In a competitive hiring market, companies are selling their culture harder than ever. The reason you should work for company X over company Y? Culture!

Hiring managers and recruiters are primed to get ahead of the culture question before candidates even ask. Usually, they'll latch onto two or three perks and pitch them hard. Ping-Pong tables, endless snacks, and dogs running amuck are a few popular favorites to lure Millennials.

But company culture isn't perks. It's about what makes a company unique, how people interact day to day, and how work gets done. Here's how to get an honest peek into a company's culture during the interview process.

How to get an honest answer about the company culture

When your interviewer asks if you have any questions, you won't get very far if you ask what their company's culture is like. They'll likely circle back to those perks.

If you ask them to describe the culture, you likely won't get very far. They might spit out generic-sounding words like "collaborative" or say things like, "It's just really fun to work here!" That doesn't leave you with much to go by.

Instead, ask this question: "Can tell you tell me about something that happened here that wouldn't happen anywhere else?" Ask them to tell a story. This suggestion comes from organizational psychologist Adam Grant in Work in 60 Seconds, a digital series produced in partnership with GZero Media.

Be sure to ask every interviewer the same question

You'll likely interview with several employees from the organization. Ask each of them to tell a story about a unique experience at the organization. Listen closely for common themes, Grant says.

From listening to many people's stories, you might be able to find out:

  • If every employee is encouraged to bring ideas to the table, no matter what their job title

  • If people respect leadership -- and if leadership respects them

  • If employees feel trusted to do their work or feel micromanaged

  • If people genuinely like their jobs and believe in the company's mission

You'll have a better understanding of what the company's culture is really like. Then you can decide if you really want to work there. Ping-Pong tables or not. ​

Published on: Feb 21, 2019
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