Demonstrating Cultural Fit: 17 Questions to Ask About Company Values
To help you navigate the tricky waters of assessing company culture during an interview, we’ve gathered seventeen insightful suggestions from CEOs, HR Managers, and other professionals. From inquiring about thriving employee characteristics to discovering the interviewer’s enjoyment of work, these experts offer a range of questions to help ensure your values align with the company’s culture.
- Inquire About Thriving Employee Characteristics
- Ask About Celebrated and Discouraged Behaviors
- Question the Company’s Approach to Topical Issues
- Probe the Company’s Support for Diversity
- Investigate Integration of the Company Values
- Query Typical Day and Predecessor’s Performance
- Seek Understanding of the Company’s Priorities
- Explore the Company’s Valuation of Curiosity
- Examine the Company’s Response to Value Tests
- Scrutinize the Origin of Company’s Values
- Discuss the Company’s Response to Mistakes
- Delve into the Company’s Professional Development Approach
- Assess the Influence of Values on Decisions
- Understand the Reward System and Work Style Fit
- Evaluate the Embedment of Values in Practices
- Check the Frequency of Value Updates
- Discover the Interviewer’s Enjoyment of Work
Inquire About Thriving Employee Characteristics
One insightful question to gauge alignment with a company’s culture is, “Can you describe the characteristics and values of employees that thrive in this company’s culture?” This question not only demonstrates your genuine interest in understanding the company’s unique culture, but also provides valuable insight into what qualities the organization values most.
By asking this, you invite the interviewer to articulate the essential attributes and principles that contribute to success within their specific work environment. Their response will offer you a deeper understanding of whether your values and traits align with what the company values, facilitating a more informed decision about your potential fit within the organization.
Ask About Celebrated and Discouraged Behaviors
I lead hopeful candidates through the executive interview process, and you’d be surprised at how many end their candidacy before they’re eliminated by the prospective company. Most often, it’s because of a cultural mismatch.
Sometimes, a company’s stated values don’t match up with the culture you’ll experience. So, I suggest candidates ask this during their interview:
“Can you describe the qualities or behaviors that are most often celebrated and rewarded, and what kind of behavior or work gets people in hot water or pushed out?”
This question can reveal what the company really values most. Asking it prompts the interviewer to divulge insights into the company’s true culture and what is valued and promoted in their employees. Candidates can evaluate alignment with their own values and priorities.
Question the Company’s Approach to Topical Issues
Ask how the company is dealing with a topical issue in your industry that you care about. Say you’re in the tech sector and you’re concerned about data privacy. You could ask, “How does the company approach data privacy, especially with recent controversies around user data?” If you’re in the healthcare industry, you might ask, “What steps has the company taken to address healthcare disparities?”
This question not only reveals the company’s stance on an issue that matters to you, but it also sheds light on how proactive they are about industry-specific challenges. Plus, their answer will give you a sense of their priorities and ethics—whether they merely comply with regulations or go above and beyond to make a difference. It’s a solid method for sniffing out if the company’s values line up with your own.
Probe the Company’s Support for Diversity
Everyone has their own priorities with aligning their values with the company they work for.
At the beginning of my career, other aspects such as salary, location, and the people I worked with were the factors that were most important to me when looking for a job.
However, now, issues such as working in a diverse environment that promotes equality are more important to me. Their values need to sit well with my conscience, and I want to feel respected, empowered, and have job satisfaction.
So, I would ask, “How does the company support and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace?”
This question not only provides insight into the company’s stance on important social and cultural issues but also reveals its commitment to fostering an inclusive work environment.
Investigate Integration of the Company Values
I’m curious to know how your team integrates your company’s values into the day-to-day operations of the business and how team members’ performance is measured based on them. Additionally, I’d like to understand how your values have evolved over time and what part the team plays in selecting and shaping them.
Heidi Hauver, Chief People Officer
Query Typical Day and Predecessor’s Performance
As someone who coaches people globally, I see many different cultural incompatibilities, purely based on national norms, plus ones related to the workplace. One of the easiest ways to find out about them is to ask, “I’m sure no day is completely typical. However, when you think about it, what would a pretty normal day be like for me? When would you expect me to arrive in the morning? What would I do first? Who would I interact with? Take me through the day until I leave at the end. What time would that be?”
That would give you the first outline of the culture. Then, I would follow up with, “Was someone in this job before? If so, what did they do well (so I can keep doing it)? What could they have improved on, so I know one of the rough spots my predecessor left behind?” Between these two, you will get a pretty good idea of how demanding the environment is and what you can expect when working there.
Seek Understanding of the Company’s Priorities
The question that you will ask to determine whether your values align with the company’s culture will usually depend on your values (at least if you want very specific answers). For example, if you value growth and opportunity, you would ask a question relating to progression and career development at that company.
With that being said, if you want a broader answer from the company, you can always ask them to list their values and examples of how those have been implemented. This will give you a range of values and help you get a broad idea of where the company’s priorities lie.
Explore the Company’s Valuation of Curiosity
As a professional in the world of marketing and technology, embodying curiosity is essential in pretty much any role I recruit for. It’s also one of our company’s core values!
So, not only is it a great leeway to share what our company values in its employees, but it also gives the candidate a chance to really share their passion and engagement in their role. It often tells me how proactive they are naturally, and how committed they are to their own growth. Plus, their answers are always fun and interesting!
Examine the Company’s Response to Value Tests
Most companies are open about what they value and freely share that information on their websites—their espoused values. Assessing values alignment isn’t always easy. It’s deeper than that—it’s about values-in-action, or how values are actually lived within an organization.
When things are straightforward, routine, and going well, values are more likely being upheld and lived. But what happens when an unexpected situation occurs, or a leader finds themselves in a challenging or opportunistic spot? That’s the question I would ask. “Can you share with me a time when one of the company’s values was put to the test?”
Scrutinize the Origin of Company’s Values
“What are your organization’s values, and how did you arrive at those values?”
Almost all organizations nominally have a set of values that they showcase on their careers pages, but few actually believe in them. Those who only pay lip service to values tend to stumble on this question, as realistically, these values were either dreamt up in a boardroom or are the product of some consultancy engagement.
Organizations who feel strongly about their values will speak ad nauseam about them and can tie each value back to a real-world experience.
Armed with this information, you can accurately assess whether these values align with yours, or whether the organization actually has no meaningful shared values at all.
Discuss the Company’s Response to Mistakes
One good question to ask is, “When was the last time an employee made a mistake, and what happened next?” Everyone makes mistakes or struggles to hit their targets. Understanding how the company balances accountability and ownership with mentorship to help employees grow can give you insight into what it would be like to work there. How the interviewer answers or diverts the questions also carries a lot of important information about the company’s culture.
Delve into the Company’s Professional Development Approach
“How do you approach professional development on a per-employee basis?”
This will help you understand the company culture around growth and development, but in a way that will show just how much time and effort the company has put into ensuring employees thrive on a per-person basis, not just a blanket approach to development for all staff.
Assess the Influence of Values on Decisions
A crucial question to ask during an interview to assess alignment with a company’s culture and values is, “Can you describe a situation where the company’s values or culture played a decisive role in the decision-making process or strategy of a project?”
This question is potent as it requires the interviewer to provide real-world instances where the organization’s values aren’t just stated but actively influence business activities and outcomes. The response will offer insight into whether the company truly embodies its values in its operations and strategies, helping you ascertain if your personal values align with the organization’s culture.
Understand the Reward System and Work Style Fit
Ask, “What kinds of work and behaviors are rewarded here?” That gives you an idea of what the company values and who gets raises and promotions. Then, you can figure out if that fits with your work style and values.
For example, if they say staying overtime regularly and you have young children who need you at home, it may be a poor fit, at least for this stage of your life. But if they say something like working quickly and independently without much oversight, and you love working like that, it may be a great fit!
Evaluate the Embedment of Values in Practices
A lot of organizations set values that sound nice externally, but they aren’t necessarily living by those values on a day-to-day basis. In order to figure out how strong an organization is in committing to their values, I recommend asking how they have embedded the values into their business practices and how they are used to guide their decision-making.
When you ask this, what you will find is that organizations who do this well will be able to confidently share multiple examples with you. You may hear them talk about their internal people programs and how they select, retain, and develop their employees. Similarly, they may tell you about how their loyalty programs and customer service models were built with consideration for their values.
As they answer, be listening for recurring themes in their purpose and execution. Consistency in their examples is a reliable sign they are thoughtful and intentional in aligning their values with their business strategy.
Check the Frequency of Value Updates
“When was the last time the company values were updated?”
I find it important to know how frequently stated company values are updated, as I think it is important to do an assessment every few years to make sure your values are actually reflective of the business you run and the employees you have working for you. Few businesses do this, but it is good to get a feel for how flexible they are and how realistic those values will actually be.
Discover the Interviewer’s Enjoyment of Work
“What do you most enjoy about working here?”
When you’re in an interview, it’s vital to convey genuine curiosity rather than skepticism when exploring a company’s values. This approach enables you to acquire insights into their culture, while increasing your chances of being offered the job.
Asking what your interviewer personally enjoys about working there encourages them to open up and enthusiastically share their own experience. This builds a stronger connection throughout the interview and means they will remember your conversation with a smile.