look like to be part of their culture.

So look for commonality in every aspect of them. How they answer the phone, dress, talk to each other, plan out their offices, incentivise and train their staff, marketing, advertising styles and competitive stance to name a few aspects.

By matching your personal profile with an organisation’s, then you’ll avoid the wasted time, stress and expense of finding out too late that you don’t fit in.

Let’s not forget though, that the final ingredient is talent. Talent is a choice not a gift. Everyone is talented – they just have to recognise it in themselves and then seek out the company that will recognise and nurture it too. Most of us would recognise Elvis’ talent – and that he could never have landed a job at Microsoft. But it could be just the place for you.

  • Alex McMillan the author of Your Ticket to Success is the founder of, a career development and recruitment company that runs career success workshops regularly in central London including the Career Success Adventure, The Interview Edge and the £100K Club. Tel: 01403 211866.

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