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What Kind of Company?

Knowing a company goes beyond being able to recite their product lines and their CEO's resume. What you really want to know is what it's like to work there. "Corporate culture" refers to the general environment of an organization, and every company has one.

Take two extremes: think of the culture of the infamous Apple Computer in its heyday. People showed up for work in t-shirts, jeans, and barefoot. There were "beer busts" every Friday afternoon. Workers were so intent on making deadlines that they stayed at work for hours on end, sleeping under their desks if at all. There was an innovative, iconoclast atmosphere, that permeated everything from the company's décor to the management philosophy.

Contrast those images with what comes to mind when you think of the IRS. You probably picture accountant-types in blue suits and white shirts, an atmosphere where accuracy is the first priority and innovative thinking is secondary. "Structure" is the key word, and everyone knows exactly where he or she fits in the hierarchy.

Most companies fall between these two extremes, and there are many other factors to consider beyond corporate structure and dress codes. As in most career choices, there are no right and wrong answers. The only goal is finding the best match between your personality and desires and what prospective employers have to offer.

The best way to determine what a company's culture is like is to ask the people who work there. If you don't know anyone whose brain you can pick, either network to find someone, or take careful mental notes when you come in for an interview. Observation is a keen tool.

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