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Ways to Determine Company Culture in an Interview


Employment & Learning

When you are looking for a new job, you don’t just want the right position—you want the right culture fit: An office that matches your personality; a team that supports your love for collaboration or your do-it-yourself spirit. Sure, you could do good work anywhere—but if the attitudes and predispositions of the workplace feel like second nature, you are more likely to hit the ground running (and to be happy there for long term). Ask questions that give you the real details about what it’s like to work there. Try these to get you started.

“Can you tell me about the busiest times of year?”

This is masked as a question about the cyclical nature of work, but what it really tells you is what the on-the-job hours look like: Do people say that January is crazy because of year-end donations—or do they respond with, “When is it not busy?!” This question can give you clues into the support and collaboration among the team. Is the answer an every-person-for-herself response (“You would be busy during…”) or a team-based one? (e.g., “We go into overdrive during the fall, and we often eat dinner together on Tuesdays.”)

“How often does the staff meet?”

This questions looks like a harmless inquiry into office routines, but it can tell you a lot about the level of communication between workers. Answers that tell you about the frequency of staff meetings also shed light on how often you may be working by yourself or as a member of a team.

“Do you have any suggestions for where I could get lunch?”

OK, this is not a question for the formal interview—it’s better aimed at the receptionist on the way out, masked as an inquiry for a recommendation. Then, listen closely. Do they all go to a local deli then eat together while talking shop in the board room? Or does everyone usually brown bag it and eat at their desks? Getting some insight into the team norms and habits can show you how well you would fit in.

“Are there family photos at the office?”

Here’s a question not to ask aloud, but to think to yourself. The prevalence of personal items can be directly proportionate to the formality of the office: If photos of employees’ children are visible when you’re passing by their desks, it’s probably the sort of place where a colleague will ask how your son’s birthday party was. No photos in sight? It’s likely a more down-to-business work environment.

You can look for other indicators of personality, too. Do employees sport Shoe-a-Day calendars or a list of the corporate values in their office? Is the break room whiteboard scribbled with last Friday’s ping-pong scores or the team’s monthly deadlines? These visual cues can give you a better sense of the atmosphere.

Remember, at an interview, it’s not just the company deciding if you’re right for the team—you get to decide if they feel like the right fit for you. Keep your eyes and ears open, and pay attention to the subtle signals. They can tell you a lot.

Information on our Job Search Program at the YWCA Employment and Learning Center can be found at:

Employment & Learning

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