Congratulations! After spending hours putting together the perfect resume and cover letter, you have been invited for a job interview.
You probably think, “all I have to do is make a good impression, answer the questions they want, and hopefully the job will be mine.”
I will be doing a whole series of episodes about interviewing in the future. But since we are talking about company culture right now, I wanted to cover how to assess company culture during a job interview.
An interview is a two-way street.
Too many job applicants look at interviews as if they are performing or taking a test. Yes, you have to impress the company.
But, the company also needs to impress you.
An interview is an opportunity for you to learn more about the company and see if it’s a place you can see yourself being successful for the foreseeable future.
Episode 10 addressed how to investigate company culture before applying for a job. The interview is an opportunity for you to see if what they preach is what they practice.
If there are cracks or inconsistencies between what they promote and their actions, you may witness this while you are on site for your interview.
Here are 5 things to do during your job interview to better understand a company’s culture:
Find Out Whether Prospective Colleagues Like Working There
The first thing to do is ask your likely peers about their experience with the company.
Many people are forthcoming, particularly with someone who is likely to join their team.
Current employees are likely to give hints about what is reality and what is spin.
Take an interest in the individual before trying to dive in deeper. For instance, you could ask employees what are they working on. Chances are they’ll tell you about a project or some other task.
You can take the conversation a further by asking if they’ve had any challenges.
Has it been a smooth road?
What is the level of support they’re receiving?
These questions open the door for candid responses. Sometimes employees let loose and paint a very realistic picture of what is going on.
Ask About the Tenure of Employees
You can ask about the typical tenure during the interview itself, or as you meet people you can innocently ask, “How long have you worked here?”
If someone says they’ve worked for the company for 10 years you can follow that up by asking:
Have you always worked in this role? Or have you been promoted? That individual may volunteer more information, such as if they ever moved departments.
This gives you another view into company culture and how easy or challenging it is to get promotions, transfers internally, etc.
Observe Physical Working Arrangements
Look around and observe working arrangements.
Are there offices with closed doors? Or huge rooms with cubicles or hot desks? Maybe you see a lot of collaborative work spaces. Follow up and ask questions.
Typically, the way a company physically lays out spaces is indicative of how people work together. Or if they don’t.
Big open spaces probably mean there’s a lot of group work going on.
If there is a receptionist outside the boss’ office that means there is a gatekeeper and likely a closed door policy.
Look at the walls. Are there charts notating performance? This could be positive, negative, or otherwise.
Perhaps there are posters about the upcoming company bar-be-que or happy hour. This could indicate a social relationship between employees.
Do you see any awards such as employee of the month wall? Now these may not hold much weight, but sometimes they do.
All of these are talking points that allow you to ask questions and learn more about the work environment.
Get to Know the Boss
Employees leave jobs they don’t like. And they leave employers (or companies) they don’t like.
More than anything, they leave bosses they don’t like.
If you cannot see yourself getting along with the boss, you are already at a significant disadvantage.
Chances are you will leave that position sooner than you probably should.
And if you don’t like your boss there is a very good chance he or she won’t like you much either.
Ask the supervisor about their management style. This is a reasonable question and good leaders expect it.
Also ask the supervisor if they will be around long term. It is important to know if that individual is planning to move on because the replacement might be less invested in you because they didn’t select you themselves.
You should know who you will answer to and who to depend on as an advocate as you are adjusting to any new role.
Finally, Trust Your Gut
Do not ignore red flags. If the job and offer seems great, but if there is something giving you an uneasy feeling, pay attention.
I once had a client who interviewed for a position and was offered the job on the spot. My client said he wanted to speak to his spouse and get back to them with an answer later in the week.
One of the vice presidents told him, “You need to make a decision now. You’d be crazy not to take it. I don’t even know why you’re not ready to jump on this immediately.”
My client was really shocked how aggressive the VP was being towards him. He responded, “if I need to make a decision right now the decision is no.”
I agreed with his decision.
If the VP was that aggressive before signing on the dotted line, how much would he push him around once he started working there?
There will be other jobs and offers. Ignoring warning signs will likely land you back on the job market sooner rather than later.
Keep in mind, the company culture you see during an interview is not 100% representative of the culture you will experience once you start the job.
Tune in to episode 12, “how to uncover the “hidden” company culture to be a successful new hire,” to learn what to look to better understand company culture when starting a new job.