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Performing a culture check – How do you make sure of fit BEFORE you take a job?

There is not much worse in our career than being in the wrong job. We spend the vast majority of our waking hours working and getting back and forth to work. So, if you are miserable in your work, it impacts your whole life.

Sometimes work environments shift – there is a merger, new management or some other event and suddenly the culture changes and you are no longer satisfied. That situation is more complex and involves more planning to figure out what to do.

However, I have worked with several people who took a job and found out within days or weeks that they had made a huge mistake. That situation can be avoided with some pretty easy steps. So, how do you make sure a job fits you BEFORE you take it?

Self Assessment:

Make sure you are clear on what you are looking for in your work. It helps to pause before you look for a new job and build a “top 10 list”. In other words, how can you be sure you have found the right fit unless you know what you are looking for?

  • Think about the times in your career when you have been the most engaged, connected and satisfied with your work. What was the climate like? What was going well?

  • Think about the times that you were the most frustrated, disengaged or unhappy? What was missing? What was going wrong?

  • What about practical concerns? How much money do you need to make? How far are you willing to commute? Are you concerned about travel? What about vacation time?

Identifying Fit

Once you have really thought about what is important to you, prioritize the most important 10 things you are looking for in your next role. It helps to put them in order of importance.

Let’s say your top 10 list looks something like this:

  1. Meaningful work

  2. Work-life balance

  3. Clear expectations of success

  4. Autonomy (no micromanagement)

  5. Salary of $90K+ and full benefits

  6. No more than 45 minutes commute one way

  7. Cohesive team

  8. No more than 25% travel

  9. Occasional work from home opportunities

  10. Opportunities for training and employee development


When you are interviewing with a company, it is important to do your homework. That is a given, but are you also researching the work environment? There are a few good ways to find out what it is really like to work somewhere:

  1. Former insiders: This is one of the best ways to get the scoop. Talk to people who used to work for the company. They have no vested interest in whether or not you take the job, so they may be inclined to be more truthful. You can find former insiders by conducting an advanced people or alumni search on LinkedIn.

  2. Web research: There are a few websites to check to try to get a better feel for culture. If you have not looked up a company on or, that can be a good starting point. Remember that people usually go out to these sites when they are unhappy, but if you see a pattern of similar issues being described in multiple reviews, you might want to take note and research further.

When you are conducting your research, look for answers to whether or not the potential company meets your top 10 list. Ask the former insiders questions about work life balance. Ask them to tell you anything they might know about the person to whom you would be reporting, etc.

The Interview

It is also important to be savvy about the questions you ask during the interview to try to identify fit with your list of requirements. You can ask different questions of each of the people that interview you. Here are some sample questions to find out about the top 10 list above:

  1. Meaningful work – What is the one thing you do in your work that makes the biggest difference in the lives of others?

  2. Work-life balance – What does the parking lot look like at 5:00 pm?

  3. Clear expectations of success – What are the most important deliverables you would like to see accomplished after 90 days in this job?

  4. Autonomy (no micromanagement) – What are the most important qualities you look for in your direct reports? (You can really tell a lot about someone’s leadership style with open-ended questions like this)

  5. Salary of $90K+ and full benefits (This one you may need to wait until there is an offer made and then you can evaluate the whole package and plan a negotiation strategy)

  6. No more than 45 minutes commute one way – Put the company’s address into Google maps at various time of the day to get a feel for average commute time from your home during peak traffic

  7. Cohesive team – Can you tell me more about your team? How would you characterize the culture of the organization?

  8. No more than 25% travel (ask about this post-offer)

  9. Occasional work from home opportunities (This is a good question to ask former insiders – they can tell you about typical policy and they may even know if there are people in the department you are considering who have successfully worked from home)

  10. Opportunities for training and employee development – What does the on-boarding process look like? What opportunity is there for on-going employee development and training?

Taking a new job is a very critical pivot point in a person’s life. Spending some time getting clear on your priorities and then doing your homework could literally be the difference between satisfaction and misery.

It is also crucial to listen to your gut. Many times you will get a suspicious feeling if things are not right. Most people do not regret listening to their intuition. Not every job is right for every person and being offered a job does not mean you need to take it. Only you can decide if it is right for you.

In the comments section, I would love to hear other ideas for good questions you have asked during an interview to get the true picture of a company. Thanks for sharing!

Dana Maggi, Career Coach


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