As the job interview approaches the final minutes and the hiring manager asks if you have any questions, don’t default to “What is the culture like here?”

7 Questions to Determine Company Culture

  1. How have you helped someone learn from a mistake?
  2. What have you learned from working virtually or hybrid over the past few years? 
  3. What are you most proud of from this team in the past year? 
  4. What would you do over if you could? 
  5. Who inspires you in the company and why? 
  6. How do you advocate for DEI? 
  7. Beyond the necessary skills, how would the ideal candidate be successful in this role?

Responses tend to be high-level descriptions of values like trust, integrity or collaboration from the company’s website. They don’t help you recognize the experience of working there or picture yourself in the day-to-day dynamics. 

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How to Discover a Company’s Culture

If you want to understand the culture of a company, you need to seek stories from specific day-to-day experiences. Culture is experienced through the way behaviors are reinforced or discouraged in teams each day. These interactions are the true expression of how a company upholds and demonstrates values

These are the stories you’d be told if you asked a friend, “What is it like to work there?” Just as the hiring manager asks you, “Tell me about a time…” you want to ask the hiring manager about specific moments to gain insight into their leadership style, preferences and team dynamics. 


7 Questions to Determine Culture

Many of these questions don’t have a right or wrong answer. Instead, these stories give insight into the employees’ experience of culture each day. Noticing if the leader struggles to answer these questions is almost as important as the questions themselves. If you are interviewing, pick one or two of these that resonate for you to ask in your next interview. If you are a hiring manager, consider how you would respond to these questions to illustrate your team’s culture. 


HOW did you help someone learn from a mistake?

Everyone makes mistakes at work. The leader’s role is to help them work through them. By doing so, they can even positively impact the employee’s resilience. This question gives insight into the leader’s approach to coaching and development and what it feels like to sit across the table from them after a mistake. 


What have you learned from working virtually? 

Companies have been experimenting with a range of work configurations for the past few years with many lessons learned. Do they describe helping everyone feel connected and included? Are they monitoring work being done outside the office? This question helps you understand the leader’s perspective on hybrid or virtual work and what is mandated versus left to individual discretion. 


What are you most proud of in the past year? 

Are they proud of hitting metrics or goals? Did they innovate, experiment, or navigate a challenge? Were employees able to balance wellness with work? Is their answer about the team or their leadership? Do they struggle to respond? When managers express pride, employees demonstrate an increase in collaboration, commitment and performance. A manager’s response to this question demonstrates what they value and pursue. 


What would you do over if you could? 

Reflection is a leadership skill necessary to prevent a pattern of mistakes. When leaders reflect, they can feel less depleted, more engaged and have a positive impact on their employees. Does the leader describe circumstances, preparation, skills or investment in the team or resources? Do they blame others? This question sheds insight into what is important to the hiring manager and how they lead their team. 


Who inspires you in the company and why? 

The appeal of a role is often the hiring manager you get to work with. This question reveals what the leader finds inspiring: knowledge, experience, actions or even character. It also reveals if the leader still finds inspiration in the company and plans to stay for some time. While this question can’t tell you if the leader will leave, it can show if they struggle to think of someone. People who are engaged typically don’t struggle to describe whom they find inspiring in the company.

How do you advocate for DEI? 

Cultivating a diverse and inclusive culture is an ongoing responsibility of a leader. This work is never finished, and there are moments you need to educate and advocate for diversity and inclusion when it is being overlooked. This question helps you understand how the leader defines diversity and inclusion and if this is a consistent top priority. Struggling to give an example may indicate the potential for voices not to be heard and for individuals to be excluded. 

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Beyond the necessary skills, whats needed to succeed in this role?

Responses not only describe the soft skills valued by the hiring manager, but they also give you an idea of the day-to-day culture. This can help you learn informal team agreements around communication, collaboration or accountability. It provides an idea of the daily activities in the role and helps you understand how the hiring manager defines success. 

Interviews are exchanges of stories and every culture tells a story. Take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions that share the stories of the day-to-day experiences of the leader, team, and role. The interviewers often appreciate getting different questions that make them think. Not only do you become more memorable, but the responses also help you determine if the job is the right fit. 

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