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How can I really find out about a company’s culture?

The Question:

My last two employers have been disappointing for me. I can do the jobs asked of me, it just turns out that the workplace atmosphere – the bosses who managed me and the colleagues I worked with – have all been toxic at some level. I've spoken about this with my wife and other friends and their advice is the same: Look for another job and get out of where I am.

My dilemma is that I do not want to make the same mistake a third time and choose an employer that looks great from the outside but not once you've become an insider. There are few ways to find out what a company is really like. And many people aren't honest about their company for fear of reprisal. It's up to me to find out what the employer is like but I might talk myself out of a job if my interview conversations and questions were more interrogative.

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How can I judge how good a company is to work for when there is little information readily available?

The Answer:

If you are not happy in your current job, I definitely encourage you to look for something different. Don't let the fear of change hold you back. If you pursue other opportunities, at least you have a chance to better your work life. Your search could even lead you to your dream workplace. If you do nothing, you are effectively sentencing yourself to your current unhappy environment.

As a first step, in order to identify companies where you want to work, ask yourself: What do I really want in a work environment? Reflect on the root cause of your stress at work. Is it your relationship with your manager or colleagues? Is it working styles or processes? Such analysis can help you build your ideal list of "wants" and "don't wants."

This process will guide you in asking the right questions during an interview so you can determine if a company's offer complements your personal list of wants. Without this insight, the most you can do is cross your fingers and hope to find a good match with a company. Use this personal introspection to help you with your search and screening process.

Once you can articulate what you want in an ideal job, work with one or more recruiters who specialize in your niche area. Share what is important to you. Recruiters often have inside information (directly from the client), about a company's workplace culture and morale. They can more accurately evaluate when a company's offering may match your ideal wants. A good recruiter always wants to find successful, long-term placements, so it's in their best interest to create a match where both the company and the candidate are happy.

Next, consider attending industry events, and following social media conversations – such as LinkedIn group discussions, or Facebook page interactions – to get a sense of the reputation your prospective companies.

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You can also check out what senior management and other employees have to say on their personal profiles on Twitter and other social media sites. This gives you more candid snapshots of a company's social culture. It can take a bit of sleuthing, but it's worth the time to check for compatibility.

Last but not least, though you are feeling down about your current situation, remember that negativity breeds more negativity. Keep a positive attitude in your search and try to surround yourself with people who are passionate about their work. This will help you make a positive change in your next career move.

Julie Labrie is the president of BlueSky Personnel Solutions in Toronto.

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About the Author
Globe Careers recruitment expert

Julie is the president of BlueSky Personnel Solutions. After 14 years of recruiting top talent, she is a veteran in her field. Fluent in both English and French, Julie also provides bilingual placement and expertise. She works closely with both business and HR executives and job candidates, and can offer insights into the strategies, nuances and psychology of the hiring process. More


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