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How to describe your company culture

Nearly three out of four job seekers won’t apply to a company with values that don’t align with their own. People actively considering new career opportunities say company culture is almost as important as salary when it comes to their decision. And passive candidates put an even finer point on it, citing work environment as the single most important element of the workplace.

If prospective candidates are going to put that much stock in a company’s culture and values, recruiters and talent leaders should be equally passionate about the way they communicate those concepts. But it can be tough to know exactly how to describe your company culture—especially if you’re not 100% sure what is and isn’t true about it.

So how do you first determine the reality of your culture, and then talk about it in a way that will attract, engage, and retain top talent?

The short is answer is the study of language: both the words you’ve been using, and the words you should be using. The long answer is the rest of this article.

Uncover your authentic values

Your company’s values might already be enshrined on your careers page—but how do you gauge whether you’re actually embodying them? And how do you know what message about your culture is actually getting across to prospective candidates?

You can start by looking at what’s already being said by and about your company.

Review what people are writing

Past and present employees can tell you the most about what your company truly values—and many of them probably already have. For some unfiltered honesty, check Glassdoor—93% of employees mention company culture in their Glassdoor reviews.

Pay close attention to the most frequently cited “Pros” and “Cons” to determine the consensus on the strengths and weaknesses of your organization. Are people praising your company for valuing work-life balance, or complaining about a culture in which everyone feels pressured to work nights and weekends? Note what you’re doing well, and take criticisms to heart and think about how you can course correct.

Of course, not everyone shares their experiences on Glassdoor, so it’s never going to offer as complete a picture of employee sentiment as you can uncover with your own internal audits. Go through exit interviews in search of key takeaways from past employees. (If you’re not already asking questions about culture and values in your exit interviews, start now.) Anonymously survey your current employees to get a fresh perspective on your company culture. Ask pointed questions about some of the concerns raised in old Glassdoor reviews to see if those issues still define your company.

Review what you’ve been writing

Next, take a look at your company’s talent communications to see what you’ve been telling prospective candidates about the company culture—which may or not be what you’ve intended to convey!

Analyze your company’s job posts, recruiting emails, careers page, mission statement, and leadership principles to find patterns that are already in place. Here’s what that process might look like:

  • Print out as many samples of your hiring content as you can.
  • Go through them line by line with a highlighter, marking words and phrases that are used to describe your company’s objectives, workplace, employees, or ideal candidates.
  • Note which words and phrases reappear the most often.

(If this all sounds like a lot of work, keep in mind that Textio can automate the process by analyzing your hiring documents and building a “culture stack” of data and your company’s unique language patterns).

If you find the same language appearing across multiple documents written by multiple people, those patterns can be read as expressions of shared cultural values.

Why is this process so important? Because those shared values could prove toxic.

Our 2019 analysis of Under Armour’s talent communications provides a good example of a company’s true values hiding in plain sight. Our research found that the company used the phrase whatever it takes 30 times more than its competitors, and disciplining eight times more.

At the time, those phrases were statistically proven to result in a higher proportion of applications from men. It’s easy to imagine, in this case, how language could have both created and reflected a “boys' club” culture (which was eventually exposed as highly inappropriate) .

Look at how past and present employees describe your culture. Compare that to the language in your own talent content. If some clear tensions exist, that’s probably a sign that the way you currently write about your culture doesn’t align with your authentic values. If there’s crossover between what you and your employees are saying, determine whether that shared language contributes to a healthy culture, or limits your appeal to prospective candidates.

Analyze your language patterns to decide how to describe your company culture

As you examine the language your company uses, some common words and phrases will emerge. But how do you know if those descriptors are ones you should amplify or correct? Even seemingly neutral terms can contain implicit bias.

Just consider some of the positive and negative connotations these familiar phrases might provoke in the minds of prospective candidates:

  • Work hard, play hard — Some people might think this sounds like a fun yet challenging environment. Others will hear, “We hire young people and expect them to work long hours—but there’s free beer at every company softball game!” And in terms of implicit bias, Textio data analysis currently identifies the phrase play hard as one that will increase the number of men who apply to your company.
  • Go-getters — Some highly driven people will hear this phrase and get excited about a company culture in which their ambition will be rewarded. Others will be turned off by the idea of a competitive or cutthroat working environment.
  • Fast-paced — Another Rorschach test: One person might read this phrase and picture a place where they never get bored; another could imagine an office where they never have a second to breathe. In terms of effectiveness, Textio currently shows that using fast-paced in a job post will get more people to apply.
  • Collaborative process — This type of phrase will likely appeal more to team players and less to independent workers, who prefer to do their own thing. Also, both collaborative and teamwork are words that have been shown to increase the number of women who apply to a position.
  • Inclusive environment — This phrase suggests that the company values belonging and has created a welcoming atmosphere. Textio has found that both inclusive and welcoming currently increase the number of women who will apply.

Textio innovations like hiring score and bias meter can help you uncover how your words support (or don’t) your goals. Using Textio will also let you know when those metrics move—language is constantly evolving, and what’s true in today’s job market (like that teamwork has a feminine bias) may change over time.

Once you’ve weighed the connotations and implicit biases of your language patterns, it’s easier to settle on phrases that best describe your company’s unique cultural strengths and ideals. Take what you’ve learned from analyzing these language patterns, and carefully choose words that highlight your company’s strongest selling points and deepest aspirations.

Infuse values-based language into all your talent content

After you’ve determined how to describe your company culture, be mindful about communicating with that language in all of your talent content.

You could create a “culture style guide” to get everyone speaking the same language, that lists out all of the words and phrases you should (and shouldn't) use to describe your company culture. Distribute it to everyone who regularly writes content for your careers website, job ads, recruiting emails, brochures, and so on. Also check your employee value proposition and mission statement against the style guide to confirm they’re on the same page.

Alternatively, Textio Flow can help ensure that your company’s cultural descriptions remain aligned across all communications that every team produces. Our augmented writing platform draws from the language of your company’s own “central library” to generate text that’s always on brand, no matter who writes it. You could think of it as a built-in style guide, which empowers everyone in your company to clearly express those shared values in everything they write.

Using the same values-aligned language in all of your writing helps codify your culture. And putting it in all of your talent content will allow every prospective candidate to see exactly what your company values—and decide whether it aligns with their own values.

Describe your company culture in a way that’s genuine and genuinely appealing

Language creates and reflects culture, but if you’re not paying close attention, it’s not always clear how. When you consider just how much a company’s values and culture matter to prospective candidates, it’s clear that a closer examination of the way you describe your culture can be well worth the effort.

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