Understanding a company culture: 7 questions to ask during an interview that will give you answers

A company’s culture, the values, rituals and behaviors shared by the people who work there,  has the power to influence how you feel about your work environment, and whether it’s a place where you would be comfortable and want to work. This includes big and little things — like how people dress, communicate with leadership and celebrate success. By getting to know the culture during an interview, you can set yourself up to feel like a fit for the team you’re joining from day one.

Just by walking into a building, you can learn about the culture. Is the work space open or filled with cubicles and offices? Are people talking to each other or plugged into earbuds? Do people drive, bike or ride the bus to work? All of these clues give you insight into the culture and how you’d fit in.

But, the most effective way to grasp a feel of the culture during an interview is to simply ask. You want to join a company that cares about its employees and the community. We compiled a list of questions that will help you learn more about the organization’s behaviors and important decisions.

What is the onboarding process like?

Onboarding, the process of orientating and mainstreaming new employees into an organization, equips them with the tools they need to be successful. An effective onboarding process answers what and how the employee should be doing. Successful onboarding integrates new employees into the organization so they no longer feel like outsiders.

So, ask about the onboarding process. Will a mentor help answer questions during the first few weeks? Will there be regular, scheduled check-ins with your manager?

How is conflict resolved?

Conflict in the workplace is unavoidable. When challenges arise, how does the organization handle them?

Sustainable and successful organizations are upfront about what behaviors are expected and tolerated. They have a clear chain-of-command and system of communication when conflict does happen. These businesses even see conflict as an opportunity.

Listen for the organization’s strategies and processes in place to deal with conflict. Is conflict embraced? Are listening sessions involved? Is there guidance moving forward?

How is feedback given? 

Researchers say that communicative cultures drive productivity. But, poorly delivered feedback breeds fear and confusion. Is feedback specific and task-oriented? Are there quarterly reviews? Delivering feedback should feel like a two-way conversation. When delivered well, these messages propel employees forward and help them achieve substantial goals.

How is success celebrated?

Celebrating success in the workplace generates joy and positivity. Are teams rewarded for reaching sales goals or achieving new clients? Or is success handed out individually? Are celebratory parties or lunches involved or maybe employee bonuses? Each company culture acknowledges and celebrates success differently.

What kind of flexible work arrangements are available?

According to a survey from FlexJobs, when parents are considering a new job opportunity, they rank work flexibility as one of the most important factors.

A flexible work schedule can lead to a feeling of control over one’s personal and work life. But, from an employer’s point of view, employees who work from home can be more difficult to manage and oversee. During the interview, avoid being too abrupt (“Can I work from home?”) and instead ask, “What work arrangements have you found to best serve your teams?” If the company is adamant against working from home or any kind of flexible schedule arrangement, the answer could provide you with important insights into the organization’s culture.

What is your favorite part about working here?

Asking an honest and authentic question like this breeds honest answers. You’ll get a glimpse what real life is like at the organization. You’ll also understand whether you can see yourself working there. Does the interviewer appreciate that their voice is heard? Do they love the mission?

How does the organization empower you in your career growth?

Career growth can mean jumping on the managerial track, making lateral moves or furthering your education and skillset. How does this organization value growth? Are there job trainings and education offerings provided throughout the year? Is there a mentoring program that helps employees grow? 

Being a part of an integrated and intentional company culture taps into emotional connections. Employees are motivated to be a part of something that’s not just about money, but about being part of a larger mission, solving problems and providing top-notch service.