What’s it really like to work there?

When you’re interviewing for a new job, you probably want to know what it’s really like to work there. But most interview advice misses the mark when it comes to culture. How do you figure out the unspoken rules about company culture and communication before you take the job?

The folks over at Fast Company asked me to write an article for them on this important topic, and I’ll share some of those tips with you.

First off, a company’s culture is determined by what the organization actually respects, which can often vary from theory to practice. We’re all prone to self-deception. To see the culture clearly, you’ll need to look past the words and focus on actions that show its respect for employees’ time, contributions, and effort.

When visiting a company, before you get to the actual talking part, do a visual interview. In 2019, the employee experience is a good indicator of how a company feels about its employees’ well-being.

When you visit the office, notice what people are wearing. Is the dress code t-shirt and shorts? Button-down and jeans? Are flip-flops optional? The spectrum of office formality to casualness provides your first clue as to how a company treats itself.

Take into account how much space, light, and quiet is each employee provided. If you find it crushing to work in a status-driven hierarchical environment where the corner office is the grand prize, pay attention accordingly. Or if the tumult of an open floor plan feels like chaos instead of a productive workspace to you, choose wisely.

When they ask if you’d like a coffee or water, take them up on it, and get it yourself. This gives you an opportunity to visit the cafe or pantry. Notice whether it’s large and well-stocked, with a wide variety available or messy and tiny. Are they scrimping on supplies and offerings? Or is it a Google-esque cornucopia of snacks, drinks, and menu options? Great generals quip that “an army marches on its stomach.” Does your future employer agree?

Similarly, I’ve heard that a trip to the bathroom is the most revealing way to find out how a company feels about its employees. Because the bathroom is invisible to the outside world but something employees use every day, investments here show a conscious effort to improve the daily routine.

If the bathrooms are dingy, dimly lit, depressing dungeons that have not been painted since the 1970s, how discretionary is employee happiness to this company when nature calls? A clean, well-stocked, and well-maintained lavatory says the organization cares when nature calls.

These visual cues give a glimpse into a company’s culture as it is actually practiced. You can’t read too much into them, of course, but they provide clues.

I included an additional four crucial questions, that you can read on Ladders News.

The reason for this is the sensible warning “badmouth thee, badmouth me.” Employers assume if you’re the type to go negative on former managers, that it’s a pattern that will be repeated. Employers don’t want to be on the receiving end of your negativity.

And because the job search can be a lonely, disorienting process, I cautioned against allowing the interview to cross boundaries. “This is not a therapy session. You have to realize that everything you say can and will be used against you. Nothing negative.”

You need to keep your comments and answers focused on the future impact of your skills and abilities, not any deficiencies in your former boss.

See all my contributions to the press on CNNFast CompanyFortuneBusiness InsiderCNBC and others on our press page!

I also spoke to CNN’s Kathryn Vasel this week about this tough interview question:

Why are you looking to leave your current job?

My advice? “Don’t go negative no matter what is causing you to leave.” I shared some ways you could deflect the conversation to more productive topics by focusing on the contributions you want to make in the future.