What Is Company Culture And Why PhDs Should Care About It

Many PhDs wait until they need a job to prioritize their industry transition.

This is a mistake on so many levels.

If you start your job search in desperation mode, you won’t have time to set up the right job search strategy and might end up feeling obligated to take any position that comes your way. 

Even if it’s an entry level position where you will be managed by people with bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

As a PhD, you are qualified for a top-level position that matches your desired lifestyle and compensates you for your worth.

You deserve to work at a company that matches your personality and your goals. A company whose culture aligns with your values.

The culture of a workplace can make the difference between an employee loving or hating a position. And it’s completely natural to want a job that you love.

Unfortunately, many PhDs never stop to consider the type of company culture that better aligns with their values because academia sets them up to believe that they are weak-minded and that an unpleasant work environment is normal.

Don’t be fooled, a negative work environment is not normal outside of academia.

Your job search shouldn’t focus just on finding just any job. You need to find a company where you can thrive. Otherwise, you will see no effective difference between transitioning into industry and staying in academia.

This is what one of our members had to say after completing their second transition.

I decided to start planning my second transition because of a continued degradation of the business culture at my employer at that time. I also wanted to take advantage of several connections I had made in my ideal companies as a result of continued networking.

I recently started my new position and I’m so happy I made the move. The company culture from the onset is so much different and better, the company has a strong focus on the employees. Top management is approachable and open to suggestions. 

I have learned so much since joining CSA. I actually am at a point where I enjoy the process as I have the confidence in my ability to be successful and I believe in myself and in the value I bring to the table.

As you can see, finding the right company culture is not a trivial matter.

What Is Company Culture

Company culture emcompasses how things get done at a company.

As PhDs, we don’t spend much time on this. We focus more on the strategy, the goals, and we assume that we’ll just figure out a way to hit those goals through data and information.

But culture is important because how you get things done on a day-to-day basis –   whether you’re working remotely or with the team in person – dictates how you feel and how others feel about working with you.

You need to understand  company culture and how to assess if you are a good fit for a given culture. Not just to increase your chances of getting hired, but to ensure you are happy in your new job.

When it comes to employees, the two main components are capability and likability. You need to find a balance between these two.

Of course you need to be capable of doing your job, but even the most capable individuals will fail if their team doesn’t like to work with them.

Every company is going to have their own ideal ratio of those two things. 

This is of course a simplified version, you can add up to hundreds of other characteristics that influence culture, such as generation, nationality, personal values, etc.

What you need to understand is that every company has a culture and you should learn about it before you apply for a position.

It is also important that you establish your ideal company culture so you can determine if a company is a good fit before you get a job offer.

7 Reasons PhDs Should Learn About (And Care About) Company Culture

Company culture spans through all levels of an organization. It will determine how things work internally and the image they want to convey externally. It will also determine many of the day to day rituals of that company.

However, PhDs often disregard the importance of company culture because the concept is unfamiliar to them.

Today, I want to explore seven facts about company culture that should convince you about its importance and encourage you to spend more time researching and understanding company culture during your job search.

1. Employers are looking for candidates who identify with their company culture

If you don’t understand the values of the company, no matter your experience or technical expertise, you will be passed over for the job.

The reason for this is that recruiters and hiring managers have been trained to hire candidates who match their company culture.

Think of this from an employer’s point of view. They don’t want to hire an awkward PhD who’s going to make everybody else feel uncomfortable and disrupt team dynamics. 

Companies make a significant investment to create a workplace culture, maintain staff, and be successful.

They want candidates who will stay in their company, not leave after a couple of months.

Can you guess what candidates are more likely to stay at the company for years and make significant contributions to their teams?

The answer is those who better match the company culture. These are the candidates that employers are looking to hire.

2. You will make a bigger impact at a company if you align with its culture

You might be thinking that company culture doesn’t really apply to you because you only see work as work.

You just care about getting paid and having an impact.

Well, even if you are that kind of person, you should care about culture because you will have a bigger impact in a company whose culture matches your values.

Culture spans all aspects of the day to day of a company.

If you are a person who likes to stick to a schedule, you will have trouble being productive in a team that is very flexible about time.

If you like to interact with your coworkers to get the creative juices flowing, you will struggle to contribute in an environment where people like to stay in their cubicles and focus on getting things done.

You will enjoy yourself more if you align with the company culture. 

This will allow you to be more productive, make a bigger impact, and be happier.

3. You will face culture-oriented questions during the interview process

As we already saw, employers want to hire candidates who match their culture and they will test this during the interview process.

Can you answer questions related to culture? You should if you want to get hired. 

You should go into each round of interview prepared for questions like “How do you create culture in a remote environment?” Or “If you had to write a newspaper article on our company about our company’s culture, what would you write?” 

These are tough interview questions that get asked all the time. 

If you understand what the employer wants to do in terms of culture, what they care about, you’ll have an easier time with this.

4. Your chances of climbing the corporate ladder are better if you match the company culture

At this point, it should come as no surprise that employees who understand and align with company culture are more likely to get promoted.

In industry, the most valuable employees are the ones who get promoted. Seniority doesn’t matter as it does in academia.

And the most valuable employees are those who understand company culture. Those who know the unspoken rules, who can speak the company’s language. 

If you align with the company culture, you will be a better leader. You will be in a good position to be in charge of people.

So, working at a company whose culture aligns with your values will benefit your career in the long run.

5. Capability is not the only thing that will determine your professional success

Do not underestimate company culture as just another so-called ‘soft element’ of business.

As we discussed earlier, being capable of doing the job is only part of the equation to success.

As a PhD, you’ve been trained only to think about capability, to dismiss things like feelings or empathy.

But ignoring those ‘soft elements’ can cause you to become isolated or siloed.

You can get squeezed out of an organization very easily if you don’t make an effort to fit into the culture. It doesn’t matter how competent you are.

6. Each company has a unique culture

Culture is a set of beliefs, values, and attitudes held by the company. This is very unique. Very dependent on the individual company.

Company culture goes beyond what you wear to a position or if you have to show up at a certain time. It’s about the processes, how things get done. 

Think in terms of systems, what software programs do they have? That’s culture. How do they interact with each other? That’s culture. What are the symbols, the branding? That’s culture. 

How long do people take lunch for? Do you have to stay online and how responsive do you have to be by email? All of that is encompassed by culture.

It is very unique to each individual company and it’s not something that you will learn in a day. The most intricate details, you will learn only after spending some time working at the company.

7. You can learn a lot about a company’s culture before getting hired

You are probably wondering, if company culture is so intricate and I will have to learn about it once I get hired, how can I determine which companies are a good fit during the interview process?

Well, there are many things you can do before applying for a position and during the interview process to get an idea of the company culture.

You can start with what’s available online. Follow the company on social media, look at reviews on the internet, read press releases made by the company, and go to their web page. This will give you an initial idea. 

The second thing you can do is to set up informational interviews with employees of the company. Asking questions about how people interact and how they react to change will give you an idea of company culture.

Finally, you should be alert to any cues you get about the day to day of the company during the interview process. If you go on a site visit, to a company that says they have a great work-life balance but nobody has any pictures of their family in their offices, this might be a red flag.

You can also ask questions about culture during the different rounds of the interview process. 

Ask the employer to tell you a story about their group that would not happen anywhere else. Ask how people are rewarded. Ask to speak with your future colleagues.

All these will give you an idea of the company culture and whether or not it is a good fit for you.

Concluding Remarks

Company culture encompasses how things get done at a company. It dictates the unspoken rules that influence the day to day of a company. Working at a company whose culture aligns with your values will increase your chances of career success, so don’t take this matter lightly. As PhDs, we are not trained to care about company culture, but these seven facts should convenience to take company culture seriously: employers are looking to hire candidates who match their company culture, you will have a bigger impact if you align with the culture of your company, questions about company culture might come out during the interview process, your chances of climbing the corporate ladder and being successful are better if you match the company culture. Culture is unique to each company, but you can find out a lot about it before having to sign an offer. So, do your research to ensure that you get hired by a company that matches your values.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

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Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist

Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of the largest career training platform for PhDs in the world - Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by 3 million PhDs in 152 different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published two bestselling books with Wiley and his methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

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