The Right Questions to Ask About Company Culture

Contrary to popular opinion, the purpose of a job interview is not merely to wow the hiring manager. No, the purpose of the job interview is to ascertain whether there is a snug organizational fit—whether your personal culture is in alignment with the culture of the company. If it is, then the relationship could be mutually beneficial; if it isn’t then it’s probably best for all concerned if you move on to something a little more appropriate.

The question is, how can you glean what the corporate culture stands for? What are the right questions that you should be asking about the company’s values, its mission, its work environment, and so forth?

Hopefully you won’t need to ask too many questions, because the person conducting your interview will be all too eager to talk to you about the company culture. Frankly, if nothing is volunteered about the corporate culture, you should take that as a pretty major red flag.

Beyond that, there are a few questions you might ask as you try to ascertain what a company’s culture is really like.

  • Of course, you could simply ask the hiring manager to describe the company culture to you. If an honest answer is furnished, that’s a positive sign in and of itself. If the answer has a lot of vague corporate-speak—or relies heavily on words like “excellence,” which sound good but say very little—it could mean that culture is simply not something the company has invested in. (Which is not to say that it doesn’t have a culture—all businesses have culture—but rather that it’s something less than strategic.)
  • Ask why the position is open. If it’s a new position or the previous employee left because his spouse got another job that required them to move, fine. If it’s a situation where there was tension between the employee and the management, that’s another matter.
  • What’s the definition of success in this role? The way a company defines success reveals much about its values.
  • How much communication or collaboration would you have with the management team? If a collaborative work environment is something that matters to you, make sure to ask about it.
  • Ask about social values and ethical responsibility.
  • Finally, ask about employee tenure, room for advancement, and the frequency of promotions—all of which can be pretty revealing.

More than anything: Don’t underestimate the importance of cultural fit—and don’t assume that you’re powerless to determine exactly what that fit might look like.