5 Questions to Ask (During Your Interview) About Company Culture

In a job interview it’s generally assumed that the interviewer has the upper hand (especially in this economy). After all, interviewers are the ones doling out the jobs, right? However, it’s naïve to think that any job you’re offered will be the perfect fit. Granted, the need for employment may force you to take the first (or only) job that comes your way, but even so you owe it to yourself to know what you’re getting into.

To avoid missed expectations don’t be afraid to ask about the company culture during your job interview. The five questions below will give you insight into the general culture around the workplace without putting your interviewer on the spot. Even if the company turns out to be not what you’d hoped, at least you know what you’re in for if you do decide to take the job.

1) What’s Your Policy on Family Leave?

I’m not just talking about pregnancy leave here((although that’s always good to know) but also the policy on employees having to miss work due to sick kids at home. Is the employee forced to take vacation time? Can they use sick leave? Or is the employee’s paycheck docked?

How a company handles leave for employee family emergencies, sick relatives (such as assisting a loved one going through chemo), the birth of children, and funerals is a huge indicator of how supportive a company is in general of its employees. If you have issues in your life where this kind of support is important, then you have to know the company’s policy on leave up front (and figure out how you’re going to deal with it, if it’s not consistent with your needs).

2) How Often is Overtime Expected?

For some people when they leave the workplace, that’s it. They have obligations outside of work (such as childcare considerations or night school) that dictate they leave on time everyday, and thus don’t want to think about their job again until the next morning. For them there is a distinct line between personal time and work hours.

However, this could become a problem if a company expects their employees to stay late or even work overtime to complete a deadline. If you can’t (or won’t) accommodate last minute overtime requests, then you need to find out the company’s policy on such matters before you take the job. You can’t assume your off time is yours just because the subject didn’t come up organically in an interview.

3) How Often Are Meetings Held?

Let’s fact it, some companies are meeting-crazy. And even though it’s been proven that meetings do not necessarily lead to better productivity (in fact, it’s usually the opposite) some bosses just can’t help themselves when it comes to scheduling meetings.

Typically, a company that tends to have a lot of meetings can indicate a work environment where people are uncomfortable making decisions. On the other hand, it could also mean company leaders tend to micromanage their projects or departments, and thus want to know what’s going on every second. Whatever the reason, too many meetings could be a source of frustration for you. It’s better to figure out (early on) why there are so many meetings and deal with that fact sooner rather than later.

4) Does the Company Participate in Philanthropic Endeavors?

You can discern a lot about a company by looking into its charitable causes. Businesses that donate time, money, and/or expertise to non-profits tend to have more compassion when it comes to general company policy. Plus, it tells you that the company is willing to spend money on things that don’t directly affect profit (like employee raises).

That said you have to make sure you’re philosophically on board with the company’s giving choices. For example, if you’re anti-guns and your employer is a financial supporter of the NRA, then you have to decide if you can live with that. Similarly, many large corporations back political parties, propositions, and candidates. If your company supports a political cause or candidate that you don’t agree with, will you be able to sleep at night?

5) How Would You Sum Up Your Company in One Word?

This is tricky, because it does ask your interviewer to give an opinion of the company, and either way, they may be uncomfortable in doing so. Nevertheless, you can still decipher a lot out of thinly veiled words. For example, answers like exciting, busy, motivating, and even inspiring could indicate a work environment that expects a lot of their employees, especially in terms of things like coming in early, leaving late, or taking personal time. On the flip side, words like laid back, relaxing, and calm all sound great, but if you’re a Type A person who likes to get things done quickly the slow pace of this culture may frustrate you to no end.

So as you can see understanding a company’s culture is just as important as knowing how much a company will pay you if hired. Once you start you’ll spend half your waking hours, five days a week at your new job. If you discover you don’t like the vibe or company expectations, then those are going to be some pretty long, laborious weeks. And the last thing you want to do after you start a new job is start looking for a new job.

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