What About Company Culture? Centering Organizational Fit In Job Search Conversations

By Tzigane Martin and Brooke Nelson

When it comes to the job search, post-secondary students do not know what they do not know. Career development professionals play an important role in guiding students through the job search. One important aspect of this is the evaluation of organizational culture—employees’ shared beliefs and values, often established by leaders and then communicated and reinforced by the collective organization through various methods. Career theorists, such as Holland (1997), often encourage career development professionals to consider the congruence between the individual’s personality type and the values within their work environment, noting that the alignment between the two is a major determinant in the individual’s overall job satisfaction, stability, and work performance. Company culture is also a key factor that impacts a multitude of students’ professional and personal success, including career satisfaction, advancement, mental health, organizational commitment, and the ability to establish professional networks (Hutchins & Doshi, 2017; McGregor et al., 2015; Rehfuss et al., 2012; Segran, 2015).

To understand the current practices of career service offices at diverse post-secondary institutions across the US, we randomly selected 75 public institutions and reviewed the information they currently share with students on their webpages. Only 24% of the selected institutions included content that educated students on the importance of company culture.

Recognizing a knowledge gap in public higher education, practitioners should be encouraged to prioritize cultural fit in job search discussions. Given our webpage findings, this article aims to equip practitioners with tools to guide students as they identify and evaluate company culture for a successful transition into the workforce. This includes identifying values and scanning. 

Identifying Values
To assess company culture and fit, start by clarifying the desired company culture. Then, help students identify their values using an analogy shared by Anne Peterson (personal communication, February 2023) from Career Services at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Imagine ordering a burrito bowl at Qdoba or Chipotle [or any customizable restaurant]. Do you pre-decide your order or improvise? Are there essential ingredients? Any that would spoil the meal? Knowing preferences ensures a satisfying meal. Consider the cost of trying multiple bowls (job search persistence, time, money) and if you'd endure an unsatisfying meal just for sustenance (accepting an unfulfilling job). Maybe the meal is okay but not fully satisfying, diminishing its value (job satisfaction, productivity).

Like building a burrito bowl to eat for dinner, students need to identify must-haves, deal-breakers, and optional components in their future jobs. This streamlines the search, saves time, avoids applying to unsuitable jobs, and leads to more satisfying careers.

Conducting Scans
When evaluating a company's culture, it is important to look at how the company appears in various contexts. Students can evaluate a company on three different levels: environmental, cyber, and conversational. By engaging in these various types of scans, the job seeker can get a more holistic view of the company culture. See Table 1 for a summary of all three methods of evaluation.

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Environmental Scans

Environmental scans are a way of evaluating company culture based on an organization’s physical space and presence. Practitioners may use this scan with students both individually and in groups.

Sample Instructions for the Environmental Scan Activity:

  1. Select three images depicting different workplace environments (e.g., open concept, cubicles).
  2. Flip through each environment one by one, and have your student(s) consider the following:
    • How does each picture make you feel?
    • How would you function differently in each environment?
  3. Once you have gone through each image, present all three options simultaneously. Have your students turn to a partner and share if they're in a group, or share responses with you if it's a meeting with an individual student:
    • Their favorite and least favorite environments shown and why?
    • What did they notice about these pictures that impacted their decision?
  4. If working with multiple students, finish the activity by having a few of them share with the whole group.


Cyber-scans are a way to evaluate company culture based on their online and digital presence.

Sample Instructions for the Cyber Scan Activity:

  1. Identify a source to evaluate a company through its digital presence, such as company website, social media posts, and videos or articles showcasing the workplace.
  2. Analyze each source and have them list observations or elements that stand out to them.
  3. Next have them read through their observations and write out what assumptions they can make from them. For example, if they observe a customer feedback form on the company website, they might assume the company values constructive criticism and a growth mindset.
  4. At the end of this activity, they should have a summary of their evaluations.

Conversational Scans

Conversational scans are a way of evaluating company culture based on the conversations students have and, more specifically, the questions they ask of current or past employees.​

Sample Instructions for the Conversational Scan Activity:

  1. Have your students write down their unfiltered questions. These are the questions they might hesitate to ask but are genuinely curious about. For example: "Will I see people like me in the workplace?" or "How much money will I make?"
  2. Have them identify the important part(s) of their question.
  3. Encourage them to conduct research that helps shape their question. This could involve exploring the company's website for employee images and data, checking platforms like LinkedIn, or consulting websites like Glassdoor.com and Payscale.com for relevant information, such as salary ranges.
  4. Have them rewrite their question, emphasizing the important pieces and incorporating their research. This revision allows students to extract the key elements of their inquiry and research, crafting their needs into a more polished question suitable for professional contexts, especially when communicating with potential employers. Example: “Based on research, positions such as these have a pay range of 40K-45K in annual salary, do the positions I am interested in have a similar salary range?”

Table 1.

Summary of the Three Types of Scans

Type of Scan

When to do the Scan

Questions to Consider

Environmental Scans

  • Industry tours
  • Interviews
  • Job shadowing
  • Internships
  • What colors or lighting are they using? Is this intentional?                            
  • What do you hear (or is there a lack of noise?)                           
  • What are you feeling while you are in the space? (anxious, calm, excited?)

Cyber Scans

  • Company website​
  • Social Media​
  • Glassdoor​
  • News articles​
  • What jumps out to you?​
  • How does it align with your values?​
  • Are the stated claims about who they are congruent with all other information from various sources?

Conversational Scans

  • Informational Interviews​
  • Interviews​
  • Career/Job Fairs​
  • Networking Events​
  • Can you tell me about how decisions are made?
  • What does work-life balance mean to you?​
  • How do you acknowledge employee success?​
  • How does the company demonstrate their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion?


Additional Considerations
As career development professionals guide students in their job search and company evaluation, they may want to keep in mind the following:

Empowering Students to Be True to Themselves

As career development professionals guide students through the labyrinth of job searching, a crucial yet often overlooked aspect is evaluating company culture. In this article, we explored the intricacies of organizational fit and the impact it holds on students' professional and personal lives. Through activities like values identification and scanning, students gain insight into what truly matters to them in a workplace setting. By evaluating companies through environmental, cyber, and conversational scans, they develop a more holistic understanding of potential employers. With this approach, career development professionals and students alike can feel empowered knowing they have the tools to evaluate a potential employer and find a place where they can be their authentic selves.



Day‐Vines, N. L., Cluxton-Kellen, F., Agorsor, C., Gubara, S. (2021). Strategies for broaching the subjects of race, ethnicity, and culture. Journal of Counseling & Development, 99(3), 348–357. https://doi.org/10.1002/jcad.12380

Holland, J. L. (1997). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and work environments. Psychological Assessment Resources.

Hutchins, H., Penney, L. M., & Sublett, L. W. (2017). What imposters risk at work: Exploring imposter phenomenon, stress coping, and job outcomes. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 29(1), 39–48.  https://doi.org/10.1002/hrdq.21304 

McGregor, L., & Doshi, N. (2015). How company culture shapes employee motivation. Harvard Business Review Digital Articles, 2–9. https://hbr.org/2015/11/how-company-culture-shapes-employee-motivation

Rehfuss, M. C., Gambrell, C. E., & Meyer, D. (2012), Counselors' perceived person–environment fit and career satisfaction. The Career Development Quarterly, 60, 145–151. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-0045.2012.00012.x

Segran, E. (2015). How hiding your true self at work can hurt your career. Fast Company, 198.  https://www.fastcompany.com/3051111/how-hiding-your-true-self-at-work-can-hurt-your-career

Simpson, S. (2022). Integrating somatics into career coaching. Career Convergence. https://careerconvergence.org/"imgleft" title="Tzigane Martin" src="https://careerconvergence.org/" alt="Tzigane Martin" align="left" border="0" />Tzigane (Zih-gah-nee) Martin (she/her/ella) is a dedicated Career Advisor at the University of Colorado Boulder with a background in non-profit, social justice, and communications work. Passionate about increasing job access for BIPOC, LGBTQ+, undocumented, and low-income students, she presented on this topic at the 2023 NCDA Global Career Development Conference. Connect with Tzigane at tzigane.martin@colorado.edu



Brooke NelsonBrooke Nelson (she/her) is a Senior Career Advisor at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is passionate about coaching students through career milestones, helping them develop lifelong skills, and guiding them to meaningful work they’ll love. Her passion for centering DEI in career conversations led to the development of evaluating company culture trainings on her campus in addition to presenting on the topic at the 2023 NCDA Global Career Development Conference. Brooke can be reached at brooke.nelson@colorado.edu

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1 Comment

Karol Taylor   on Sunday 06/23/2024 at 01:09 PM

This is a highly overlooked area and it's important for all job seekers. I remind clients that interviews are a two-way street. While they are interviewing you, you are also interviewing them to see if the company and your future boss are a good fit for your unique values and attitudes. You gotta "kiss a lot of frogs" to find the right company to work for. That's why I believe honing one's interview skills by participating in as many as possible is in the job seeker's best interests.

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