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How to Tell if a Company's Culture Is Real, or Just Lip Service

As company culture becomes increasingly important to job seekers, promises from employers like flexible work schedules and bottom-up management are becoming commonplace. Yet while these descriptions sound nice on paper, sustaining a positive environment in the office isn't always easy. As a job seeker, how can you tell whether the assurances an employer makes about its company culture don't stop at the job description?

By doing your research before you click "submit" on a job application or accept an offer, you can truly understand the work environment of a future employer and dodge any unwanted surprises before your first day.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Be critical of what a company promises

Check both the "mission and values" and "employee benefits" sections of company websites and see how much detail they provide. Companies with good benefits and strong values will take the time explain how they move forward with their aspirations and what, in particular, they offer to employees. For example, Patagonia doesn't just call itself a sustainable company -- job seekers can read in depth about the company's investments in reducing its green footprint on its website. Corporate blogs are also great places to investigate company culture, as often those are where a company will go more in depth about how it executes its goals. On the other hand, if a company is vague and provides no game plan, then there's a good chance it's only talk.

2. See how the Glassdoor reviews stack up

While an employer can promise change, employees are ultimately going to be the best judges of their work environments. Reading Glassdoor reviews gives you insider access into the workplace so you can determine whether employer incentives actually come to fruition. See how often employees mention perks you're interested in (e.g. parental benefits, PTO) and if employees have had uniform experiences.

If there's little similarity between reviews, then it might be a red flag that the overall company culture isn't quite what an employer has promised. For even more information, reach out to current or former employees via LinkedIn, or mutual connections to grab some coffee and chat about their experiences.

3. Look at external rankings

If companies are truly the cream of the crop for company culture, other organizations will validate them. Here at Glassdoor, we release an annual Best Places to Work list based on employee reviews. Other organizations provide rankings for more specific aspects of company culture. For example, the Corporate Equality Index from the Human Rights Campaign rates companies based on LGBTQ inclusivity in the workplace, and FertilityIQ advises job seekers on the employers with the best fertility benefits. Through external rankings, you can get an expert opinion on how a company's culture really stacks up compared to the competition.

4. Ask the right questions in your interview

An interview can be the perfect place to learn more about culture from a direct source within the company. In order to get the answers you want, however, you have to be careful about how you phrase your questions. As Henry Goldbeck, president of Goldbeck Recruiting, notes, "If you are asking ... about the culture, [recruiters] will know that and attempt to tell you what you want to hear." Inquiries such as "How long have you been with the company?" or "What do people on the team that I'd be joining do for lunch every day?" give you insights into the office environment without triggering a recruiter's automatic people-pleasing response.

5. Take a walk around the office

If you're in later rounds of interviews, ask if you can have a tour of the office to see firsthand what a position at the company would look like. This will give you an opportunity to meet your potential team, get a peek at office amenities, and see how you like the work environment before you make any commitments.

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Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Glassdoor has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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