Understanding the Workplace Culture of a Potential Employer

Imagine you are on a job interview. You’ve passed the initial phone screens and are now ready to go to the actual work environment, talk with people who you might actually be working with, and most importantly, learn enough to determine if you even want a job offer. Most companies are considering that today you are privileged to interview with them, and if you are lucky they will make you an offer. But ultimately, you are interviewing them. You want to do good work, and you should know that the environment is one in which you can do great work.

Depending on the size of the company, you need to be prepared for this simple fact: The people you meet on your interview may represent the current culture, but the emerging culture is important as well.

Cultures change and shift over time. New leadership and new managers come in. New HR leaders who have differing views on the types of policies required for a productive workplace. Over time, these and the business climate bring gradual change to the culture of the workplace. People who may have shaped the culture move on to other roles, other companies, and no one steps in for that role. The culture just moves along, perhaps unguided.

You can, however, take the interview as an opportunity to ask a few key questions, especially if the company reps spend any time bragging about their culture. When they open the door to that discussion, here are a few key questions that will help you know if they have a consciously managed culture, or if they are just using the buzzwords.

  • You mentioned the great culture here – has it always been this way?
  • Do you have a set of operating principles that help guide decisions?
  • Have you seen challenges to changing the culture when business needs required it?
  • Is there some sort of governing mechanism in place to assure the culture is preserved as needed, and adjusted as required?

These questions will give you the insight you need to know of culture is accidental or if it is part of the business strategy. If they can provide solid, consistent answers to these questions, then you can likely trust that the culture is part of the strategy and will be consistently managed over time.

For you as a candidate, it’s not just about fit, it’s also about future.


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