During the interview process, virtually every candidate asks about the culture of the prospective new company, which is rarely known, and is thereby given little weight when deciding the merits of a new job. People wrongly believe they can adapt to virtually any culture, or can impact the culture to suit them (there is some truth to the later, if you’re joining a small company).

What is culture then? How do you determine culture? One method is by learning the symbols, norms and assumptions.

Symbols are the logos, dress code and décor.

Norms are shared social, often un-written, rules. What behaviour is tolerated, discouraged or encouraged? How do people interact with or treat each other or other departments? Are there shared values (e.g. trust) or routines (e.g. meeting minutes)?

Assumptions are undocumented rules or truths within an organization. “We always do X this way”.

Will your symbols, norms and assumptions align with your new company’s or create friction? You either have to adapt or alter your cultural norms or identify which are helping or hindering your performance.

In your on-boarding plan, ask your new colleagues why and why not they enjoy working there. The answer is often the answer to the culture question.

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