We’ve all been there. We accept a job that looks great on paper, only to find out that the culture is not right for us. The question for all of us is “how do I find the right culture for me?” Finding the right culture fit is just like dating. We often don’t learn what really matters to us until we’ve been in a relationship that rubbed us the wrong way – rubbed up against our values. You learn that you like a partner with a sense of humor after dating someone with the personality of a cardboard box. You learn that you like a partner who listens after going on a few dates with an incessant talker. What have you learned in your experiences with different cultures? What’s really important to you – what are your values? Here are some helpful questions to answer as you search for your cultural version of “Mr. / Ms. Right”:

• How fast do you like to go? Do you like a workplace culture that is moving at light speed, with lots of change around every corner, or do you prefer a slow and steady approach to work? As I mentioned in an earlier post, every organization has an unspoken speed limit. The trick is to figure out what kind of car you are and if that coincides with the speed posted on the wall. Ferraris don’t like school zones so think back to times when you were frustrated at the pace of work.

• What’s your size? Do you prefer a big organization with lots of opportunity to move, lots of resources to support you, nice amenities, and tons and tons of corporate politics and bureaucracy? Or do you prefer small entrepreneurial organizations where there is innovation, the feeling of creativity and “building something,” where everyone knows everyone intimately… whether you like it or not? Size matters. Be honest with yourself and decide what size brings out your best.

• Do you like shiny “name brands?” Does it matter to you that when you are meeting someone for the first time and you tell him or her where you work, they immediately know… and are impressed? “I work for Google… Apple… McKinsey… Disney… etc…” No judgment here. Just be honest with yourself. If you want to be part of something well known, that’s important in picking the right culture.

• Do you want to feel like you are “up to something” bigger than you? How important is the mission / vision / purpose of an organization to you? Do you want to be working for a place that is committed to something bigger than the bottom line? As one client of mine shared with me, “I was a partner in a law firm for years. It bothered me that I might do good work but the end result was a guilty party was found innocent. I wanted to be one of the ‘good guys’ so I shifted career paths and went into the ministry.” What matters more to you – the “how” and “what” of your work or the “why?”

• Do you like “intimacy” at work? Do you like environments where people talk about and share their personal lives at work – everything from what they did that weekend to the big events happening in their lives? Or do you believe that work is work and personal is personal. There should be a clear boundary and the less you know about a co-worker the better. If you like a more intimate environment, look for family owned businesses and non-profits as a good start. If you prefer a more separated work environment, look for larger organizations and / or industries that have a greater emphasis on numbers (Ex: financial services, accounting, investment banking, etc…).

• How do you like to be rewarded? Do you prefer to be paid for performance or would you rather have a steady paycheck regardless of how things play out? This also speaks to how “risky” you’d like to be. Do you like the idea of “eating what you kill” and having no ceiling… or floor, or does that concept absolutely freak you out?


Those are some of the big questions to answer as you are looking for the “right” culture for you. If you want to try to gauge if a culture values what you value before you “marry,” follow these steps:

Step 1: Find out what they “say” their values are. What are the values the organization says it’s all about and do those fit with you? Check out the website for a good easy start, but don’t stop there. Just like dating, others can tell you what you want to hear. Actions speak louder than words.

Step 2: Figure out what REALLY goes on. Get coffee with current or former employees and ask what it’s like to work there. And find out how much voluntary turnover is going on in the organization. An organization with low-turnover is more likely to be living out its values with everyone on the same page. An organization with high turnover is a warning sign for instability. The culture is either unhealthy or in the middle of culture change. Like Forest Gump, a high turnover organization will be more like a box of chocolates… you’ll never know what you’ll get.

Step 3: Check out the background of the senior leader. A culture always represents what the senior leader values so take good notes. Research everything, from where they grew up and their major in college to their career path. That will tell you a lot about what he or she values and what’s really getting rewarded and reinforced at the organization.

There you have it – my version of “Match.com” for cultures. One last important note, just like personal relationships, be honest with yourself. Are you repeating unhealthy patterns in the cultures you select? Do you keep “dating” the same type of culture over and over again expecting it to change? Are you attracted to unhealthy cultures? Only you can stop that pattern. Be gut-level honest with yourself, identify the culture that will allow you to be at your best and start looking for “Mr./Ms. Right”. They’re out there… just waiting to be asked out.