Questions to Ask During an Interview

This guest post is by David Youssefnia, president of Critical Metrics, a Seattle-based human capital measurement and analytics firm that helps companies measure and manage their culture and engage their employees. You can follow David on Twitter or join the Facebook page on Culture. There’s much to read about corporate culture in the news these days. From Zappos’ practice of paying new employees to quit after they complete training to how everyone at Amazon.com has a desk made of a door, these factoids are examples of each company’s culture. But what if you are looking for a job and want to find out more about the culture of your prospective workplace? What can you do to find out about the culture before and during the interview process? If you aren’t sure why you should be asking about culture, here’s a 30 second refresher: If you fit with the culture, then you are more likely to be on your way to a rewarding, fulfilling work experience. On the other hand, if you don’t fit, the odds are stacked against you and you may be searching again for a new job sooner rather than later. After all, culture fit isn’t a one-way street – it involves both the employer and you, the prospective employee. Employers sometimes have the leg-up in determining fit as they are more likely to have a sense of their culture than you. That said, there are some options for job seekers to get a sense of culture before and during the job search.

Option 1

Check out employer review sites (but do so with caution). These sites are often filled with biased reviews from disgruntled employees, crafty HR professionals or sneaky competitors (not to mention the lack of a representative sample and compilation of data over several years). That said, it’s a starting point to give you some directional data on culture just take these reviews with a grain of salt.

Option 2

You can also get a sense of culture by asking these three simple questions during your interview process. These questions are based in part on research (both our research and others’) on the importance of culture and how it affects the employee experience. There are likely more questions you can ask, so this list is by no means exhaustive.
  • What do employees like most about working here, and what do they think can be improved? Listen for candor. Are you getting the sugarcoated story about how awesome this place is or, are you getting both the good and the bad? No workplace is perfect, and great places to work recognize what they need to work on.
  • Who tends to be successful here? Are they able to answer the question easily? If so, does the description of who is successful sound like you? If they struggle to answer this question, then how will you know if you will be successful? If they can’t articulate what success looks like, then hitting your performance goals may feel like trying to shoot an arrow to hit a bullseye tied to a back of a dog chasing a cat.
  • Why do people leave? Are they continuously being poached for talent or losing out on salary or career opportunities? Do employees make careers here or, do they tend to burn out after a year or two and move on?
If you are on the job market and meeting with recruiters, don’t be shy. Ask companies about their culture to make sure you find the right place for you.
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