How to Assess Cultural Fit During the Interview Process

There are several people in my network who have been looking for new positions over the last several months.  Some of them became unemployed during the pandemic and others are looking to move as a result of their jobs changing because of the pandemic.  A question that I get asked often is, how can I find out what the culture is really like at a new company before committing?  After making a few moves in my career and having interviewed at least 2-3 places with each move, I thought it might be valuable to share some of the hints and tactics that I have learned throughout my journey. 

Before the Interview

Assessing cultural fit can be a challenge.  With the technological age that we are in, you can learn a lot about a company through the internet and before even starting the interview process.  Check out the company website and see what they say about their culture.  Check out websites like Glassdoor to review what their employees and past employees are sharing, but please remember that more people who are disgruntled rather than happy employees take the time to provide reviews.  Look for the number of good vs. bad reviews and read the comments rather than just accepting the score.  Finally, utilize LinkedIn to determine if you have any connections that work for or are doing business with the prospective company.  If you do, reach out to them to ask what their impression has been.  

During the Interview

There is a lot of intel to be gained once you get to interview in person.  I realize with Covid that in some cases, you’ll never even step foot on site to answer some of these questions, but I still think there are some things you could look for virtually.  Here are things to be aware of during your visit or virtual interviews.

Environmental Cues

  • What does the entrance to the building look like?  Does it look professional and well-kept or is it overgrown?  Is signage out of date and dirty?  How a company cares for its facilities is a reflection of its culture and most likely how they value everything in the business, including employees. 
  • How hectic is it in the office when you’re interviewing?  Does it seem calm and well executed or is it complete chaos?  I once interviewed for a company onsite, twice, and both times I was told there were operations emergencies that resulted in people not keeping their interview times.  While I may have overlooked this on the first interview, being it happened on the second is an indicator that it is probably a mad house all of the time.  
  • How tidy are the bathrooms and is everything in working order?  If you’ve ever heard the phrase that you can tell how clean a restaurant’s kitchen is by its bathroom, I also believe the bathroom can tell you a lot about a company culture. The state of the bathroom indicates how much employees are valued and feel valued by the employer.  If stalls are out of order, trash is on the floor and the toilet paper holder is busted, I would consider it a red flag.

Employee Engagement 

  • Was everyone able to make their interview time and prepared?  The answer to this question indicates how seriously the company and its employee’s value and believe in the hiring process.  The best companies I have worked for actually train interviewers in how to conduct a positive interview which includes preparation in reviewing resumes and preparing appropriate (and legal) questions for the specific position.  
  • When you meet people in the reception area or the hallway, are they smiling?  Body language can say a lot about culture and employee satisfaction.  Do not discount any gut feelings from interactions you have with employees in the facility, especially if they all appear to be disgruntled.  
  • Do you feel like each interviewer got enough time to really assess your skill sets?  Again, this indicates how the potential employer values the hiring process.  If interview time slots are short and don’t really allow you to get to know each other, it may indicate that the company sees the hiring process as red tape and just another thing they have to do.  The hiring process is very important.  A motto I have heard is – hire slow and fire fast!  It is important you get the time to truly assess the team members you’ll be working with for fit, for both of you.
  • If you are interviewing for a supervisory position, did you get to interview or meet someone from your potential new team?  If you didn’t, ask if it might be possible.  You can learn A LOT from meeting people who would report to you about culture.  I once had a potential direct report say to me during the interview, “Do you really want to work here?  The place is a nut house.”  I admit this was the same place that felt hectic to me during both visits.  All of these things are red flags and it would probably be best to professionally decline moving forward.  

Customer Service

  • Were you offered a tour?  This one is a bonus.  If you get a tour, I think it is a great show of valuing the candidate and hiring process.  I haven’t always received one but if a company is happy to show you around, it means they have a sense of pride about their business and feel that you would not find anything concerning “behind the curtain”.
  • Did you get all of your questions answered?  The interview process is a two-way street.  If you don’t feel that way throughout the process, then it is not the right opportunity.  Do not be rushed to make a decision until you have had your questions answered.  

Most of these cultural indicators can all be done through observation, the typical interview process and without asking for anything specific.  If you are still left with questions as you are going through the interview process, don’t be afraid to ask questions to try to understand cultural fit.  Both you and the company want to make sure it is the right fit, or you both will be back in the same hiring and interviewing place in a short time.  

I hope this was helpful if you are in a career search.  If you have other tips and tricks you have used, please share them in the comments.  Good luck!


1 thought on “How to Assess Cultural Fit During the Interview Process”

  1. Dear Natalie,
    This article is so timely for me! Cultural fit is so important as it impacts your workplace and happiness every day.
    One other suggestion I would make is to research a potential new company’s mission statement or brand statement, and view your interview process through that lens. Do your values align with that mission statement? Do you see clear evidence that the employees and managers live into that statement? Do you hear pride in that mission, and language that reflects that mission?
    Observing if actions reflect the words is just one more way to help evaluate culture.

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