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Do you want to know what it is really like to work for a certain company? If so, you know you can’t just ask a recruiter “what’s the company culture like?” Not only does the term “company culture” cover quite a few different things, but the ability to sum it up in a single answer also is virtually impossible and will probably not result in a marketing-approved, polished answer than a more candid discussion.

If you are trying to find out about the culture of a company, a recruiter will likely try to tell you everything that you want to hear. As a result, if you really want to know about company culture, you have to come up with some better, more specific questions to ask during your interview.

There are several different questions that you can ask while you are interviewing that are going to seem straightforward at surface level, but which will help you determine more insight and intel about a company’s inner workings. Here you can find a handful of questions to ask to learn more about the company culture of a company during an interview. 

1. How long have you been working for the company in question?

This particular question is one that you should ask any interviewer. If each person that you meet has only been in their position for a short while, then you will have to dig a bit deeper. The only time that new employees are a good sign is if the company is still in its startup phase, if it is expanding quickly or if the department has just been created. Otherwise, this is a huge red flag. High rates of turnover may be a sign of no opportunities for career advancement, incompetent management, long hours or low pay.

2. What was the latest achievement that the company celebrated?

This is a question that can give the interviewer the opportunity to let you know if employee efforts and accomplishments are appreciated and acknowledged, and if people actually enjoy participating in company gatherings or parties. If there is nothing done to celebrate, then it could indicate a cold and thankless working environment, which is not appealing to most potential hires.

3. Can you describe the dress code at the organization or company?

It’s very rare to find a large company or organization that has a loose or no dress code requirement in place. In fact, you are much more likely to find a company that has full business-dress requirement for their employees. While there are some exceptions, you are going to be hard pressed to find a company where you have to wear business attire (i.e. skirt/dress for ladies and a full suit for men) everyday where there are also nap rooms, free beer, and dogs in the office.

However, you do need to be careful with this question. Just because the dress code is more informal, it doesn’t mean that there is any less stress or pressure when it comes to job duties and expectations. There are quite a few tech companies that do not have any formal dress code requirements in place, but that are also complete pressure cookers. The appearance standards at a company are just one small indication of the environment and does not give a full view of the bigger picture.

4. What type of activities are available to workers?

If you discover that the company plans social events, retreats, company outings, trivia teams or softball leagues, this is an indication that the executives put the value on their workers actually liking one another, not just having to work together. It’s especially important for you if you are just moving to a new area, are first entering the workforce after having graduated from college, or to anyone else who wants some type of social aspect in their new workplace.

However, it’s important to think about the flip side of that, as well. Not everyone is going to want that type of togetherness. If the idea of having to socialize with co-workers does not sound appealing to you, then it may be a good idea to continue looking and find a company that sticks to the 9 to 5 business hours – and nothing more.

5. Describe the biggest challenge for the department last year and what was learned from it?

While this may seem to be a somewhat obvious question, this can actually help to reveal if the company is going to blame people or processes if something happens to go wrong. If they blame processes, then it is an indication that this is an organization that takes pride in continuous learning; however, if it blames people then this is going to be an indication of the “blame culture.” Be sure to listen carefully to what or who is blamed for a particular failure, and if any steps have been taken to learn from the situation. Make sure you also listen to see how the answer hints at how much politics are at play in the office. The fact is, a company’s politics actually plays a significant role in job satisfaction, and it’s wise to know now how decisions will be made and the way that conflicts are resolved.

6. How often are the founders/leaders/owners actually in the office?

This is a question that is going to let you know if there are leaders in the company are actually aware of what’s going on and are able to make knowledgeable decisions. The brightest and best ideas are often going to come right from the individuals who are on the ground floor and doing the work on a day-to-day basis. However, if leaders do not spend much time with staff, then this is an indication that there is no support or innovation ingrained in the culture.

While this is a question that may not be very important for larger organizations; for a small business, being able to interact with those at the top level may be the key for you to remain ahead and have the ability to get things done, ensuring that a vision is carried out. Additionally, you may get a glimpse of the workaholism that is expected from the company. If there is a recruiter that says something like, “Bill is here 95 hours per week and never takes any days off,” then you know that the culture is going to be extremely focused on putting in countless hours and having a lot of face time.

7. How do others on the team take lunch?

If you are able to find out what people are doing on their lunch hour, this will let you know whether or not they are slammed with work or if they don’t want to spend any time with their co-workers. Additionally, this information will let you know if your potential co-workers are introverted or extroverted. This is a situation that is going to be based on your own preferences but will provide some insight about the team you may join.

8. What methods are used to measure success, over what frame of time and who comes up with the metrics?

Do you want to avoid having a boss who has unbelievable expectations? If so, then this is a question that you definitely need to ask. Prior to accepting any offer, you should make sure that your new boss will have realistic expectations regarding what you will be able to accomplish and when. Regardless of how attractive the job offer may be, if you can’t deliver the desired results, then you are going to fail. So, if you find out that the bar is extremely high, and you don’t have time to get ready, then you should really think twice about taking the job without some type of negotiation or discussion first.

9. Can you have a tour around the office?

This is a question that you should save for the last round of your interview so that you don’t seem intrusive; however, if you take a walk around the company’s office where you may be working, you can get a first-hand feel for the daily culture. Are the workers interacting with each other? Do they appear stressed? Are the different work areas decorated? How is the office setup? Does the actual workspace seem to be inclusive? What’s the organization of the departments like?

One thing that you should try to watch out for is the number of higher-level workers who have private offices. This is a clue to how hierarchical and structured the company actually is. If a company has very few or absolutely no private offices, then they are going to likely be less top-down than a company with a large number of these private offices. There is a trend today to remove many of these private areas in offices and make the space more communal, which creates a more collaborative and flexible work environment.

10. Does the company believe in giving back to the community?

You need to make sure that you and the company you are interviewing with are aligned in regard to the shard priorities, including giving back to the community and overall corporate responsibility. There are some companies that promote the community activities they participate in while others view volunteering and philanthropy as a distraction.

11. Are flexible schedules an option?

Instead of just coming out and asking if you can have a flexible schedule, it’s smart to ask if anyone else does. If there is not anyone working like this, then you will know that this company has scheduling that’s formal, and if you need alternate work arrangements, this position may not be the one for you. If there are many people with a flexible schedule already, then you will be able to maximize the work-life balance you are looking for in your new job.

12. Does the company offer any type of ongoing learning opportunities for the employees?

In addition to there being a wide array of benefits offered when you get a degree or complete a certificate program that is subsidized by your employer, this question is also one that can help you gain deeper insight into certain aspects of company culture. For example, does this particular company view advanced degrees or continued education as something that adds value to their workers and their overall profile? Is there is time for any additional training? Also, if this is encouraged will there still be time for balance to be achieved for workers between their work life and their home life?

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