4 corporate culture questions to ask in a job interview

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You’ve made it to the final round job interview, and are starting to feel hopeful. You’ve asked questions that showed your intellectual curiosity, industry awareness, and sense of humor. You’ve even elicited information about the hiring manager’s leadership style, why the vacancy exists, and how flexible the work-from-home policy really is.

So far it’s all good. You’re excited about the role, and the team seems excited, too.

There’s just one mystery remaining, and it’s a big one. What’s the organization’s culture like, and is it one you will thrive in? Or, might you be stumbling unawares into another Uber, Wells Fargo, or Fox News? Recent bombshell revelations about those organizations’ toxic workplaces remind us that company cultures—even the good ones—can be frustratingly opaque to outsiders.

Nonetheless, it’s important to know whether a potential company’s values will mesh with your own. You’d like to know: Are those values evident in the actions people take every day? Would this environment support you to be the best, happiest version of your professional self? But how do you even begin to ask?

Like you, I’ve wondered: ‘What are some questions to ask during a job interview to determine whether the culture is a good fit?’ That was the question I asked panelist Tim Sieck in my recent webinar on building a high-performance culture.

It was a timely discussion because a few months earlier, Sieck had joined Mercy Medical Center as Director of Organizational Development. His response about determining whether the culture is a good fit was eye-opening.

Don’t tell me about the culture. Tell me a story about the culture

One of Sieck’s favorite requests during a job interview is: “Tell me a story that reflects the culture of the organization,” he says. “The answer will tell you a ton about what the culture is.” At one company Sieck interviewed with, people responded that they had a high-performance culture. To encourage them to elaborate, Sieck would ask for an example.

“I got several different versions of the line ‘We have a high-performance culture,’ but could never really get an answer that satisfied me about what that high-performance culture looked like,” recalls Sieck.

In contrast, at Mercy Medical Center, when Sieck asked about the culture known as “The Mercy Touch,” he received an actual story, concerning a client who was experiencing heartbreak and loss. Anticipating the patient’s unspoken needs, a hospital employee went to great lengths to ensure that the patient and the patient’s family were comfortable.

“None of that was required by the job,” Sieck pointed out. “But that story told me exactly what I needed to know about the organization’s culture.” It was one of the reasons he accepted the position.

Sieck also recommends asking about how the actual culture matches the stated culture, and how the culture may have changed over time. “Changing culture is an incredibly hard thing to do,” he explains. A culture that changes too frequently can be a sign that the organization is trying and struggling to reinvent itself, or that its leadership implements flavor-of-the-month changes after reading the latest leadership book.

Finally, says Sieck, ask your interviewers how they would describe the culture to someone like you. “If the culture is strong, people should be able to tell you a story and articulate exactly what that means.”

Understanding a prospective employer’s culture can be one of the toughest things to really discern during a job interview. But you can determine whether the culture would be a good fit by asking these four questions.

4 Interview Questions About Company Culture

Whether you’re interviewing for a job with a new employer, or moving to a new team with your current company, you owe it to yourself, and to them, to thoughtfully assess the cultural fit. Here are the four questions that every job-seeker should ask:

1. Tell me a story that reflects the culture of the organization.

2. How do you know your actual culture matches your stated culture?

3. Has the culture changed since you been here? If yes, how?

4. How would you describe the culture to someone like me?

This article first appeared on Be Leaderly.