10 Questions to Ask During an Interview: Determining Culture Fit

during a job interview a job seeker faces three interviewers

Sometimes a job interview can feel like an audition. Rapid-fire: What are your strengths? Why do you want to work here? Can you tell me about a difficult situation? But for the best jobs out there, the interview process should be a conversation, not an interrogation. 

When looking for a new job, you should be just as concerned about if the job is a good fit for you as you are about if you are a good fit for the job. Some things can be easily discovered, like daily job duties or expectations, but some aspects of finding the right fit can be much harder. A major part of job satisfaction can be attributed to a company’s culture and whether or not an employee is aligned with the company values. 

When you reach the end of an interview and they start asking for your questions, it’s essential to ask key questions to determine your culture fit at an organization. 

What is “Culture Fit?”

Culture fit is the alignment of a company’s core values and culture with its employees. Often, it’s easiest to know what culture fit is when there isn’t one, like someone who prefers silent concentration joining a company with a shared playlist playing across the office or an extreme extrovert stuck in a silent cubicle all day. 

Why is culture fit important in the workplace?

Culture fit plays a big role in employee satisfaction and an important role in job seeking. A 2018 survey by Jobvite found that 88% of respondents reported company culture as at least of relative importance in applying to a company, with 46% saying it is very important and 32% saying they would be willing to take a pay cut for a job they are more passionate about. 

For employees who are already employed, a Columbia University study shows that the likelihood of job turnover at an organization with a strong company culture is 13.9%, whereas the probability of job turnover at businesses with weak company cultures is 48.4%. The Department of Economics at the University of Warwick found that happy workers are 12% more productive than the average worker, and unhappy workers are 10% less productive.

There are, however, some critics of the current focus on culture fit in hiring. Patty McCord, Netflix’s chief talent officer from 1998 to 2012, wrote in the Harvard Business Review that culture fit is just code for liking someone socially. McCord went on to say the focus on culture fit in hiring can lead to a lack of diversity in the workplace. She writes that hiring should be about finding the right people for jobs, not social environments. 

10 Questions to Ask During an Interview:

If you think a company’s culture will be important to your job satisfaction, it’s crucial that you determine if you are aligned on culture during an interview and before you accept an offer. According to the Jobvite survey, almost 30% of job seekers have left a job within the first 90 days of starting and 32% of those respondents said company culture was a reason for leaving within the first three months.

Employers care about culture fit, as well. In 2008, Harvard Business Review reported that Zappo’s offers new hires more than $1,000 to quit after their first week in hopes of keeping people who are energized about the company and aligned on values. 

If you’re interviewing and want to keep culture in the forefront of the conversation, these interview questions can help you determine if you’re a good match. 

1. How would you describe the work environment?

Knowing how you like to work is an important part of culture fit. If you need complete silence and no overhead lamps, you’ll want to know what the day-to-day of the office is like. In today’s working world, there is a wide range of working styles, and this question will give you a good preview of what your day-to-day life would look like.

2. What is your management style?

Everyone knows how they like to be managed or, perhaps more importantly, how they don’t like to be managed. If you need a more hands-on culture that is open to mentorship and help, you don’t want to find a manager who likes to only communicate through formal one-on-ones. Be sure to be aware of differing management styles, and which styles you work well with. 

3. What are your company values?

A lot of office culture is rooted in company values. In essence, a culture fit is an alignment on values between a company and an employee. When you ask this question be sure to think about what values you want to hear. If values are vague, ask how they affect daily life in the company. According to HubSpot, the best five company values are:

  1. Integrity
  2. Boldness
  3. Honesty
  4. Trust
  5. Accountability

Take some time to prioritize values that resonate with you, and make sure the interviewer reflects those values.

4. What does work/life balance look like at your company?

Are you the kind of person that doesn’t mind checking emails at home or do you really want to disconnect when you leave the office? Asking this question lets candidates decide if they want to be in an “always-on” kind of environment. If the interviewer’s response indicates an overbearing workload and a messy internal processes, consider looking for a better work/life balance elsewhere.

5. What does growth and career development look like?

If you’re the type of employee who wants to grow with your role, you’re likely interested in companies that invest in that growth. While many people can be happy excelling in the role they are in, if you’re focused on upward mobility you may want an office culture that invests in training, conferences or enrichment opportunities. There’s nothing less motivating than a job that has no opportunities for growth, so pay special attention to the interviewer’s answer.

6. What three things do you need to succeed in this position?

While this is standard interview fare, it can also assess culture. If certain personalities are expected to fit in better for the position, you may find that they’re looking for those traits in the company as a whole. Conversely, if you think culture limits diversity, this question can assess if you’re right for the role regardless of culture. 

7. What kind of events do you attend outside of work hours?

If you want a job that is robust socially, you may be interested in networking events, happy hours, or volunteer opportunities. If you want to make sure work doesn’t encroach on your personal time too much, you’ll want to hear that most people keep their relationships in the office. 

8.  What role does a good manager play in his or her relationship with reporting staff members?

When you asked about company values, was transparency on your wish list? What about collaboration? Or trust? Another way to check if the company is living its values is to see how managers interact with supporting staff members. Make sure to be mentally checking if the answer tracks with the stated cultural values. 

9. How would someone in this role work best with the rest of the team?

Are you big on collaboration? Do you thrive in a boisterous work environment? You’ll want to know if this company seeks input and collaboration from all employees or if departments are siloed. A “silo mentality” has been shown to reduce an organization’s efficiency, and has a significant effect on corporate culture.

10. How would you describe the company culture?

The easiest way to know about culture fit is to ask directly. While the supporting questions will tell you how the company is living its values and how a particular manager fits in the culture, the best way to know about what the office is really going to feel like is to be straightforward. If their answer is meandering, nervous, or uncertain, there’s a good chance the company culture is lacking.

Learn more about culture fit:

Culture fit is an important part of the recruiting process for employers and job seekers. A good culture fit can make employees more productive and reduce job turnover. For job seekers, a bad culture fit can make you leave a position and return to job searching much faster. 

If you want to read more about culture in offices, why they matter in your overall career aspirations and more about the different aspects of the modern workplace, read our eBook, “The Job-Seeker’s Handbook for 30‑Somethings.”

If you’re looking to advance your career and grow as a professional, you may consider the Leadership & Management program at Wharton Online. Our programs give you the professional skills you need to grow your career.

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