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4 Interview Questions You Should Ask to Uncover Company Culture

Emily Lamia profile image

Emily Lamia

A hand shovel full of dirt.

So… you sent in your resume, participated in a 20-minute phone screen, and have now been asked to come in for an in-person interview.

You’re excited about the job, and you think the organization could be the right fit for you, so you do your essential interview prep and head to the interview. Then comes the end of the interview, when the hiring manager asks, “What questions do you have that we can answer for you?”

Instead of saying what you really want to ask ("Am I going to be micromanaged to death with no development opportunities?"), here are some ways to subtly dig into an organization's culture to find out if you truly want to work there:

What you want to find out:

Am I going to work in a dysfunctional work environment?

It’s perfectly reasonable that you’ll want to know what you’re getting into before signing your employment agreement. How can you get the information you need without sounding offensive?

Try asking:

"The job description noted how 'fast-paced' this job/organization is. Can you tell me more about what ‘fast-paced’ means here? Maybe with an example that demonstrates it?”

Getting clear on the way work gets done in this “fast-paced” environment is critical to knowing what you might be stepping into. Remember that the hiring manager’s definition of “fast paced” might be different from yours.

It could mean that you’ll be doing a lot of work very fast even though the work always follows the same timeline, process, and you’d have the same manager and goals.

“Fast-paced” could also mean that the work can shift quickly based on changing priorities or deadlines...or perhaps the process or even the manager might be in flux as well! So ask them to be specific about what this popular descriptor means for them.

What you want to find out:

Am I going to be able to grow and develop in this job?

We all want opportunities to learn and grow, and chances are every person who interviews you is going to tell you there is opportunity for that.

Try asking:

"Can you tell me about two people at this organization who have grown in their roles in a significant way? Perhaps a few people who started off in a certain job, and are now in a different role, or whose job has evolved and grown?”

Most employers have that one person they think of who actually broke out of an admin job and went onto a different role. Find out if there multiple examples of it, and if it happens on many different teams. Identify whether it was your potential manager who supervised them.

Get specific. Don’t feel bad—you’re just asking for data, facts, and examples.

What you want to find out:

Are you a good manager?

People usually fall into asking, “What’s your management style?” I find this question to be super vague, so try asking it in a different way to really get into the details of what you want to know.

Try asking:

"As a manager, how often do you meet with your direct reports? Who’s responsible for the agenda for those meetings? How do you run meetings? Are there distinctions between meetings that are for day-to-day check in’s on work vs. bigger conversations around performance and development? How often do those happen?"

If they are taken aback, or don’t have clear answers, it might indicate that they don’t think of their management style in a very structured way. Maybe that’s good for you! Maybe that’s not so good for you…

Knowing what you need in a manager is super important. If you know how you like to be managed, then the answers to those specific questions can tell you how you’re likely to fit with that potential boss.

What you want to find out:

Is this a fun place to work?

So they tell you about the free snacks, the pizza on Fridays, and the summer picnic. But there is SO much more to culture that’s not food and employee event-related.

Try asking:

"Do people meet up outside of work, or keep their work and personal lives separate? What departments or teams are seen as really innovative, and how? How long is average tenure of staff here? If it’s short, why do you think that is? If it’s long, why do you think that is?"

Keep in mind that there’s no right or wrong answer to these questions—you just want to learn more and get a better sense and feeling of what you’d be stepping into.

There are tons of other questions you could ask to get under what the company or job is really going to be like. Get creative! And if you know what you’re looking for (with specifics!) you can ask if those elements and characteristics are present in that environment.

Most of all, asking these thoughtful and deeper questions is sure to impress your potential boss with how you approach your work and the consideration and detail you invest in your work.

Emily Lamia profile image

Emily Lamia

Emily Lamia is the Founder of Pivot Journeys, which offers career coaching, group programs, and organizational consulting to teams that want to build strengths-based cultures that increase engagement, collaboration, and productivity.

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