What Culture Do You Want in a New Job? Part 3

In Part 1, you thought about your culture, and built your lists. In part 2, you developed your questions, and thought about the data you wanted to gather. You started with closed or behavior-description questions, so you had a place to start the conversation.

Now, in part 3, you're going to think about when to ask the questions, so you learn the most about the culture in this potential job.

When Can You Ask Questions About Culture?

You have opportunities to ask questions about culture in the phone screen and in the in-person interview. You can try to learn the about the culture from the ad, but that's a little more difficult. There is no guarantee that the hiring manager or team wrote the ad, or that the ad represents the culture.

During the interview, you have the opportunity to learn about the culture in these ways:

  • When you meet the receptionist, or whether there is a receptionist
  • When you meet each interviewer, and definitely at the end of the interview with each person. See Ask Questions of the Hiring Manager and the Interview Team.
  • If you have a meal with anyone, during the meal
  • When you meet the HR person

After the interview, you have more opportunities:

  • When they call to set up another interview
  • When someone calls to check references

Let's look at each of these.

Before the Interview

During the phone screen, if you have great rapport with the interviewer, consider asking one or two questions. I would not ask more than one or two questions. And, only about something that has burned me more than once. If you thought you were working for an agile organization, and the last two were not agile, you might ask, “Do you do standups every day? Maybe we can schedule my interview so I can see your standup.”

Notice how I framed that question. If the interviewer notices that you are not taking anything for granted, you can explain that you have noticed that some so-called agile organizations don't have standups every day, and you want to make sure they do.

Whatever you do, do not pass judgement before you get in the door. You have no idea what these people have tried to accomplish what they have. You can choose to take the interview or not. Please make this a judgement-free zone.

At the Interview

Now you have many more options. You can ask the receptionist questions. Maybe you noticed there are assigned parking spaces for “employee of the month.” Ask how those are assigned. I bet the receptionist will tell you. This is how people are rewarded, a big part of culture.

When you meet with people, have your questions ready. If you must, have them on a piece of paper, that you can pull out of your pocket. When you meet with different people, ask each one a different question, at the end of your allotted time. Again, make this a judgement-free zone. You are asking out of curiousity, not putting people on the spot. You want to know why they like working here.

If you have a chance to eat a meal with people, this is great. I like to ask this question, “What is great about working here?” a meta-question. People fall over themselves, answering this question. You will hear all kinds of things. And, you get to eat your meal, which is great.

If you meet with the HR person, you can ask other questions. It really depends on how savvy the HR person is. Some HR people don't know much about the group you will be working with. They know about the corporation. So, they can't tell you much about the group's culture, which is what you really want to know. Remember, every team and every manager puts its stamp on the corporate culture. Ask questions. And, use your judgement about which questions to ask.

After the First Interview

If you didn't advantage of asking too many questions at the first interview, you should at any second-round or other interview. Remember, the interview is for both you and the hiring manager/team. Don't interrogate people. Do take advantage of your greater rapport with the hiring manager to ask questions.

After all the Interviews

When the hiring manager calls for your references, provide the references. This is late to be asking questions. You should not have any doubts left. And, if you do, ask your questions. Taking a new job is a big commitment. If you have questions, ask.

Make sure to ask your questions from a sense of curiosity. Don't judge your potential hiring manager and team. Not without obtaining the facts. Use follow-up questions to learn the facts.

Start with closed questions to learn about data. Use behavior-description questions to learn about recent projects. Try meta-questions to learn about the question, about the organization.

Do you have any questions for me, about how to learn about the culture while interviewing?

3 Replies to “What Culture Do You Want in a New Job? Part 3”

  1. Thank you for this advice. It is very helpful!

    In some workplace cultures, there is an attitude of perfectionism. While I like to perform to the best of my abilities, it is hard for me to work with someone over my shoulder who is micromanaging me. What kinds of questions can I ask to screen out workplaces that have a need to dot the “i” and cross the “t” in a specific, non-negotiable way?

    1. Marie, one question you might ask is this, “Tell me how you ask people to do work?” or something like that. Look for evidence of an agile board where people take work themselves. You are more likely, although it’s not guaranteed, to be left alone to do your job and provide results. Too many managers and technical leads do not realize all they need to do is ask for results. Sigh.

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