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Do you really want to work there? Assessing culture and relationship during the interview process

I recently worked with a coaching client who received an interview for a position with an organization. When applying for the role, the client read the job description as the description for their dream job! However when she was selected for an interview, red flags started popping up everywhere.

  • Every email she received from her would-b supervisor came in on weekends and "after hours"

  • Emails were incomplete - lacking key details needed to move forward with the various interview and selection steps.

  • The supervisor arrived late to the first Zoom call - citing how busy they were.

  • The supervisor was visibly distracted throughout the Zoom call.

In a previous article, I shared some potential questions you can ask in an interview. My client's recent experience made me realize I needed to provide some additional questions you can use to assess culture - when the new supervisor isn't as blatant as the one my client experienced. My coaching client decided it was best to walk away from this opportunity. She didn't want to leave what felt like an unhealthy but not yet toxic workplace for a workplace where the signs are so blatantly pointing towards a toxic environment - or at least a toxic supervisor.

The Four Levels of Culture & Relationship

From my experience, there are at least four levels of culture and relationship that you want to try to get to know in any organization you might work:

  1. The relationship you'd have with your supervisor

  2. The relationships with and culture of the team of your near peers

  3. The relationships with and the culture of anyone you'll supervise

  4. The culture of the organization as a whole

Questions for/about supervision

As I was writing this article, my friend Lacie posted the following as a comment to that original article on questions you should ask during an interview process:

I like to ask the person I would be reporting to how they would characterize their leadership style. Both their reaction to receiving the question, and the answer they provide, speak volumes as to whether or not I am interested in an second interview or job offer that may be coming my way.

This is great advice - and definitely a question you should add to your list.

I'd add these additional questions for consideration:

  1. Tell me how you like to be communicated with.

  2. How do you create boundaries in your work and life? What are boundaries you want me to help you protect if I work for you?

  3. Describe the best relationship you've ever had with a supervisor. How do you try to live out those qualities in the supervisory relationships you have now?

Learning about your near peers

Particularly in executive roles you will have near peers - individuals who are at the same professional level you are (you all share a title like Executive Director, Vice President, etc.) and/or people you work with every day.

Unfortunately, many companies fail to include near peers in the interviewing process. So the first thing to do is to assess who your near peers are in the organization:

  1. Who would you describe as my near peers? Who will I be working with on a regular basis?

  2. How will they be involved in the interview process?

  3. How do they regularly communicate with each other/coordinate with each other?

The team you'll lead

In many cases, you will now lead other individuals or a whole team of individuals. Sometimes, they are excluded because they are also candidates for your role. And, sometimes they are excluded because of culture. Occasionally, one or more team members will serve on the interview and selection process. This is a good thing and you should first assess whether or not that is the case:

  1. Does this position have supervisory responsibility (if not clear from the resume it's okay to ask this)? If so, will I get to meet any of the folks I would supervise during the interview process?

  2. If you do get to meet them, some of the questions from above are excellent ones to re-purpose - ones like tell me how you like to be communicated with and how do you create boundaries/what boundaries will you want me to help you protect.

  3. Here are some others to consider if you do get to meet folks you'll supervisor: What's something you absolutely hope I won't ask you to stop doing and what's one thing you absolutely want me to help you stop having to do? What does the team do for fun? How'd you arrive at doing this thing together?

Organizational culture

Finally, we come to organizational culture. I find that when people do ask questions in this area, they focus too much on broad questions that are difficult to interpret answers to so I'm going to focus on three more specific questions:

  1. How are volunteerism and service celebrated in the organization as a whole?

  2. How is truly outstanding work identified and celebrated in the organization?

  3. What is one aspect of the organization's overall culture you would like to see change?

  4. How do you talk to the President/CEO if you wish to do so?

I'd love to know if you have other questions about culture - or stories about identifying cultural problems in interview processes. Please share them in the comments.

🦋 Are you ready to take your career to the next level? If so, it might be the perfect time for you to work with an executive coach. Schedule a free, no-obligation introductory coaching session to see if working with me as a coach could benefit you. Many organizations will pay for executive coaches as well so your employer might invest in you to take this next step.


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