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When the Stars Align: Using your Internal Compass to Assess a Company’s Culture


This post was written by Alysa McLaughlin, Senior Director in Talent Attraction.


If it’s true that we spend nearly one-third of our lives at work, then it seems worthwhile to find a workplace culture that aligns with our values, offers a sense of belonging, and the opportunity for growth and meaningful contributions. This is sometimes easier said than done. Most people will experience workplace cultures that aren’t a fit before they hone in on an environment that brings out the best in them and drives a happier and more fulfilled work life.

From personal experience, I’ve learned that it takes some trial and error to get it right. Through the years, I’ve gained different insights at each employer which have informed ‘what matters most’ to me. What I’ve found is that having synergy and collaboration with the people who I work with contributes to an overall positive experience, which increases my engagement and career satisfaction. To get to this point, I had to lean into an understanding of my values and how they relate to the culture of my employer. This process, while not easy, has made me better equipped to assess if an organization will be a fit for me. Beginning your journey to find a culture where you can thrive and do your best work should lead to a win-win scenario: you will become more engaged, productive, and impactful, contributing not only to your success, but the success of your employer.    

If you are working within a company today or looking to make a change, it’s critical to invest time in knowing your values. This will help you recognize if a company’s culture will support your best interests and goals, and vice versa. It’s a two-way street!

To gain clarity on your values, the following steps may be helpful:  

  • First, reflect on what’s important to you. Pick your top three values, and then rank them from high to low. (For a list of values to help you get started, check out this list from “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown: under Resources).
  • Next, define your values. “Growth” can mean different things to all of us. It could mean growing into a new field altogether, or taking on additional responsibility, or a chance to earn more income and incentives. You decide.
  • Finally, use your values actively and recognize where they help you with decisions and actions. Come back to your definitions frequently to confirm clarity and notice where friction or disconnection happens. This is your compass to stay true to your values.

Once you know your values, figure out if they align or complement the values and culture of your current or prospective employer. By way of definition, culture is the set of behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes that show up in our interactions and experiences at work. Said another way, it is “how” work gets done in an organization. Culture is a direct reflection of the shared values within the group. Examples of values are honesty, integrity, equality, and accountability—whatever is decided that serves as a compass for how people behave and find success. If a culture operates in alignment with its core values, people will behave in ways that uphold the best version of the culture.

It’s important to know what the culture is, and if it’s authentic. Observe carefully and start with leaders or others who work at the organization. Ask questions during an interview. The behaviors and actions of leaders are a litmus test to know if the stated values are more than just words on the company’s career site. You can always sense a disingenuous culture if your interactions don’t match the values a company professes to live by. Red flags will appear such as an undercurrent of toxic grumblings, negative interactions, or widespread dissent with leadership decisions and direction. If the stated values say one thing, but the experience of workers is the opposite, you may find yourself in a culture that is in crisis or in need of realignment.

Fortunately, with a few simple steps, you can research corporate cultures fairly easily.  

  • Check out the company website, blogs, and career site. If the mission, values, and purpose of the organization are too hard to find, these things either don’t exist, or they are still being developed. Consider what voices are represented in blogs or articles. What information is shared about career paths, compensation, benefits, notable workplace awards, or employee resource groups? If the career site isn’t compelling and informative, this may be a sign of the culture.
  • Search the company across all social platforms (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Glassdoor, etc.) to gain insight into online presence and tone. Track the latest stories and announcements, and read feedback from employees and candidates about what it’s like working at the company.
  • Tap into your network, including former and current employees. Try to get a realistic view (pros/cons) of the workplace.
  • Ask the hiring leader questions during your interview. For example, how do they work, what measures of success are used in the organization, and how do they manage challenging situations?

By weaving in these steps and insights, you may significantly increase your odds of finding a great place to work and avoid a frustrating and unproductive experience. You are worth the investment in finding a culture where you find alignment, contribute meaningfully, and experience fulfillment. Your career and company will both benefit.



1.) "Happiness at Work", by Jessica Pryce-Jones

2.) “How to Find, Define, and Use your Values” by Irina Cozma, Harvard Business Review, 2/7/23.

3.) Gallup Employee Engagement Survey 2023

3.) Dare to Lead | List of Values –

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