Easy Ways to Investigate A Company’s Office Culture

Beyond Google, how else can you investigate a company’s office culture? Here, a trove of tips and tricks from people who know how to size up a prospective employer.

  • Background Check: “Ask the interviewer or the company representative about her own background, and compare the responses among individuals. Does the company bring in people from eclectic backgrounds? That says a lot about what you’re likely to find at the firm.”—Gerry Bollman, director of university recruiting, Booz Allen Hamilton, Cleveland
  • Canvas: “Tell the interviewer you’d like to speak with someone in a different department than the one you’re interviewing in—customer service, for example, or distribution. Look for common threads.”—Kim Ratto, recruiter, Birkenstock USA, Novato, Calif.
  • Fun Factor: “A company can make an effort to have its office reflect its personality. You don’t want to put streamers up, but if the reception area is brightly lit and painted, and if the walls reflect what the company does—we have movie posters on the wall—this is the first thing you see, and it tells you this might be a fun place to work.”—Ben Coplon, postproduction supervisor, Miramax Films, New York
  • Small Talk Is Big: “I got my best information by arriving early and speaking to the receptionist. I learned that decisions at this firm only came straight from the top.”—Mary Anne Thompson, president of Going Global, Washington, which compiles country-specific employment data
  • Wait Time: “If you have 10 interviews [for the same job] in three months, figure decision making at the company is a tortuous process.”—B.J. Gallagher, employment consultant, Los Angeles
  • Reading into Questions: “The questions asked by the interviewer might indicate that the company focuses on particular things like leadership, say, or creativity. At one company I interviewed at a long time ago, I was asked, ‘Imagine for a moment that you are blind. Describe blue to me.'”—Gerry Bollman, Booz Allen Hamilton
  • Watch the Clock: “Get at lifestyle-at-work issues by asking, ‘Will you describe a typical week on the job?’ If you can, schedule an interview around lunchtime, or after hours, so you can see how many people are still on the clock.”—Gary Alpert, CEO, WetFeet Inc., an employment-consulting firm, San Francisco
  • Look Around: “We conduct a lot of interviews on a big, open patio outside. Out there, candidates can see our employees walking around our campus, sitting outside talking, going for a run—it’s a good indicator of what it’s like to work here.”—Kim Ratto, Birkenstock USA
  • Congratulations: “A good question: Ask how the organization celebrates success. Is this an organization that has a culture that recognizes and rewards people for the value they contribute, or do they just say, ‘It’s in your paycheck’?”—Gerry Bollman, Booz Allen Hamilton
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