Ask these 9 questions to understand a work environment

How many times have you wondered what it’s like to work for a specific company? Like actually work for them – not just what you can glean from their mission statement.

Since you spend a significant amount of time at work, it is crucial to understand office culture. An interview is your chance to figure this out, but how?

You know the phrase, “How’s it going?”. We have trained ourselves to automatically respond with “Good. How are you?” The same idea holds true for questions asked by candidates. If you want thoughtful, unique answers, you cannot ask cookie-cutter questions.

These 9 questions can help you determine what it’s like to work for an organization. Utilize the phrases explain, describe, and tell me. These lead to detailed answers.

1. Explain a typical day in the office. By having a current employee walk you through a typical day, you will not only understand the exciting elements of the job, but also the mundane. Pay attention to what the employees emphasize and also what they exclude.

2. Describe how you spend the lunch hour. This is a casual way to uncover office culture without explicitly asking, “What’s the culture like?” If a few employees eat lunch together, that indicates a very different environment than a place where everyone eats alone at their desks.

3. What percentage of time does someone in this position spend {insert responsibility}? A job description outlines responsibilities, but how much time will you actually spend answering emails – 10% of the time, or 60% of the time? This clarification can make a huge difference in how you feel about the position.

"It’s a disservice to you and the organization if your new position is not what you expected. Invest in this process and you will be rewarded in the job search."

4. Explain what collaboration looks like among this team. It’s important to understand how a team works (or doesn’t work) together. If you have the opportunity to interview with several employees on separate occasions, ask this question and compare their answers. Is there a consensus, or were you given a variety of contradicting responses?

5. On your website, it says you value {insert value}. Tell me more about how that plays out. This may feel like you’re proctoring a pop quiz, but it’s fair. If a company claims to value something, it is important to understand if they truly uphold that value. Ask away!

6. Describe the most challenging aspect of working here. Candidates typically ask what the best part of working for a company is. While that’s fine, the alternative tends to reveal more. Ask them what’s hard. Figure out what’s difficult. You want to be prepared for reality if you accept the position.

7. Walk me through a regular staff meeting. A meeting comprised of update-sharing is very different from a meeting centered on professional development. While neither is inherently better, meeting format communicates culture.

8. Describe your personal supervision style. Prior to accepting or declining an offer, you should speak with your prospective supervisor. If you don’t have this opportunity, it raises a red flag. How do they provide feedback? How do they support their supervisees? These are important considerations.

9. Tell me about a time when something didn’t go as planned. How did the team respond? Flip the behavioral interview question back on the interviewer. This will give you a realistic idea of how the organization functions under stress and pressure – an inevitable situation for every company.

These 9 questions unveil characteristics of an organization and its employees. While the company wants to determine who you are, it is equally important for you understand who they are.

You need to know if the company is somewhere you can thrive. You need to determine if it is somewhere you can grow as a professional. Ask creative questions to produce honest, thoughtful answers.

It’s a disservice to you and the organization if your new position is not what you expected. Invest in this process and you will be rewarded in the job search.

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