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I have recently been interviewing for jobs again.

I have taken the advice to heart that interviewing is a two-way street, and I always have some questions of my own prepared.

Apart from interviewers who leave no time at all to ask questions, there is one particular question I've gotten a lot of pushback on; either because it is inappropriate or because it is something they just don't talk about in interviews.

The question is: "How does your office and the culture handle employee birthdays?"

This is an important question to me, as from experience it is a major cultural indicator. Should I be asking it differently, or is there another way to push through and get my answer?

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    My first impression is 'is this chap here for the social life?' – Kilisi Oct 10 '19 at 8:36
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    What do you specifically want to know? Whether you have to bring cake? If youll get a day off? If they decorate your entire desk? If everyone will try to kiss you? – user180146 Oct 10 '19 at 8:39
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    @user180146 Basically yes. Whatever is the first thing they say will probably be the most important thing. – Weckar E. Oct 10 '19 at 8:45
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    @Kilisi in truth, it is the opposite. I prefer more solitary office cultures. – Weckar E. Oct 10 '19 at 8:47
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    "How does the company ensure that employees have a proper work/life balance" is a much harder question for the representatives to answer and will tell you much more about what they do and what they do not do. – Stian Yttervik Oct 10 '19 at 9:19
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I think the problem here is that unfortunately a question is never just a question, you are also stating something. I actually think your question is a good one for getting a conversation going about the company culture but while you are asking the question you are kind of saying that something as trivial as how the company deals with birthdays is a factor in weather or not you will take the job. Even if they have a good birthday policy they might worry what other little thing might cause you to be unhappy in your job.

Also I've found a lot of interviewers tend to be unprepared to talk about the company culture. There is the official company culture as defined by their mission statement etc but in reality that can be quite different to what it is like to work day to day. They could be genuinely confused as to how to answer.

I like your question because it doesn't ask for the mission statement version of the company culture but I would just frame it a little so they get the context and maybe make it clearer that it's just and example and birthday policy in particular isn't that important to you.

Maybe something like:

"I'd like to know a little bit about what it's like to work here day to day. Do you have any events or do you celebrate birthdays? What's it like to work here?"

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    Great suggestion - I think the reason OP feels the question is poorly received is that it seems trivial, but phrasing it as an example of culture makes it very relevant. – Robin Bennett Oct 10 '19 at 10:47
  • I agree with this approach. When I am an interviewer, I try to frame my questions with some context. It's important to do that as an interviewee, as well. Leading up to this question by stating that you're interested in company culture is a great way to help set the stage. – dwizum Oct 10 '19 at 17:08
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I could see someone taking handle as a strong phrasing, it frames the situation (a birthday/celebration) as a chore that one must complete.

It may also be an uncommon question that is asked, whereby other questions have a canned and rehearsed answer (over 100s of interviews, you get in the swing of repeating the same answers) but being asked that may throw the interviewer off (not in a bad way).

Rephrasing the same question would make it come across friendlier:

Do you tend to celebrate birthdays as an office? In my last place we would go for a drink after work etc...

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    I'd prefer to avoid leading them to any particular answer, otherwise useful point. – Weckar E. Oct 10 '19 at 8:46
  • @WeckarE. I wasn't going to add the final part in, but to me it would come off a bit blunt without some fluff at the end. That could just be me though! – Jay Gould Oct 10 '19 at 9:52
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Well, I do not know the details of your life, or how much you need to land a job now. If getting a job, any job, is your top priority, then stop asking that question :)

Otherwise...

If that is a difficult or "dangerous" question for them, you should really think NOT twice, but several times more if you REALLY want to work there.

An example answer should be:

There are no company rules or regulations with regard to birthdays. People and teams are free to organize themselves as they want, if they want.

Even a beginner interviewer should be able to come up with that kind of answer, promptly.

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