Soak Up Company Culture On Your Next Interview

By Chelsea Babin

When you’re heading to your next interview, you’ll probably feel a few nervous butterflies creep into your stomach. If you’ve prepared in advance, you’ll have an arsenal of clever questions to ask at the end of your interview, an idea of some anecdotes to tell that reflect well on you, and multiple copies of your resume on hand to give to all of your interviewers. But no matter how prepared you are, it’s difficult to go into a situation where you’re being evaluated without being at least a little bit daunted.

But what about your evaluation of the company? If this is your first interview, you’re about to step into an office you’ve never been in before but are hoping to work in one day. Taking the time to observe your surroundings and soak up your company culture while you’re on the interview can help you avoid joining a company whose culture doesn’t fit your expectations or your needs. Ask yourself these questions as you’re waiting in the lobby, walking through the office, and in the interview itself to get an idea of their company culture.

> Is the Office Open or Separated Into Cubicles? One of the biggest environmental factors that can clue you in on company culture is the layout of the office itself. Is everyone separated into cubicles or are they working at large, open tables? Are there large windows letting in natural light? Is there constant noise or is the office fairly quiet? Notice the office environment and compare it to your own personal preferences to see if their company culture matches up with what you’re looking for.

> If There Are “Cool Perks” Are They Being Used? A lot of high tech companies tout their “cool perks” like video games, Ping Pong tables, delicious free snacks and more to entice top technical talent to their office. If the company you’re interviewing at offers any of these perks, notice whether or not anyone is actually using them when you’re walking through the office. Sometimes, in high stress offices, these “cool perks” are a great way to let off steam, but they’re ineffective if no one ever goes near them.

> How Frantically Are People Working? The pace of the office says a lot about their company culture and it’s an easy thing to pick up on even when you’re walking through for only a few moments. However, it’s also easy to misinterpret what you see for the whole picture, rather than viewing it as a slice of the whole company culture. Often the noisier, more frantic offices are the ones that typically work at a fast pace but it can also be indicative of a company whose employees wait until the last minute to complete deadlines. A slow office could be a great sign if you like a laid back, relaxed vibe or it could be a sign that there isn’t enough work to go around. Take your observations in this area with a grain of salt. Nitpicking or judging too harshly based on one observation could give your first impression of that company too much weight, and you wouldn’t want them doing the same thing to you during your interview.

> How Many Frazzled or Lethargic People Do You See? Similar to seeing how frantic the pace of the office as a whole is, observing as many employees in their natural habitat as you can will help you determine what the pacing and workload will be like. If everyone is running around like chickens with their heads cut off, there may be a lack of organization in this company’s culture. Conversely, if everyone is staring at the wall looking bored or on Facebook, these could be troubling signs that go-getter attitudes are not welcome at this company or that they’ve simply run out of projects to work on.

> Are They Paying Attention to You? A lot of interviews prove to be stressful situations. When you’re stressed out, you’re less likely to notice whether or not the interviewer is fully paying attention to you and your answers or if they’re being less than attentive. If you want a boss who listens when you have suggestions or want to collaborate with people who take your ideas, noticing how your interviewer absorbs your answers to questions and how attentive they are may help you figure out if this is the right company culture for you. If they’re constantly checking their phone while you’re answering or asking you to repeat yourself every other minute, that may not be the collaborative, communicative company culture you’re looking for.

> Are Your Questions Being Answered? There’s nothing worse than working for someone who avoids being straightforward with you. If your interviewer is intentionally being evasive, this may be a red flag that the company culture here doesn’t prioritize openness or honesty. However, if you’re getting thorough answers or promises for answers once they consult with someone else, this could be a great sign for a collaborative, open company culture that will foster successful teamwork.

Evaluating company culture on an interview is often overlooked. While you shouldn’t rely solely on one or two observations you make in a short period of time, the overall first impression a company makes on you can be just as telling as your first impression makes on an interviewer. If you take the time to notice your surroundings when you go into an interview you will have a much clearer picture of the company culture and, when an offer is made, you can easily determine if that organization is the right fit for you.