You've landed an interview for a job that aligns with your skill sets and interests. The work sounds like a perfect match for you, and the compensation package matches your needs. But there's one important factor that could change your mind about wanting to work there: the company culture.
Many employers today try to wear their culture on their sleeves by posting fun "behind-the-scenes" photos of employees, or devoting a section of their website to describing the company mission and atmosphere. But unless you know someone who works there (and will give you honest insights), you likely won't know what the company culture is really like until you step into the office for your interview.
While you may be able to infer some things through simple visual observations, you can and should use your job interview as an opportunity to actively learn more about the work environment. Not only will you have a solid response when your interviewer asks if you have any questions, but it will give both you and the hiring manager the opportunity to fully evaluate whether the culture is a good fit for you.
Why your cultural fit matters
The question of a new employee's "fit" is central to the interviewer's thought process, said Ron Fry, author of "101 Smart Questions to Ask on Your Interview" (Career Press, 2016). This person is assessing you based on both your own skills and what he or she knows about the existing team.
How well you fit into a company's culture depends entirely on your personality traits and outlook. These are intrinsic to you — you can't fake it, and unlike your skills or salary, you can't "build up" to a good cultural fit.
"You can't learn a culture," said Aye Moah, chief of product at productivity software company Boomerang. "A bad cultural fit is a lose-lose for the company and for you. Being miserable at work isn't good for your career, since you will be less invested in the company success."
Taylor Smith, co-founder and CEO of employee recognition platform Blueboard, agreed, and said that candidates should be conscious about picking a workplace where they can thrive, personally and professionally. [Looking for a new job? Check out Business News Daily's job search section.]
"Company culture shapes every minute of the workday and every decision that is made, so it's important to gauge a company's culture beforehand to understand if that is the right environment for your work style and your personal values," Smith said.
"Employment is a two-way street," added Gene Camm, director of HR at auto accessory retailer CARiD. "Candidates must ask probing questions of hiring managers to make sure they are as comfortable with the organization as the organization is with the candidate."
Questions to ask your interviewer
Because different people value different things in a company's culture, Smith advised spending some time reflecting on what cultural aspects really matter to you, so you can properly frame your questions and understand what a favorable or unfavorable response might look like. Once you understand your own honest thoughts about elements like leadership style, work flexibility, employee recognition, office social life, etc., you're ready to formulate questions to bring into your interview.
Based on insights from our expert sources, to learn more about the company culture, here are 10 specific sample questions you can ask your interviewer.
- How would you characterize the company's overall management style?
- What is your company's approach to team building and career development?
- How does your company respond to and overcome failures?
- How are employees recognized for their efforts?
- What is the work-life balance like here?
- Does the company host social outings or events for employees?
- What personality traits do you look for in your ideal team members?
- Is the company's strategic approach driven by processes or results?
- Do the company's different departments ever collaborate with one another?
- What kinds of people seem to succeed in this company/department?
After your interview(s), take what you've learned from the hiring manager and see how it stacks up against what real employees and clients have to say. You can read reviews on Glassdoor, or connect with current and past employees directly for further insights on the work environment. If the company is listed on a consumer review site, comments there can provide another window into the culture: Camm noted that if a company has a great customer service reputation, it's likely because the company is treating its own employees with the same high level of respect.
In the end, though, Fry recommends following your own gut instincts above all else.
"Whatever anyone has told you about the culture, believe your own eyes and ears," he said. "Look at the people, the equipment, the decorations. Can you picture yourself working there and with them? Or does the very thought of spending a single day there make you want to run away?"
For more help determining whether to accept a job offer, visit this Business News Daily guide.