Ask These Questions to Learn More about a Company’s Culture

The position you’ve been offered is your dream job, and you’re ready to go all in. But before you accept the offer, consider whether the corporate culture is a good fit for you. If not, the job will wear on you like an expensive pair of shoes that are a size too small.

company culture

Culture Clashes

Career coach Sherri Thomas loved her job as a DJ at a California rock radio station. Thomas knew she should be happy—lavish dinners with record producers and hanging out backstage with recording artists like Phil Collins and Billy Idol. What’s not to love?

“I had advanced my career to become one of the few women DJ’s in the country to host my own morning show, and yet, every day I grew more and more miserable,” says Thomas, CEO of Career Coaching 360 and author of The Bounce Back and Career Smart. “I loved my job, and the perks were even better. Yet I was finding myself getting more and more depressed.”

After several months, she identified the issue. Her values didn’t mesh with her coworkers’ values and she felt like an outsider looking in.

“I was clashing with the company’s culture,” Thomas recalls. “I was living a healthy lifestyle which was different than the lifestyle of my managers and colleagues. I didn’t have close friends at the station and stopped being invited to company barbecues and parties. I felt like I didn’t belong.”

Recently, one of Thomas’ clients was a similar situation in her job at a healthcare facility. The client was pursuing a degree, which she was paying for herself. Good stuff, right? But the client’s manager labeled her uppity and other employees followed the leader in closing her out.

“When she asked her manager if she could swap shifts with a peer so that she could attend class one night a week, he told her ‘no’ and to stop trying to act like she was smarter than everyone else,” Thomas says. “His attitude affected her colleagues who also started giving her the cold shoulder.”

Do Your Homework

To prevent a culture clash or clique cold shoulder, go into 007 sleuth mode before your first interview. Visit your prospective company’s website to learn about its mission, values and culture. Go deep: check out the services, career and investor sections too, Thomas says.

After you’ve learned what the company says about itself, find out what others are saying. Search for stories online to see what kind of recent news is available. This will also help you ask intelligent questions in the job interview. Read employee reviews on sites like and tap your personal network, Thomas says.

Questions for the First Interview

Leverage the first job interview as a way to validate what you’ve already learned and gather more information about the overall corporate culture, Thomas says. “Say something like, ‘I’ve researched your website and see that professional development and growth opportunities are part of the company’s culture. Could you share a few examples of how those values have been put into place?’ Or, ‘I visited GlassDoor and saw several employees really appreciated the work/life balance guidelines inside this organization. Could you share more about that?’”

To learn more, ask ‘Do employees tend to socialize together after work?’ ‘Are employees encouraged to seek more education and training?’ ‘How is recognition handled for individual or team achievements? (How to Offer Training and Development to Show Employees You Value Them). Ask about the company’s core values and what behaviors earn recognition and what behaviors are deal breakers.

Questions for the Second Interview

If you score a second interview, use the opportunity to find out about work expectations and work-life balance, says Rebecca Kiki Weingarten, of TradeCraft Coaching, an executive, corporate, career and life coach. For example, Weingarten says, “Someone coming from a very hectic job could say, ‘At my company, X, we were expected to be available 24/7 or connected at all times: how does that work here?’” Weingarten says that other good second interview questions are ‘What’s the process for assignment/job completion?’ ‘and Are there yearly or quarterly reviews?’ If you ask about flex time or working from home, ask directly and make it clear you’re open to hearing ‘no,’ she says.

 Use that second interview as an opportunity to learn about the subculture within your prospective department, Thomas says. “Ask your prospective manager, ‘How would you describe your management style?’ and ‘How do you encourage professional growth and development within your team?’ Ask whether the subculture focuses on teams or individual achievement, whether employees cover for each other regularly, definitely during a crisis or not at all. Ask the manager how the person who left excelled and what that employee could have done better.

Questions for Future Coworkers

When interviewing with potential peers Thomas encourages clients to ask, ‘How would you describe the personality of this team’ and ‘Could you share what you like best about working for this manager?’” Also ask ‘What will you miss about the person being replaced?’ ‘What will you not miss about the person who left?’

 Asking these questions will not only give you valuable intelligence, but will strengthen your position as an applicant seeking to fit in and excel.

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