A match made in culture: finding the right fit during a job interview

Mar 15, 2023

6 mins

A match made in culture: finding the right fit during a job interview
Kim Cunningham

Senior Editor at Welcome to the Jungle


In today’s competitive job market, finding the right company is not just about the job itself, but also about the company culture. The culture of a company encompasses its values, beliefs, behaviors, and traditions. It’s the glue that holds the company together and defines how employees interact with each other, its clients or users, and the world at large. A positive company culture can impact job satisfaction, productivity, and overall well-being. Therefore, it’s crucial to find a company that aligns with your values, goals, and working style.

However, determining a company’s culture can be challenging, especially during a job interview. Companies can present themselves in a positive light during the interview process, and it can be difficult to get an accurate picture of what it’s really like to work there. That’s why it’s important to do your research and ask the right questions during the interview to get a better understanding of the company culture. Career Coach and Director of Demand Generation at Aion, Brianna Doe, shares her top tips on uncovering a company’s culture in an interview.

Why should candidates consider company culture?

Whether you have clearly defined career goals or not, understanding a company’s culture can help you decide if a particular role is right for you. Doe explains that every decision you make with regard to your career will impact the path you’re on: “For every job that you take or don’t take, you’re impacting your career trajectory. We spend a lot of time at work and it’s important to know what you’re working with.”

However, Doe recognizes that in some cases, people just need a job to get by. “I completely understand and support people that just need to find a job and take what they can get,” she says. When your priorities are more financially-focused, sometimes the truth of the matter is that you just don’t have the option of considering a company’s culture—and that’s ok! However, “if you can be intentional with the career of looking at company culture before you actually accept an offer, you can save yourself a lot of grief,” Doe recommends.

Researching company culture before the interview

While the interview is a great setting to learn about company culture, it’s also possible—and important—to do some research before you meet with the interviewer. Doe explains that “looking into what current and past employees have said about the company, about their experience, the pros, and cons,” can get you one step ahead of the game in preparation for the interview. Additionally, she says that this preliminary research phase can actually highlight some deal-breaking red flags, sharing a personal experience: “I learned quite a bit about companies looking at Glassdoor and Indeed, and that’s actually the reason I withdrew from some interview processes.” Save yourself some time and check for any major issues in advance.

Doe recommends asking yourself the following questions in the research stage of the process:

  • How has the company treated the interview process so far?
  • When you look at the job description, which details are they giving you?
  • Do they show what the interview process will look like?
  • How do they describe the company and how do they describe the role?
  • Is it a clear job description?
  • How are they speaking to you?
  • Are they communicative?
  • Do they reach out for an interview and then not respond to you for a week and a half?

“These are all really important factors. It’s actually paying attention to not just what somebody says about the company, but how they are treating it before you meet them is crucial,” Doe says.

When researching the organization, some additional elements you could consider to gauge the company culture include:

  • Company values: Look for the company’s mission statement and values to see what they prioritize and what they stand for.
  • Employee testimonials: Read employee reviews on sites like Glassdoor to see what current and former employees say about the company culture, management, and work-life balance.
  • Diversity and inclusion: Look for information on the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts, such as employee resource groups, training programs, and policies.
  • Company events: Check if the company hosts events, such as team-building activities, volunteer days, or holiday parties. This can give you a sense of how the company values its employees and fosters a positive work environment.

Asking the right questions

Learning about a company’s culture isn’t as simple as asking, “What is the company culture?” This question is too vague and won’t provide you with any solid information that’s actually valuable. By asking such a simple question, “you’re not giving your interviewer any sort of insight into what information you’re looking for. So they’re going to answer vaguely,” explains Doe. You get what you give, and if you’re giving vague questions, you’ll get vague answers.

To get the details you’re looking for, you need to change the questions you’re asking. “By asking specific questions, you’re doing your own due diligence,” Doe shares. She explains that the more specific your questions are, the better informed you’ll be to make a decision about a job offer. And if the interviewer can’t answer what you’re asking, that may be telling too. “For example, if I’m interviewing with a company and I ask them to tell me about a time when, they took an employee’s feedback and implemented it and they don’t want to answer, or they get really uncomfortable or sidestep the question, I’m going to take that as a sign as well,” Doe explains. Sometimes the lack of information shared will give you the details you need, or potentially raise red flags in certain areas.

Observe during the interview

During the interview, it’s important to pay attention to not only what is being said, but also nonverbal cues such as tone of voice and body language. These cues can give you insight into the interviewer’s attitude and the overall company culture. Here are some tips on what to look for during the interview:

  • Do the interviewers seem genuinely excited to talk about the company and its culture? If the interviewer is passionate and enthusiastic about the company and its culture, it’s a good sign that the company values its culture and is invested in it. It can also indicate that employees are engaged and motivated to work for the company.
  • Are the interviewers respectful and professional? Observe how the interviewers treat you during the interview. Do they listen attentively and respond respectfully to your questions and concerns? A company that values its employees is likely to treat job candidates with respect and professionalism during the interview process.
  • Does the office environment seem comfortable and inviting? Observe the office environment during your interview or visit. Is it clean and well-maintained? Does it seem like a comfortable and inviting space to work in? The physical environment can be a reflection of the company culture and its values.

Green flags about company culture in an interview

According to Doe, there are specific elements of the conversation and the interview as a whole that can be considered green flags—about the company and its culture. For example, “When they encourage you to ask questions, when you ask specific questions and they have specific answers,” would be green flags for Doe. Coming back to the example of asking how an employer took employee feedback onboard, Doe says a response like, “We’re not that great at compiling feedback now and actually applying it, but these are the steps that we’re taking,” would be a great indicator that the culture encourages employee feedback.

Another good sign of positive company culture is how much the interviewer knows about the process you’re in and the job you’re looking for. “If they have a clear idea and grasp of what the role is that you’re interviewing for and how it’ll impact the company, that says a lot about the culture,” Doe explains. There’s nothing more frustrating as a candidate than having the same conversation in every interview explaining what you’re looking for and why you’re a good fit—a lack of communication within the hiring team could be considered a red flag. So, if your interviewer clearly knows what they’re talking about and is up-to-date on where you’re at in the process, take it as a positive signal.

Lastly, a green flag that relates more to the recruitment process as a whole, is when companies give you the opportunity to meet with potential future team members. “If interviews are set up with who you’re reporting to and we’d be working with or just different departments, I think that’s a big, big sign that it’s going to be a healthy company culture,” says Doe. Having the chance to speak to future colleagues shows that the company is confident in its employee satisfaction rates to the point where they leverage employees as advocates for the company during the hiring process.

Are company culture red flags a dealbreaker?

After the end of your interview, say you’re reviewing your mental notes and pinpointing a couple of red flags about the culture. Whether it’s the fact that the interviewer didn’t give you any time to ask questions, or that the specificities of the team responsibilities were unclear, you could find yourself in a position where you’re weighing up the pros and cons of accepting an offer. When faced with this situation, Doe suggests reflecting on your long-term plan and career goals. For example, if your main objective is to stay at the company for two to three years and get a great reference but you’re not 100% aligned with how the teams communicate, maybe you could overlook that red flag for the sake of the bigger picture.

However, you should have some non-negotiable aspects of what you’re willing to accept or not. Doe explains that “there will be factors that you don’t want to budge on, and that requires you to take a step back, figure out your plan, what you’re looking for, and actually go into the interview armed with that knowledge.” So, this is something that you need to prepare before the interview so you know where you stand and what you need to look out for. “You never want to step into a role and immediately regret it or regret it in the first couple of months. So if that means that you withdraw from the process for some of those non-negotiables, wait for a role that’s a better fit,” Doe advises.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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