If one gets invited to an interview by a potential employer, how could that person find out about the culture of the department he/she would be working at?

Are there any questions, answers to which would indicate to a candidate that the department has healthy culture with functioning team-work as opposed to a toxic one?

You can't ask it directly, so how to construct questions in a clever way such as to get a feeling for the culture of the department?

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    Remember, you're interviewing them just as much as they're interviewing you. Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 20:24
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    If you're in the kitchen at any point during the time you're on site. Engineer a way to get a look in the fridge. If it's full of half-empty milk bottles with passive-aggressive notes on them, turn around and run, don't even stop to say goodbye.
    – JeffUK
    Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 14:53

5 Answers 5


You can't ask it directly,

Of course you can. That's the whole point of an interview!!

Some example questions to ask

  1. How would you describe your company culture ?
  2. What makes people be successful or fail here ?
  3. What do you like the best and the least about working here?
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    And if they refuse to talk about the company culture in the interview, that's probably a red flag in itself.
    – delinear
    Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 16:12
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    The probability they will get a truthful answer is very low, so the question is quite worthless.
    – BigMadAndy
    Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 19:48
  • @BigMadAndy I disagree. It's in everyone's best interest to identify cultural misalignment early on. If you a hire a mismatch everyone looses. I've asked these questions before and often got detailed and thoughtful answers.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 13:23
  • @Hilmar, I agree with that. But I didn't claim otherwise. The thing that this misalignment should be identified early on doesn't mean it normally is. I've asked this question so many times. The replies were worthless. Where I expected the culture to be great, it was full of mobbing starting on day 1. Where I had a horrible experience interviewing, I really enjoyed working afterwards.
    – BigMadAndy
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 19:57

You can't ask it directly,

Yes, you can! Just say, So how would you describe your office culture. In fact, one of my questions as an interviewee is always

Some other good questions I ask to determine office culture

What do you like about working here? - Stuff like, "they don't bother me when I'm on vacation" is good.

What kind of person succeeds here? - Listen for stuff like "understands what to do without being told" as this is usually a sign of bad management.

How is your commute? - I ask this because if I hear "Well, I leave at 8 every day so not bad at all", I know it's probably a sweatshop (unless they come in at 12).

Also, try to take a look at the work area. Do people seem happy? Have they decorated their space? Do you hear conversations?

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    @Abigail It can be either way. I can see it being like, "We are all running around like chickens because management has no plan, so we're just doing stuff randomly". I could also see it like "experienced people know what to do, but nobody will give the new guy any tasks, they'll be expected to just go with it". Conversely, I could also see it like "we don't like to micromanage" or "we expect people to be invested enough to understand the roadmap". It could be either way.
    – Ertai87
    Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 14:48

Please keep these points in mind while going for an interview.

What is their interview scheduling process like? A good clue as to the organization and professionalism of a company is how they schedule an interview with you. Do they give you enough notice so you can clear your schedule, or do they expect you to be available on a moment’s notice?

How are you received when you arrive? When you arrive for the interview, what is your first impression? Is it warm and welcoming or cold and foreboding? Is there is a receptionist? If so, do they know to expect you or are they surprised by your presence? Are you offered a glass of water?

Do they respect your time? It is never acceptable for a candidate to be late for an interview, but candidates should also take note of how well their time is respected. Of course, emergencies can happen, but if you are not greeted by the appointed start time of the interview, this could be a red flag

What types of questions do they ask? Pay close attention to the questions that are asked in the interview, because these are almost always indicative of the problems the organization is having that they will want you to solve. Having problems is not in and of itself an issue, but depending on your skill set and tolerance, some may be right up your alley and some may leave you saying ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ For example, if they spend a lot of time asking how you respond to angry customers and critical supervisors, you can be sure this will be a part of your job, should you choose to accept it.

How are things left once the interview is over? Are you given clear timelines and expectations or is it left vague and open-ended? Did you get the feeling they enjoyed meeting you or was the process cold and sterile?

While there is no way to know exactly what a company is like until you work there, these cues will give you a reasonably good idea of what to expect.

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    Hi Muzzamil, we don't accept link-only answers. If you'd like, please can quote the important parts of the article in your answer.
    – bxk21
    Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 13:59
  • @bxk21 Thanks for the feedback.
    – Muzzamil
    Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 14:18
  • No problem. Good edit! +1
    – bxk21
    Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 14:21

As others have stated you can in fact directly ask. I always ask about culture. Typically My questions are:

Can you describe what the office/team culture is like? If i were to start here, what would my first week or two look like? what kinds of milestones would you expect me to hit at 6months and a year?

Typically the first question gets answers like

we are a quiet office, most people sit at their desks and work, We are very open, and often you will see people standing about together chatting between tasks, or working together on them.

The other two questions i ask are to try to get a feel as to how they intend to onboard new employees to their culture, and the company specific training techniques.

basically, im looking for things like:

to start you will primarily be watching the ticket queue so you can get familiar with the environment and applications. by 6 months you should be able to answer most tickets with little to know help outside of our knowledge base by a year, you should be pretty much settled and already working on projects etc.

if a company struggles to answer any of these questions or they make comments about how their knowledge base is non-existent or woefully outdated. Thats typically a red flag.


I've gotten a lot of info from this question

How is success defined here?

Best answers I've gotten is things like

when the customer is happy


when the requirements are fulfilled

And one company had both interviewers stare at each other, then tell me

when we come in under budget

I stayed clear of them. Imagine working somewhere where the overriding requirement is to work cheaply?