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Company Culture
Curious about Workplace Culture? Ask These 7 Questions to Gain Insight
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Allie Hofer

With a deep exhale of relief and excited anticipation, you open up your calendar to schedule a new event. You landed an interview for that job you’ve been eyeing! But before you get to the interview, you'll want to learn some more about the company culture.

What is company culture?

We all know by now that one set of company characteristics that is integral to employees’ overall professional experience is workplace culture. The culture of a workplace encompasses every human interaction, from the most basic exchange of pleasantries while pouring a cup of coffee to the most complex execution of the company’s mission, as well as values, office environment, policies and additional elements unique to the organization.

Why is company culture important?

Company culture is important because it can make or break your happiness at work. If you don't love your colleagues, your setup, your work-life balance or something else, you're not going to feel good in your job — and that's not only going to take a toll on your performance, but it's also going to negatively affect your mental health.

What questions should you have about the company culture?

You should ask some major questions in your head and do your homework to answer them (reach out to current employees, research job boards for reviews on the company, etc.) before going to your interview so you know what to expect. But also be sure to ask them during your interview so that you can confirm what the company culture is like.

Here are seven questions you shouldn't forget to ask.

1. What's the office environment like?

If you’re someone who thrives in a team setting, you likely prefer open areas that promote group brainstorming, idea sharing and collaboration between coworkers. If you’re more of an introvert who performs best alone, or if your position handles confidential material, you’ll want private sections that allow for undisturbed work.

2. What benefits will I have that set the company apart in the industry?

Though you may initially focus on the job description and questions related to your responsibilities within that position, don’t forget to ask about benefits. And I don’t mean just health benefits. Does the company negotiate flexible work arrangements? Do they offer family-planning benefits? Companies that have devoted time and finances to assembling packages that truly meet the needs of every type of employee they might hire prove it has a vested interest in how much it values the personal lives of its employees.

3. In what ways has the company bent over backward to support its employees in their work or personal life?

Many of us enter interviews mentally committed to agreeing to any terms in order to seem like a team player and to be remembered as a “totally on board” candidate — even if it means making sacrifices. Although certain rigid job requirements may be feasible for you in the present, don’t completely disregard your future self and assume your priorities won’t evolve. You certainly can’t predict or perfectly plan how your life will unfold, so it’s important to understand how a company is amenable to adapting with you. 

4. What will be expected of me in the first 60 days on the job?

Accepting a new position doesn’t immediately assimilate you into the fabric of that company. When you show up on your first day, you are an employee, of course, but you’re not yet accustomed to the various idiosyncrasies that define the organization. It will take time to acclimate with any new job, but not every company will handle that transition period the same way. What will those first two months look like?

5. What do the employees typically do for lunch each day? 

The lunch routine may seem like a trivial detail that you wouldn’t dare mention in an interview, but such simple fundamentals of the everyday human experience are actually cornerstones of a company’s culture. Whether monies are allocated for frequent business lunch outings, casual gatherings are organized in a common area to discuss work matters while munching what you packed from home, or individual contributors eat at their desks, finding out the specifics of your team’s tendencies will give you an idea of what kind of behavior to expect and how you would fit in.

6. What is done at the department level and company-wide to build the team dynamic?

Though lunch rituals are usually an effective litmus test for team relations, your interviewer may not know these more personal details about your team in particular. In this case, and in general, you should inquire about the efforts of higher-ups to foster positive connections between team members.

Does management ensure that teams have favorable meeting conditions for project work, including adequate space, sufficient time together and reliable resources? Does the company at large host morale-boosting events, perhaps that are social in nature and include friendly competition, incentives or off-site recreation?   

7. What professional development opportunities will I have in this role?

A company assumes that you have taken measures to advance your skills while working in your current and previous jobs. In fact, they’ll probably be hesitant to hire you if your career has remained stagnant over the years. Knowing these expectations, find out how the company will help you to develop professionally during your time there.

Do they provide funding for furthering your education through a postgraduate degree program? Will they sponsor conferences or training for your position or department specifically?  

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Hi, there! I’m Allie Hofer, an HR professional and work-life balance enthusiast. More officially, I’m a Professional in Human Resources (PHR), Society of Human Resource Management – Certified Professional (SHRM-CP), and Recruiter Academy Certified Recruiter (RACR). After having my first child, I opted out of the traditional office setting to work from home. Since then, I have been consulting with organizations in the public and private sectors to support the Human Resources function in recruiting, compensation, training and development, and performance management. I started Office Hours to offer a boutique HR solution for small and medium-sized businesses and to help candidates navigate and completely own their career paths.

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