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Little Things Say a Lot About Office Culture

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: When I get a job interview, what should I look at to decide if the organization’s culture is a good fit for me?

A: Many job applicants forget that it’s as important for you to like the organization as it is for them to like you. So, you’re ahead of the game just by bringing up this question!

Start by considering how you’re treated in the application process. Does the organization make it easy for you to apply? Is their online application process user-friendly?

Be observant when you arrive for the interview. If there’s a parking lot, see if all the good spaces are reserved for executives. This may be a clue as to how the organization values or doesn’t value its workers.

Taking the time to observe seemingly small things will give you a sense of whether this is a place where you want to spend at least eight hours a day.

How are you greeted when you arrive? Does the receptionist (if there is one) appear to know who you are and why you’re there? Great organizations take time to let the receptionist know who is arriving and why they’re coming so that the greeting can be personal and warm. I admire organizations that have a welcome board in the lobby and put the applicant’s name up.

When you arrive and are waiting in the lobby—ideally 10 minutes before your interview time—observe how people interact with each other. Do they smile and speak nicely to each other as they pass through the lobby? Do they treat the receptionist with respect? If they say hello to you while you wait, that’s the sign of a good place to work.

Hopefully you will be offered water or coffee. This is just good hospitality. If the person takes you to the employee lounge or cafeteria to get your own coffee, this is a great opportunity to see the facilities and observe people having a break or a casual conversation.

As you walk through the office, notice the layout. Is everyone in offices, or are most people in cubicles? Check out whether or not employees are able to personalize their cubicles or offices. Does the office look well organized and clean? Does the space seem comfortable to you?

Taking the time to observe these seemingly small things will give you a sense of whether this is a place where you want to spend at least eight hours a day.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected]

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