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4/16/23 - How To Spot A Toxic Culture From A Job Ad

by Mark Murphy 

There are two ways to end up working in a truly terrible company culture. The first is to work for a good company whose culture is just a terrible fit for your personality. The second is to end up in a culture that any rational person would consider toxic.

You can easily avoid the first problem, working for a good company that's a terrible fit for your personality, by simply understanding the types of corporate cultures and, knowing your own personality, avoiding those companies.

The online test, What's Your Organizational Culture?, reveals that there are four primary types of corporate cultures. The Social culture fosters strong interpersonal relationships, collaboration, and a friendly atmosphere, creating a sense of belonging and loyalty among employees. The Dependable culture values stability, efficiency, and process adherence, ensuring consistent quality and performance through employees' commitment to following established protocols.

The Enterprising culture emphasizes innovation, creativity, and merit-based competition, encouraging employees to think outside the box and challenge the status quo for continuous growth. The Hierarchical culture is defined by a clear organizational structure, well-defined roles, and a focus on power and authority, driving employees to compete for promotions and recognition within a controlled environment.

Now that you know the types of corporate cultures, all you have to do is be honest about your own preferences. If you're someone who wants clear boundaries between your professional and personal life, you probably won't like the Social culture. If you thrive on creativity, spontaneity, and flexibility, you might feel stifled by the strict processes of the Dependable culture. If you love predictability and structure, you're unlikely to love the fast-paced nature of an Enterprising culture. If you're seeking a highly collaborative atmosphere, you may feel constrained by the top-down decision-making of a Hierarchical culture.

The second way to end up in a terrible corporate culture is to end up in one of those environments that everyone sees as toxic. For that, you'll need to look for certain phrases in job ads. Here are five phrases that often appear in job ads and that signal a potential problem in the company.

Phrase #1: "Fast-paced environment." This phrase can often be a red flag, especially as it indicates that the company expects employees to work at a rapid pace with little regard for work-life balance or burnout.

Phrase #2: "Must be available 24/7." It's not hard to see that this phrase implies the company expects employees to be accessible around the clock, which will almost certainly cause burnout and an unhealthy work-life balance.

Phrase #3: "High tolerance for ambiguity." Being adaptable is great, but when you see this phrase in a job ad, it can indicate that the company lacks clear communication or defined goals and might even have a chaotic work environment.

Phrase #4: "Flexible schedule." No one would dismiss the need for employees to be flexible, but this phrase can indicate that the company does not respect employees' personal time and boundaries, ensuring unpredictable work hours and constant changes.

Phrase #5: "Must thrive under pressure." We all want to be the kind of person who thrives under pressure, but when you see this phrase in a job ad, it can signal that the company often operates in crisis mode, with employees expected to regularly manage high-stress situations without adequate support.

The landmark study on new hire failures makes clear that attitude drives most hiring failures. This means that while you want to choose a good environment to showcase your skills, finding a cultural or attitudinal fit is even more important. Job ads often do a good job of subtly reflecting a company's true culture, so read them carefully. And when you see a phrase that feels wrong, trust your intuition.

Mark Murphy - I'm the founder of, a New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and I teach managers and executives "the science of leadership." I'm the author of six books, including Hundred Percenters, HARD Goals, Hiring For Attitude, Truth At Work, and Managing Narcissists, Blamers, Dramatics & More. Some of my research studies include “Are SMART Goals Dumb?,” “Why CEO's Get Fired,” “Why New Hires Fail,” “High Performers Can Be Less Engaged,” and “Don’t Expect Layoff Survivors to Be Grateful.” I’ve lectured at The United Nations, Harvard Business School, Microsoft, Merck, MasterCard, Charles Schwab and Aflac, among others.