Ah, the company culture conundrum. Of course, you’d like to know what it’s truly like to work for a company. After all, how can you succeed if you’re surrounded by co-workers you just can’t stand? Company culture encompasses a number of things - management style, dress code, company vision and values, the environment and workspace, employee recognition programs, training structure, expected behaviors, outside activities…the list goes on.
During your interview, there will come a point when the recruiter or hiring manager will hand you the mic and let you ask whatever questions you have on your mind. Nine times out of ten, when you simply ask, “What’s your company culture like?” you’ll be met with a polished, well-rehearsed answer of what the employer thinks you want to hear. And, in truth, company culture cannot be summed up in one answer.
By engaging in a more candid discussion and diving deeper into the types of questions you pose, you’ll be able to get better intel about the nitty-gritty inner workings of how the company operates. Because cultural fit is incredibly important to your level of happiness and success in a particular role, here’s a list of questions to ask that’ll help reveal whether or not the company’s culture aligns with your needs and career goals.
Does the Company Support & Actively Engage Employees?
Employee engagement means elevated satisfaction levels, high productivity, and a workplace that places an emphasis on fueling motivation. With a little probing, you’ll be able to uncover if employees are truly invested in their employer and feel like they’ve aligned themselves with a work environment that inspires growth, provides support, and recognizes hard work.
When a company exhibits a strong set of values and actively works to integrate them into how they operate each day, it’ll have a clear impact on employee behaviors and morale. A string of awards lining the walls, trendy swag, and even a collage of photos displaying smiling faces at company outings isn’t an authentic representation of what really goes on behind the scenes.
Get creative. You can ask things like, “What makes you proud to work for this company?” or “If there’s one thing you could change about working here, what would it be?” or “Does management encourage risk-taking, and what happens when an employee experiences failure?”
In addition to these, here’s a look at some other questions you can ask to get a good sense of the employer’s values, the happiness of its employees, and the level of support management provides their team.
#1. What type of continued learning opportunities do you offer your employees?
Many employers will subsidize educational pursuits, like earning a certificate or getting a degree, as a part of their benefits package. But more importantly, this question will provide you with insight into what type of value the company places on professional development and obtaining advanced degrees/certifications. Does the company provide flexibility for its employees to seek out learning opportunities? And if so, what is their policy on allocating time towards training? Will they accommodate flexible hours to balance classes or personal pursuits?
The hiring manager’s response will be a strong indication of their philosophy on employee retention; do they value nurturing and developing their staff or are they a churn and burn shop? Pay close attention to what types of training and learning initiatives they’ve established and what those programs specifically entail. Do they provide mentorship programs? Attend conferences? Have an internal program to develop future leaders? You want to look for a company that cares about the long haul and invests time in helping their staff grow in their careers.
#2. How does your company measure success? How are metrics determined?
A way to dig deeper into things like expectations and management style is to ask this question. You wouldn’t want to accept an offer without first understanding what your boss realistically expects of you in terms of what needs to be accomplished and your timeline of delivery. A job offer can be incredibly enticing, but if the employer hasn’t established a standard for measuring success and is disorganized when it comes to metrics and expectations, you’ll be facing the possibility of failure. Similarly, if the company sets the bar incredibly high, and you are apprehensive about your ability to perform at that level, it may be time to reconsider if the opportunity is a good fit.
#3. Can you tell me a little bit about the last big accomplishment that was celebrated?
Every employee wants to be acknowledged and recognized for their efforts. By throwing this question into the mix, it gives your interviewer the opportunity to talk about employee recognition programs and how the company supports individual and team accomplishments. Do they throw happy hours? Give the employees new swag or an extra vacation day? While every employer is different, celebrating achievements is an important part of creating a strong culture and fostering an environment where employees are motivated to succeed.
#4. What kind of team outings or activities are available to employees?
When an employer offers added perks, like scheduled social events or company outings, trivia nights, softball leagues, or retreats, it attests to the value they place in creating a work environment that stems beyond just sitting in a cubicle next to a co-worker. It means they genuinely care about their team forging authentic relationships with one another.
Maybe socializing isn’t your cup of tea, and that’s perfectly okay. It’s better that you uncover that facet of the culture now, instead of having to begrudgingly participate in a game of kickball on your second day on the job. On the other hand, many people thrive in this type of environment. It’s especially appealing for recent grands who are just entering the workforce or individuals that have relocated to the area and are in need of the added interaction.
How Does the Employer Handle Conflict or Office Politics?
There’s a stark difference between a little healthy conflict, where co-workers can openly communicate their ideas and opinions to find a resolution, versus an environment where you can smell the resentment and negative friction between individuals in the air.
When leadership doesn’t have a strategy for addressing conflict, problems will continue to fester, leading to poor performance and morale. Look out for employers who have made a habit of placing the blame on their employees whenever something has gone awry. Rather than aligning yourself with a culture that plays the blame game, you want to join a team that focuses on learning opportunities and sees failure as a chance for an individual or team to become stronger.
When disagreements and problems are approached in the right manner, employees will feel like their voices are heard. What’s more, this type of environment encourages open dialogue and continual two-way feedback between management and employees. Strong leaders understand that focusing on problem solving and communication can lead to innovation and growth.
So, what can you ask to help clue you in on how a company handles conflict? Here are a few examples:
#1. When faced with high-stake disagreements, how are decisions made?
#2. What was the biggest challenge the department faced in the past year? How was it handled and what did you learn from it?
#3. How is feedback given and received? How does the company engage in feedback-related conversations?#4. How would you describe the company’s organizational politics?
What Does the Work Environment Look Like on a Daily Basis?
Everyone dreams of joining a company where the leadership team ignores individual accomplishments, could care less about their employees or community, and can’t bear the thought of celebrating successes. Who’s with me? Literally, no one wants that. Not even the Grinch on Christmas.
Now’s the time to get a clear picture of what the day-to-day life working at the company would look like. If you’re seeking flexible hours or remote work opportunities, this is the perfect occasion to probe your interviewer on these details. Here are some important questions to consider asking.
#1. During an average work week, how much time do leaders/owners spend in the office?
Strong leaders are the ones who are actively on the floor, participating in day-to-day operations, coaching staff, and making intelligent decisions. Working underneath a manager that actively engages with employees means they sincerely care about company culture, the growth of their team, and inspiring innovation and creativity.
When you have access to, and continually interact with, the owners/leaders of a company, it’ll help accelerate your development as a professional and give you direct insight into the steps you need to take to advance your career. Additionally, when leaders are present and proactively communicate the company’s vision to the team, it creates a shared goal among co-workers and a clear picture of what needs to get done.
On the flip side, if your interviewer gushes over the fact that the CEO works insane hours, never takes a break, and believes working 7 days a week is the only way to succeed, then be prepared to enter a workplace that expects work to become your life.
#2. Do many of your employees work remotely or have flexible schedules?
Instead of jumping right in and asking for a flexible work schedule, you can reword the way you approach this topic by seeing what their current staff is doing. If the answer is ‘none,’ then there’s a strong likelihood that the employer doesn’t support alternative work arrangements. On the other hand, if your question is met with enthusiasm and many of their employees are granted flexible work schedules, it’ll give you some great insight into the work-life balance at the company.
If you take classes Tuesday nights and need to leave work a half hour early or you drive your kids to school Thursday mornings and need to come into the office at 9 am versus the typical 8 am start time, these are questions you should ask before accepting an offer. Personal questions like these, however, should be reserved until the final stages of the interview process
#3. Is the company involved in the community? What types of volunteer programs do you offer?
If corporate responsibility is important to you, then asking this question will provide the necessary insight you need to see if the company aligns with your values and priorities. You may interview with an employer who views volunteering as an activity that interferes with getting work done. Or, you may speak with a hiring manager who tells you that philanthropic pursuits are a large priority for their organization. It really boils down to what elements are meaningful to you both personally and in your career.
| “The greatest gift is not being afraid to question.” – Ruby Dee |
Some other questions you may want to ask is, “What does the turnover look like?” or “If you surveyed the staff on daily life at your company, what are some of the themes that would emerge regarding their likes and dislikes?” Always remember, each company you interview with will possess their own set of values, practices, and approaches to things like conflict or employee recognition.
Your job as the job seeker is to avoid asking questions just for the sake of filling the empty space, and instead ask thoughtful questions that’ll help give you the perspective you need to determine whether an employer is the right fit for you. The goal is to avoid any unwelcome surprises after you’ve just started a new position.