Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: What are some good questions you can ask your interviewer to gain insight into the company culture? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.
Uncovering company culture can be tricky in an interview, as you are trying to get the job, as well as figuring out if you want the job. Most companies and interviewers hire people who they believe will be a culture fit, so it is important to ask the questions without giving away your feelings about the answers.
Be friendly and professional when asking about culture, and don’t grill the interviewer. Also, be careful not to ask leading or canned questions that will give you specific answers. Ask broad questions, and let the interview talk. Don’t ever cut off your interviewer. You’ll often get the best information when the interviewer’s guard is down.
A few questions you can ask to determine the culture:
1. What surprised you when you joined the company?
Don’t ask anything specific, just leave the question open-ended, and see what the interviewer comes back with. It will give you good insight. If the interviewer doesn’t say anything related to company culture, and instead says something generic like, “I’m surprised the market is growing so quickly,” then ask specifically: what surprised you about the company culture? Ask if anything about the culture turned out to be different than they were expecting.
2. What does the office typically look like at 7am and 9pm?
You want to find out what times people are at the office. Often the expected company hours given during interviews are not realistic. For instance, I’ve worked at places that scared interviewers telling them to be prepared to work their butts off late at night, when if fact, the office was a ghost-town past 6pm. I’ve also worked places that said they valued “balance,” during the interview, but the office was often buzzing well past 9pm on Sundays.
3. Are the hours different on specific teams, during specific projects and times, or when someone is new?
You want to find out if you will be expected to pay your dues, of if the whole company is constantly working, all the time. Similarly some industries have crunch times where things are extra busy, but then also have periods of downtime, when everyone goes on vacation. Asking if you will work with different geographies will also give you a sense if you will be expected to work European and Asia hours. Also ask if working at night and on the weekends is expected, and how quickly people are expected to return e-mails and calls during off hours.
4. What do people generally do for lunch?
Ask casually if most people eat at at their desk or go out. Then, ask if people go out to lunch together, or if most people eat alone. If the interviewer says that everyone always powers though lunch and scarfs down a sandwich quickly at their desk, then ask if its the same for breakfast and dinner. Also ask if the company provides the meals. Ask if they’ve been so busy that they’ve forgotten to eat, or didn’t get a chance to grab lunch.
5. Do people hang out after work?
Some companies have a lot of official and nonofficial work events. Some activities are really cool and fun. Others can be a total drag, which turn out to be extra work, mandated on the weekends. Also, some companies are more social than others. Ask how often people hang out, and if the occasions are work sponsored (mandatory) or because co-workers are friends and choose to spend more of their free time together.
6. How realistic are the deadlines?
Ask how often deadlines are met, and what happens if deadlines slip. If the interviewer says that deadlines are always ambitious, then ask how the deadlines get met. Are trade-offs made with the product, or do people work double time? Ask for a few examples and just listen. Ask the interviewer what suggestions they have for improving the process. See if the interview has good ideas and if they are optimistic that things will improve. It could be a red flag if they say that things will never change — or if they say the pressure will only get worse as the company grows and expands.