How to Answer Interview Questions About Past Company Cultures

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During an employment interview, the hiring manager will ask soft skill questions to determine if you are a good fit for the position. Many soft skill questions apply to the company culture of your past jobs and how you fit into that culture. Many factors go into your level of success, beyond the hard skills that show up on your resume. Soft skills are important too, as is how well your personality will complement the work culture at the hiring company.

Toot Your Own Horn – But Not Too Loudly

It can be challenging to answer interview questions about yourself. You need to express confidence in your considerable abilities. Plan and practice sharing concrete examples of your successes on past jobs, especially those that relate directly to the requirements of the position you’re interviewing for. Remember also to balance talking about your accomplishments with a measure of humility. You will want the hiring manager to believe in your qualifications, understand that you will be a good fit in their work environment as well, and be someone who appreciates the contributions of others.

Speaking About a Past Employer's Company Culture

When answering questions about your previous employer, you should always try to stay as positive and complimentary as possible. Hiring managers will tend to view negativity as a flaw of yours as an employee, rather than as a fault of your previous situation. While you want to be honest, you will also need to be diplomatic in how you describe distasteful or negative aspects of your past job, the company, or your supervisors and coworkers.

The safest approach is to avoid saying too much negative about the company culture at your previous employer. You don't want hiring managers to think of you as someone who has trouble fitting in or adapting to new surroundings. Instead, focus on the aspects of the old job that you enjoyed. Be sure to have a concrete example, such as describe how coworkers would celebrate milestones such as promotions, birthdays, or fellow a worker's marriage or having children.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to come up with something positive to say about a company’s culture, especially if it was one of the reasons that resulted in your leaving the job. In this case, you should be truthful, but put your experience in the most positive light, and be careful to frame your response without placing blame on your previous company.

As an example, if you had an overbearing or micromanaging boss, rather than say that, say you felt you would find a chance to grow more with another business.

Describe the Company Culture

Since you’ll likely be asked about the company culture at your current or previous job, it’s a good idea to think through how you would describe it. Take a look at the website if you haven’t in a while, familiarize yourself with how they present themselves, and then come up with your own pitch about the company culture and how you fit in from there.

A good way to start is to describe some of the aspects of your employer's culture that you like, and how those attributions might have encouraged or enhanced your accomplishments. For example, if your former employer rewarded innovation and thinking "outside of the box," you might explain how that type of environment harmonized with your own creativity and produced positive results.

Responding to Follow Up Questions

You should be prepared for challenging follow up questions about past employer's company culture. The interviewer may ask about the most difficult aspect of the company's culture for you. In a situation like this, try to pick something relatively innocuous—harmless—that wouldn't create doubts about your attitude, or something where your lack of conformity could be viewed positively.

For example, you might say:

Given the conservative nature of the industry, the organization was very careful about implementing changes. I understood the nature of their concerns but was somewhat frustrated by the pace of change. I continued to work in a cooperative manner and continued to suggest improvement to the system—some of which were instituted. In the end, my supervisor and others viewed me as a team player and valued my interest in enacting positive changes within the framework of the company.

However you choose to answer, you should emphasize your ability to adapt to different environments and bring about positive results in a variety of office cultures.

Company Culture at the New Job

While you’re preparing for your interview, you will probably find information on the hiring company's culture by doing a thorough review of the company website. Another place to get clues is by looking at any community-related postings involving the company. You can do this by searching the name of the business and the term social media or searing the archive of the newspaper in cities where they are located.

Use this information to come up with a few examples of how your work style will allow you to excel in the environment at your target company. That way, when you are asked about the company culture at your previous job, you can steer the conversation towards what a super fit you’ll be in a new position.