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“So, potential future employer: Would you say you’re a good or bad company to work for?”
Eleven times out of ten, that question’s not going to lead to a transparent answer. But that’s not because interviewers are trying to lie to you. Their job is to recruit top talent, and they’re going to do their hardest to put their organization in the best light possible.
It’s just a bad question.
Let’s start over: congratulations on landing the job interview! It’s not an accomplishment that folks get to experience every day, and it should encourage you that you’re on the right track. Employers like what they see.
Now, assuming you’ve done at least a bit of research, it’s likely that on some level this is a company you think would be a good fit—and you want to work for them. Great. You’ve read reviews online from past or current employees, you’ve maybe even talked to an internal reference or two who’s given you an honest look. But now, you’re about to have a one-on-one conversation with someone you’d be working with on a day-to-day basis. That means that this is the best chance you’ll get to get a picture of what your work life will be.
But it’s all a matter of asking the right questions. As we hopefully exemplified up top, asking “How’s your culture” isn’t going to get you far. That, in large part, is because culture—and good culture at that—means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. So with that in mind, here are eight field-tested questions that can help you actually get to the bottom of what a company’s culture is like—and if it’s the right fit for you:
For starters, part of what makes this a great question is that it isn’t loaded. By asking it, you’re demonstrating to a potential manager that you’re interested in succeeding. But more importantly, their answer will reveal to you what kind of an organization they are. For some, success is simply results driven. For others, it can be more about collaboration. Maybe some organizations are run impeccably: straightforward KPIs, measurable goals, and even ways to improve for underachievers. Some organizations won’t have any metric in place to measure success. And that’s the kind of red flag you want to know about early on.
As we talk about on here quite a bit, a flexible work schedule is a perk worth its weight in gold. And while it may not necessarily be important to you, it says a lot about the company you could end up working for.
A flexible work schedule tells you that an employer isn’t concerned with folks simply punching a clock—instead, it’s about getting the work done while still allowing for a plurality of lifestyles. If a company doesn’t have flexible hours, maybe there’s a reason. Maybe it simply doesn’t make sense for employees to be working from home—like, for example, at a zoo. But if they could, and they’re not allowed to, that can speak volumes.
No, you’re not asking because you’re hungry. Beneath this seemingly superficial question lies a whole world of information: do employees get the opportunity to break for lunch, or is it round-the-clock, eat-at-your-desk-alone type work? Does your manager like to mingle with the team? Do they have a great onsite cafeteria? Okay, you’re a little hungry now.
Few things are more telling than a way a team—and a company, more broadly—handles a setback. Whether it’s circumstances under their control or not, you want to know if your boss is going to have your back, or just want to feed you to the wolves.
Again, this is a really non-invasive way to field what kind of talent the company attracts. Is it all local folks, with a limited diversity of views and backgrounds? Are they attracting top talent from all over the country? And beyond that, if you are thinking of relocating for work, you want to know if the city you’re going to transition to is a place where people settle in easily.
Maybe you’ve never volunteered a day in your life. That doesn’t matter here. What you’re really digging into is if people have balance in their weekly schedule? It doesn’t have to be as robust as Google’s policy of dedicating 20% of your time to passion projects, but it’s good to get a read on if everyone’s life simply revolves around work. Even—silly as it may seem—when they’re at work.
While this question can certainly start a great, casual conversation that humanizes your interviewer, the answer can also be very telling about your own future prospects with the organization. Have they been there for 20 years and couldn’t picture anything else? Did they just get here and have some of the same hesitations you do? Don’t let all the focus just be on your resume. Theirs can be very telling, too.
Whether it’s with an outside university or community college, or it’s just a matter of monthly seminars around the office, it’s always worth investigating what a company is investing in their employees. You don’t want to take a job simply because it meets your needs right now.
You want to know that they’re as invested in your future as you are. You want a career, and the only way you’re going to get there is through growth. With so many great opportunities for continued learning, you don’t want to be in the dark about what paths for growth may (or may not) be available to you once you start work.
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