By Anne Holub
Once you get past the "grill the prospective employee" part of the interview process, it's time to turn the tables on your potential new employer. The New York Times thinks that questions about work culture are the key to company insights. We agree! Hopefully, sometime during the process, you're able to talk to different employees at different levels of the org. When you speak to them, ask them these questions, and note what their answers say about the paradise (or viper pit) that you could be jumping into.
Question 1: Tell me a typical story about your boss.
Ideally, the boss is out of the room when this question gets posed. What you're looking for is an idea of how the King or Queen rules their kingdom. Are they benevolent? Or merciless? The boss tends to set the tone for the group, so expect your co-workers to operate the cube farm like a Thunderdome if they're ruled over by Master Blaster. If, instead, you get a Mr. (or Ms.) Rogers at the top of the food chain, you can expect something akin to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
Question 2: Has anyone risen up through the ranks?
Tell me all about the little hire who started in the mail room and now runs his own company branch in Paris. If you can't get any stories of anyone who's made a significant upward movement, that's probably a sign that you'll be stuck in Sector 7G the rest of your life.
Question 3: What happens when there are hard choices to be made?
We're talking layoffs, "cost cutting," branch closings, or plain old disciplining when poop hits the fan. How are the hard decisions made and who's making them? Is there passing of the buck? Are you all doomed to be cut from the payroll at the first sign of economic downturn? How expendable is your group? You want to know exactly what will happen when people stop being polite, and start being real.
Question 4: Do co-workers hang out away from work?
Even if you're not the social type (and who doesn't like going home and having quiet time with their cat and some Netflix?) learning that nobody at work likes seeing anyone socially is a big red flag. Socializing can help your career advance, and it's also a sign that people there aren't horrible. If you think your co-workers are annoying mouth-breathers, you're going to do whatever you can to avoid them at all costs. If, instead, you think of them as a second family (or at least a room full of cool cousins), you're going to be up for drinks or bowling every now and then.