List of questions to identify a toxic culture during the interview
I wrote a thread on Twitter on how to identify a toxic culture during interviews or how to identify if the company is a good fit for you. I mean, these questions are useful to identify the culture but the real culture, not just lip service, not what the interviewers are trained to say.
I’ve received several questions on the thread so I’m going to use this post to address them and give more clarity on the questions.
First of all, no you don’t need to ask all these questions in one interview :D That would be really weird, just choose some of them or use your own questions. These days each hiring process has several interviews and different interviewers so you can ask several of them.
Some people are pointing out that if they ask these questions people won’t hire them, oh boy, that’s exactly what we’re looking for, right? That’s a good sign of a company you shouldn’t work for. Do you want to work for a company that is not transparent? That doesn’t allow you to ask questions?
Also, someone mentioned that we’re not supposed to ask questions in interviews, companies are…. Of course you are supposed to ask questions! I mean the company is going to ask more questions, yes. But if I’m interviewing someone I would expect them to ask questions and actually, it’s a red flag for me when someone doesn’t ask. Interviews are both ways. The company is interviewing you and you are interviewing the company. The company is trying to see if you are a good fit and you should do the same.
Here is the list of questions:
- Am I a backfill? If so, why did the other person leave or was fired?
Here you are trying to spot problems in the team, in the org, etc . You want to know where you are getting in, believe me.
- When was the last time someone was fired and how was that handled by management?
This question will allow you to understand how much they value communication, how they handle conflicts, what’s the process to fire someone….
- Have you had any conversations in the last 2 months about your career?
The purpose of the question is to reveal whether the career conversations happen or not and whether they are real or not. You don’t need to have goals each week, month, or quarter, they can be each 6 months but there is no point in having goals if you don’t follow up every now and then, and if you don’t measure how you’re doing.
- When was the last time you gave feedback to your manager?
With this question, you can know a lot about the culture of the company, the management style, etc. In a healthy environment, you should be giving feedback to your manager at least in the performance cycle.
- How frequent and meaningful are your 1:1s with your manager?
Similar to the previous one, if you have a manager you want to know if you have time with your manager to solve questions, raise concerns, etc and you do want to know if when you say 1:1s you’re talking about the same thing, not just status reports…
- When was the last time your feedback about something ended up in a real change?
Do you want to work in a place where your feedback is heard? I’ve worked in several companies where they ask for feedback but nothing changes, ever and it’s very frustrating.
- Is there any process to help low performers? When was the last time you saw it working? In other words, have you seen anyone struggling who didn’t end up fired?
I want to work for a company that pays attention to employees who are struggling and try to help them. Most companies have processes like PIPs that are supposed to do that but in reality are just a way to fire people.
- Can you describe the last time you pursued a bold new idea or proposal and how it ended?.
In other words, is the company bottom up? Is the company willing to innovate? To change the statu quo?
- How is performance evaluated?
Do you want to work for a company where people don’t know how their work is evaluated? Where it’s not clear how to be successful?. Keep this in mind, it doesn’t matter if there is an official performance cycle process or not, always someone evaluates your performance and decides if you deserve a raise or not.
- When was the last time something bad happened in the company (such as layoffs) and how was it handled by management?
This will give you an idea of how the company handles communication, how transparent they are, etc.
- Can you tell the 3 more important goals for your team? For the company?
This question is useful to understand if they have a clear direction, vision, strategy, etc.
- How many reports do you have to do and to who?.
- How many status meetings do you have?
Are you afraid of being micromanaged? These two questions are key to this. You want to know who oversees your work and how often.
- How many managers have you had in your time in the company?
- What’s your attrition rate?
Attrition is a sign of bigger problems such as cultural problems, toxic culture, bad processes, lack of autonomy. Especially when you’re seeing leadership leaving. Here you can do a follow-up question that is really useful, how was the handover last time you change managers? It will help you see how mature and management are, you don’t want to start over every time your manager leaves.
- Tell me something you would change in the company if you could?
Are you having an interview where everything it’s nice and there doesn’t seem to be anything to improve? This question tries to uncover the reality.
I will tell you something, I asked this question in an interview for one of the big ones and the interviewer answered something that made me reject them immediately. He basically mentioned that they had offices in countries that were not civilized enough but that the company in the rest of the world was nice. Yes, he said that. Actually, it was a bit worse.
- What do you like the most about the company?
This allows you to see where the highest standards are and allows you to do several follow-ups to dig in.
- How do you define the culture of the company? What values does the company have? Would you say the culture respects the values?
Here you’re trying to see how the person defines the real culture as they see it, not the values or the speech they are used to telling.
These are questions I have but I would like to know more of them, to have a kind of bank of questions, and why they’re useful so please reply to this post or to the thread if you have. For example: