How To Gauge Company Culture In An Interview

Achieving Goals, Career Discovery, Career Transitions, Confidence, Get That Job
02/11/19 - Melanie Pearce Hooper

Have you just landed an interview for a killer job? Or are you currently in the job search process and hope to land that interview soon? Or are you considering a career change? If yes, then I highly encourage you to take some time to gauge company culture in an interview.

Your happiness, within and outside of work, can be determined by the behaviors, policies, and environment of a company. On average, most people spend over 8 hours per day or 30-40 hours per week (often more!) at their workplace, which equates to a lot of time at your job.

Why would you spend nearly half of your life at a place you don’t like?

You probably wouldn’t invest in a car before you test drove it, did some research about the make of the car, or asked for recommendations from others before purchasing. Why would it be any different when investing in your career?

So what is company culture anyway? And why should I care?

Company culture is not just comprised of one thing. And you cannot necessarily “touch” company culture, but rather, you can recognize it in a multitude of ways.

A company’s culture can include:

  • The way people interact with one another
  • How they dress
  • What they do after work hours
  • Expectations while at the office
  • The company’s mission
  • Volunteer or community service efforts
  • Interaction with the leadership team
  • The physical office space
  • Hiring practices
  • Flexibility of working hours
  • And to put it simply, just the way that things are done at that company.

Evaluating a job offer entails thinking about the job title, the salary, benefits, vacation time, sick days, etc. While these are very important pieces to consider, many people overlook company culture. Keeping in mind that 40+ hours are typically the time spent at the workplace per week, you can see why considering company culture is a crucial piece to the offer evaluation.

Your well-being and work satisfaction depends on gathering this information. You probably don’t enjoy the job search process, so if it can be avoided, why run the risk of repeating it? Get informed, gather information, and ask the question to ensure your workplace happiness!

Since you cannot break company culture down into one simple question, here are some ways that you can assess a company’s culture before accepting that job offer.

Guage Culture Before the Interview

First and foremost, assess your own needs.

Obviously, everyone’s needs are different. While one person may thrive at a company where the expectation is to work nights, weekends, and over time, another person may crave more structure and defined work hours. While one person may love working in an open space with no doors or closed offices, another may be overwhelmed, distracted, or irritable without privacy. Before you head into that interview, reflect and jot down a few things that make you feel happy while at work.

Start with your previous experiences.

A great place to start in your assessment is your current position or previous work experiences. What have you liked or disliked about your workplace? Were you happy or dissatisfied? Take stock of what worked for you and what didn’t. And get specific!

Talk to a mentor.

Are you new to the working world? If you don’t have previous work experience to gauge workplace culture, find a mentor. If you don’t have a mentor, consider engaging in informational interviews to gain insight. Talk to older professionals about their experiences. What have they noticed within the field, particular companies they have worked at, or perspectives they may have regarding current trends within the industry?

Do your homework!

Be sure to research the companies where you will be interviewing. Not only will this help you excel in the interview, but it will also reveal information about the company culture that will be important in your decision-making process should you receive an offer. Don’t forget to research the leadership team too! The company’s leaders often set the tone of the company and culture is created from their behaviors, practices, or policies. Who is the face of the company? Do you feel aligned with them? Could you see yourself in their shoes? Do you aspire to be like them? These are vital questions to ask yourself as you are doing your company research.

Need a few resources to help you with your company research? Check out the following:
  • Glassdoor.com for company reviews. Remember that like all reviews, the reviews on Glassdoor tend to be polarized. Try to focus less on whether the person assigned 1 or 5 stars and more on how they describe the company and what it’s like to work there.
  • LinkedIn.com to not only view the company’s profile, but also the profiles of the leadership team, people in your prospective department, or people you may know who have previously worked at that company or have connections there.
  • Google the company’s name, then click on “news” to see any recent articles regarding the company.
  • Review the company’s website, including bios, the about us page, the mission statement, etc.

Pay attention to the communication process leading up to your interview.

If you have been invited to interview with a company, pay special attention to this process. Are they communicating with you via phone, email, or text message? Is the process clear and concise? Are interactions easy? Did you get a response, or get in touch with the onboarding committee, recruiter, or HR team? Is there one point person or many? Does the communication feel awkward or comfortable? Is their preferred communication style in alignment with yours? It is important to reflect on even the small things that lead up to your interview. While you are not trying to nitpick every move they make, you are simply taking stock of what works for you and what might not.

Find someone who works for (or previously worked for) the company.

Do you know anyone who is currently working for this company? Or perhaps someone who may know someone, who may know someone? You know how this networking process works! Tap into your network to identify someone who may have connections to the prospective company. Be sure that you are not reaching out to someone who may be involved in the hiring process as this could be a conflict of interest. But, if you can have a brief conversation with an employee or previous employee, this will give you some great insight into the company culture. Just be sure that your questions are professional and appropriate.

Guage Culture During the Interview

When it is time to go into your interview, you will likely have a lot on your mind. You will be busy thinking about making it there on time, making last minute adjustments to your attire, ensuring that you have extra copies of you resume, reviewing that “Tell me about yourself” question one last time, and likely so much more! However, because I have confidence that you will be well prepared, I encourage you to also think about the company culture piece of the interview.

How are you welcomed?

How are you received when you arrive to the interview site? Did someone greet you? What was that interaction like? How did it make you feel?
Evaluate employee interactions. Notice how the current employees interact with one another. Do they have good rapport? Does the team seem prepared for the interview? Are they on the same page or does the interviewing committee seem confused or overwhelmed?

Examine the physical space.

How does the physical space make you feel? Does it make you feel calm or nervous? Is there a designated interview area or are you in someone’s office? Take a look around you and make some mental notes about this space because it could be where you will be working on a daily basis. Is the interview off-site? As you move through the interview process, I would encourage you to ask for a tour of the workplace. If you will be relocating for this position can you visit the workplace before you make your final decision on the offer? Don’t be afraid to ask! Remember, this is likely where you will spend a majority of your waking hours. You want to ensure that you have good feelings about this space.

Reflect on the questions you are asked.

During the interview take mental notes of their interview questions. Do the questions reflect the job description? Are they asking relevant questions? Does the interviewer seem prepared? Do the questions challenge you? Is the interview more formal or more casual? After the interview, be sure to reflect on how the questions and the process made you feel.

Ask your own culture questions.

One of the most important parts of assessing company culture will come from the questions you ask the interviewer(s). Many people shy away from asking questions related to company culture, but I would encourage you to think of interviewing as a two-way street. You are also interviewing them. Now, this doesn’t mean you are going to grill them with inappropriate or pushy questions, but it does mean that you are going to be prepared and ask questions that will help you figure out whether you will fit in and be happy at that company.

Some questions I recommend are:
  • How would you describe the culture here?
  • What is your favorite/least favorite thing about working here?
  • How would you describe the people who are successful here?
  • Can you tell me a bit about the company’s values and how that shows up in day-to-day work?

Check out this article from Glassdoor.com and this one from Themuse.com for additional questions you can ask.

Be sure to tailor your questions so that they are relevant and appropriate for the company in which you will be interviewing.

Guage Culture After the Interview

Reflect on the process to date.

Upon completing your interview, or at least the first round of the interviewing process, do you have a good understanding of the next steps? Has the interviewing process been clear? Do you know when you might hear from them? Will they contact you or should you follow-up? What is the timeframe for making a hiring decision? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, be sure to ask. Make note of whether you feel comfortable with this process or if it still seems unclear or confusing.

Determine if you are still interested in this organization.

If you are not offered the position, how does the company handle this? Do they call you to let you know? Do they offer you feedback? You might think that it doesn’t matter what they do because you didn’t get an offer, however, perhaps you weren’t right for that position, but may be perfect for another within that same company. How the recruitment team or interviewer handles a rejection is important to assess whether you might want to apply/interview for another position.

Whether it be before the interview, during, or after, the most important thing you can do is trust yourself. You know yourself best. You have a strong intuition, so take a gut check!

Do you feel excited and comfortable about the probability of working for this company or is something not quite right? Sometimes our head gets in the way of what our gut is telling us.

Remember, the car analogy? If you heard a rattle under the hood while test driving that car, you would likely look into it, right? You probably wouldn’t shrug it off and buy the car anyway. If something is “rattling” for your while you are interviewing, look into it. Ask yourself what it is and assess whether it is related to that company’s culture. Your happiness is worth it! You are worth it!

Still feeling unsure about how to gauge company culture, interviewing, or how to get out of a toxic work environment? Don’t worry! As a Career Specialist, I am here to support you. Take a look at our Career Coaching packages here. If you are unsure of which package might work for you, schedule a consult here.

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