Connect with us

Human Performance

The Job Search: How to Figure Out if the Organization is Heaven or Hell


The Job Search: How to Figure Out if the Organization is Heaven or Hell

Culture is the X factor that can make or break an organization. And organizations with awful cultures will go the extra mile to deceive you during the hiring process.

Ever worked for an organization with a healthy organizational culture? One that has a clear direction and purpose, accepts and appreciates diversity, treats employees fairly and has strong ethical leadership?

Ever worked for an organization that paid lip service to all of those things but in reality it was a facade?

I’ve worked for both.

I’ve been the beneficiary of fantastic professional experiences and opportunities in organizations with healthy cultures, and I’ve been the casualty of the dysfunctional.

Knowing what you’re getting yourself into when you’re changing jobs can have long-lasting effects on your career.

An organization with a healthy culture will bring out the best in its employees and can propel your career forward.

And the dysfunctional organization?  It can make you question your ability, teach you bad habits and dead-end your professional growth.

That’s why it’s so important to do everything you can to make a good decision when changing jobs.

Using the interview to understand as much as possible about a potential employer through the interview process is like using your GPS to avoid an accident on the freeway that will slow you down. Why not avoid the accident all together? Take a different route to your destination.

My interview story

Several years ago I worked for a firm that was a cultural nightmare. Egotistical misogynistic leadership with a dash of nepotism equals hot mess. Six months into my job and I was actively working on my exit strategy.

I promised myself that I wasn’t going to get myself into a similar situation with my next job, but that’s easier said than done.

Going into interviews I looked for clues about the culture and armed myself with questions that I hoped would help me see a bit further behind the veil that always seems to exist between the interviewee and the HR/management window dressing.

During one interview the perceptive hiring manager could tell that I was seeking to understand more about the corporate culture. She not only answered my questions thoroughly but at one point she said, “I’d like to show you around the office and introduce you to a few people.”

This was not a planned tour. She was adapting the interview to provide me with better insight – which is exactly what I was seeking.

She was warm, adaptable, transparent, and sincerely wanted me to understand what the culture was like so I could make a good decision. Showing me around the office and introducing me to the staff did give me confidence that it would be a place I wanted to work.

I accepted a position with the company and stayed for almost six years. And that perceptive woman who gave me the impromptu tour was one of the best managers I ever had. The qualities she demonstrated in the interview were consistent with her management style and the organization’s culture.

The interview should provide you with insight into the organization and how it operates. Keep in mind that not only is a healthy culture important but it must be one that is a good fit for you.

How to figure out if the organization is heaven or hell

It’s not always easy to tell what the culture is like until you’re actually on the inside for a period of time. It’s like trying to decide if you want to get married after one date. We simply need more information in order to make an informed decision.

The interview is your opportunity to look for clues about the organization’s real culture – not just the air brushed fluff used to market what a stellar place it is to work. The interview is a two-way street. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions during an interview. If the company representatives are evasive, then you have your answer – time to move on to the next opportunity.

1. Do some research before the interview

Reach out to your network to see if anyone is familiar with the organization and what they may know. Take a look at chat rooms or web services that use employee feedback to rate employers. Use any intel you acquire to prepare yourself for the interview and any questions you want to ask or observations that may help you validate what you’ve learned.

2. Arrive at your interview a bit early

While you wait, observe employees interacting with each other. If you’re waiting in a reception area take note of how employees or clients treat the receptionist and each other.

3. Have your questions written and ready before the interview.

Ask the following types of questions. If you are interviewing with multiple people ask the same questions to each person to see if the answers align.

  • What is it like to work here?
  • How would you describe the culture of this organization?
  • Is this a newly created position or one that’s being filled because of a vacancy? If it’s to fill a vacancy, what is the average turnover for this position and why did the last person leave the role?
  • Does the company support employee training and development? If so, can you give me some examples?
  • How would you describe the organizational politics here?
  • What do you like best/least about working here?
  • How are decisions communicated with the staff?
  • What is the one thing you would change about this office?
  • Look for clues during the interview.
  • What is your initial reaction to the people and place?
  • Do you have time to ask questions?
  • How does the interviewer behave? Are they polite, courteous, arrogant, evasive?
  • What are the non-verbal cues?


Finally, don’t kid yourself.

If the warning signs are there don’t ignore them thinking somehow things will be different for you – they won’t.

Hiring the best and brightest employees is easier said than done. All organizations will work hard to leave job candidates with the impression that they have an extraordinary corporate culture.

Your job is to decipher fact from fiction and keep your career on track.

Continue Reading