Evaluating a Job Offer: How to Assess Culture Fit?

Recently, I was asked about how to assess the culture of a new organization before you join. As I mentioned in a prior post, it’s really hard to figure out whether you are joining a place where you’ll thrive and grow or if you are joining an organization with a toxic culture.

Here are some tips I use and recommend when assessing a potential company to work for.

(1) Reflect on the interview process
The interview process can tell you a lot: do they value your time by limiting the number of rounds of interviews? Do they ask you to do homework? Is it a LOT of homework? My perspective is you shouldn’t need to give people assignments or have them go through a gauntlet of interviews to evaluate whether they can do the job and would fit within your organization.

Assuming it is not an extraordinarily intensive interview process, assess how you are treated during that process. I once interviewed at a very large media company where one interviewer was asking me to do her job and help her troubleshoot a problem. Then another interviewer (unfortunately a man) was asking me (a woman in tech) “gotcha” questions that were irrelevant to my ability to do the work, but I answered correctly (yes, I know who invented Linux, asshole). When they called me for a second round, I declined because I found their behavior demeaning.

And don’t forget the little things! I once interviewed for a job straight out of college and I was really nervous. At the time, I’d gone on a gauntlet of interviews with the Federal Reserve Bank that left me pretty rattled and, quite frankly, my confidence shaken. When I interviewed with the nonprofit I ended up working at, the first question the hiring leader asked me was: do you have any siblings? It helped set a courteous tone for the rest of the conversation.

(2) Ask about parental leave or other policies to support caregivers
A very telling question to ask is about parental leave policy. Companies I’ve worked at with decent policies have been my better workplaces overall. Here are some hallmarks of good policies for caregivers:

  • Paid leave for both birthing and non-birthing parents for at least 16 weeks
  • Support for adoptive parents, including potential subsidies for some costs
  • Options for egg-freezing that are covered by insurance
  • Designated caregiving leave / sabbatical options

(3) Other questions worth asking about because you are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you!:

  • How long have you been with the company? This might help you understand whether there is opportunity for movement and growth.
  • What motivated you to join this company / team? This might help you get an idea of what they were leaving behind and then gaining by coming to the team; this can hint at someone moving to get a better culture fit and finding it at the firm you are considering.

(4) Don’t Forget that Team-specific Dynamics Matter
I’ll say this, though. Team-specific dynamics are HIGHLY dependent on the manager. If someone outside of my immediate team mistreats a member of my team, I address it immediately. It’s important to ensure my team feels supported and it sets a tone / leads by example to those around us that we go to work to add value, not drama.

Given this, when I interview, I try to do as much digging on a hiring leader as I can. LinkedIn and other social media are super helpful these days to get some intel. It’s worthwhile to look at your LinkedIn network to see if you have any overlapping connections with that particular hiring leader, or if you simply know someone who works at that company.

It can be hard to find the right manager fit! But if you at least land at a good company that values retaining top talent, you should be able to navigate to a better position in time.

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