August 2023 – Employment Advice Column: Understanding the workplace culture in your job search

Dear Joanna

With the help of my Reena job coach, I have a job interview for my dream job as a graphic design position in a marketing department. Before I accept the position, I learned that every company has a “workplace culture”. Please can you explain what this means and how this impacts my job search and interview?

Signed: Career Caution

Dear CC,

Blogger Allan Henry’s advises job seekers to do their homework before applying for jobs. It’s important, he adds, to assess the workplace culture of each organization to see if the company is a good fit for you. It’s not just about the job’s duties and responsibilities.  I’ve focused on the following four out of six recommendations from Henry on how you can  evaluate the company or department’s culture by asking questions during the job interview, or before you accept the job offer.

  1. Leadership style. Find out how the boss supervises his or her team. How does the manager and/or co-workers praise or reward its best employees? Do they micromanage? Do they create a respectful and inclusive environment that is safe for all employees? How would your performance review be handled? It’s important to find out who you would be reporting to? Ask these questions and analyze the responses of the interviewer or your future boss.  
  2. Learning, training and career advancement. Find out about career advancement opportunities and potential for growth for employees who perform. Is this encouraged on all levels of the organization – not just your boss. Is there help with tuition for professional development? What policies and procedures are in place for staff to engage in this? Is there succession planning in the organizational structure?
  3. Communication styles. The way the company communicates information, innovation and collaboration (internally and externally) can help you assess the fit. What role does marketing have in the communications including materials, website, social media and other strategies? How are the meetings structured? What happens at these team and management meetings? What is the role of the human resources in this? How open is the management and staff with sharing updates, learning and professional opportunities and industry related news across the company?
  4. Hiring process. Sometimes, not always, the way the recruiter(s) or Human resources handles the application process could provide a possible indication of the company culture. Find out the company’s supports for  diversity and inclusion.  Is it an accessible workplace and does the company comply with the AODA legislation? For example, how does the HR handle the accommodations required by  current and new employees with disabilities? Do they have a diverse workforce that reflects the community they serve?

Sometimes conducting information interviews with staff who work at the company can offer some insights to the workplace culture. However, from my observations and experience, it is only when you are actually working at the company for a while can you truly have an understanding of its culture. Organizations are complicated. You can only do so much homework, research and questioning.

Signed: Joanna

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Joanna Samuels, M.Ed., CMF, CTDP, RRP,  is the Employment Resource Supervisor at Also, Joanna is a certified Life Skills Coach, and Personality Dimensions Facilitator who offers job development, job coaching and workshop facilitation with persons with disabilities and barriers. She also helps employers with diversity recruitment and creating an inclusive and innovative workforce.