I recently worked with a client who hadn’t formally interviewed in more than 15 years…
Is a new job one of your goals for the coming year? If so, be sure to screen for workplace culture as part of your job search campaign. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a work environment that doesn’t align with your priorities and values—and have to start your search all over again.
I recently worked with three clients in various capacities. All were executives in their 50s who I worked with previously during their respective job searches. When they initially hired me, each was employed and interested in opportunities for advancement. More than just looking for added responsibilities, they wanted environments where they could fully use their talents. Each found and accepted a new job.
However, all three are already looking to exit their new employers.
What Happens When Job Seekers Don’t Screen for Workplace Culture?
My three clients are well paid and secure in their roles, but they aren’t happy. The jobs presented to them during their lengthy interview processes weren’t as described. Two feel they were given—at best—inaccurate information. Some would say they were lied to.
Another executive I recently worked with left a job prepared to take up to a 40% pay cut for the right work culture. Yet another resigned when the company’s values and actions no longer aligned with hers.
People leave jobs for various reasons, but I think this cluster of clients leaving their employers represents a larger shift in the workforce. Even handsomely compensated employees are willing to leave poor work cultures and environments that don’t align with their values and integrity.
You are probably familiar with the rhetoric of the “Great Resignation” that emerged during the pandemic, when employees realized there is more to life than work and resigned for personal reasons or to take on more fulfilling jobs. My anecdotal evidence suggests this cultural shift of priorities for workers is here to stay (at least for now).
How Can You Screen for Workplace Culture?
Each of the clients I mentioned above is resilient and savvy; they will be okay. But this didn’t protect them from the heartache and letdown they experienced when—only months after starting their new roles with excitement—they saw things as they truly are at their new workplaces. So, how can job seekers avoid this disappointment?
First, while it’s nearly impossible to uncover everything about a workplace during an interview, make an earnest effort. Conduct online research and be highly observant when speaking with employees or visiting the company. Are people dressed formally or informally? Are they working individually or actively collaborating? To navigate this aspect of interviewing, consider engaging in interview or job search strategy coaching.
Second, identify your own values and priorities. If the organization has a strategic plan (common in higher education and nonprofits), review it to assess whether the organization’s priorities align with your desires.
Third, remember that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. If you’re unhappy in your current role, be aware that you might experience confirmation bias: you look for the good aspects of a new workplace and downplay red flags.
What Questions Should Job Seekers Ask to Investigate Workplace Culture?
Whether you are engaging in networking conversations or formal interviews, ask insightful questions that help you assess workplace culture. Equip yourself with many different types of questions for the various stages of the interview process.
Here is a sample list of 20 questions. The questions are in random order and can be tailored depending on whether you are speaking to HR, a potential peer, or a potential boss.
- What do you like most about working here?
- What would you change about the company?
- What are the corporate values? In what ways are these values demonstrated regularly?
- How often does the company have special events/activities for staff?
- How are expectations communicated?
- How do you know you are doing well in your role? How is performance evaluated?
- What opportunities are available for professional growth and development?
- In what ways have you experienced mentoring?
- How does the executive team communicate its strategic priorities, and with what frequency? To what extent are they transparent about company/division/departmental performance?
- How does your boss support your success? How do you support your staff’s development and success?
- How would you describe the leadership approach within the organization?
- What traits are most important to succeed at this company?
- To what extent are people permitted to have flexible work arrangements?
- Why did you decide to work here?
- On average, how long do employees stay with the company?
- What happens when there is a problem (e.g., a product isn’t launched on time, a client is dissatisfied, the R&D process is taking longer than expected, or a grant didn’t get accepted)?
- What do you find most exciting about the company?
- How has the company changed since the pandemic?
- What percentage of work is done independently vs. collaboratively?
- How does the company evolve and adapt to changing economic and workforce conditions?
By asking questions like these, you will be more informed when making decisions about pursuing employment at the organization.
The pandemic served as a wake-up call for people. Employees will flee workplaces with toxic cultures—or even just cultures that don’t align with their personal priorities and values.
Some companies allow flexible work conditions; others offer unlimited time off, personal wellness days, and generous time off for volunteering. And let’s not forget the value of a culture that fosters genuine expression of appreciation for a job well done, opportunities for growth and innovation, and clear lines of communication. Such places of employment exist, and job seekers desire to be a part of these cultures. When you screen for company culture as part of your job search campaign, you can identify red flags to help ensure that your next job—and employer—is the best fit for you.