Asking Culture Questions: Understanding Company Culture Before Committing

Job seekers often forget to think about the culture of a company when deciding where to apply. Culture questions should be near the top of your list to ask interviewers. After all, culture reflects the personality of the company and affects everything that transpires there on a day-to-day basis. Some culture questions to ask include:

  • What is the office structure (cubicles, office, room with a view)?
  • Is flexible scheduling permitted?
  • What qualities or performance attributes does the company value?
  • Is the atmosphere calm and methodical or high-energy chaos?
  • Do people stay in one position a long time or make frequent vertical or lateral moves in the company?

Knowing that your new company values punctuality more than creativity—or vice versa—is critical information. Making sure your expectations are aligned with those of your prospective employer is key to your success.

Each company has its own unique culture

Every company’s culture has unique qualities. Some companies have a team-based culture with employee participation on all levels, while others have a more traditional and formal, top-down management style.

We recently placed a candidate who had been working in a formal cubicle environment. Isolated from co-workers and bored, the candidate expressed that he was beginning to feel like just another number in the company. Doherty placed the candidate in a company where the culture more closely reflected his personality. The culture was much more relaxed—employees could walk around barefoot, and could take a break by playing ping pong with a co-worker or participating in a mind strengthening game. Although this candidate was doing the same work he was at his previous company, he stated that he felt much more productive and looked forward to going to work.

Know what you want

Examining the cultures of other companies can help you identify what you are looking for in your prospective employer. Think about the jobs you’ve had or would like to have, and write a list of the top 5 things you are looking for in a company’s culture. Remember, it’s possible to be unhappy even if there’s a ping pong table in the room, so don’t focus only on the perks. Ask about other things you value, such as the reporting structure, dress code, the performance expectations, and the people you will work next to day in and day out.

Before you say “Yes”

When you receive a job offer, ask for a tour of the office before accepting so you can catch a glimpse of the environment. If possible, even sit in on a meeting or shadow a current employee. If they let you talk candidly to a current employee, ask them some questions about what they like or don’t like. After all, this is where you will be spending a majority of your hours, so you don’t want any surprises on your first day.

Some candidates get so wrapped up in the excitement of the new opportunity that they forget to ask simple questions such as if they will have an office or a cubicle. This may seem like a minor detail, but it may have a colossal impact on your satisfaction at work.

A workplace shouldn’t be something you dread on a daily basis; on most days an employee should look forward to going to their job. We encourage you to make a serious effort to understand a culture before you walk into it, and to make questions about culture part of your next interview.