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Employment Advice Column: Assessing the Workplace Culture

Assessing the workplace culture in the job interview

Dear Joanna

I’m currently working in a dead-end job at a company where this is no potential for professional growth. As a result I am actively applying for better career opportunities and going on interviews. I’ve received a job offer which seems to be a perfect next step in my career.  I would hate to end up in the same situation only in a new job. How do I evaluate the company’s culture so that I make a successful career move?

Signed: Career Caution

Dear CC,

Before going on the interview, it’s important to do your homework by targeting specific companies and career opportunities that match your values and goals, cautions blogger Henry at  Henry presents helpful workplace culture assessment questions that I will expand on below based on my own experiences. But nothing beats the face-to-face job interview to obtain a deeper understanding of the complicated workplace culture. Sometimes, certain questions can elicit responses that will help you see if it’s a good cultural fit. I recommend asking away only when you have an official  job offer, or  at a scheduled information interview.

  1. Values clarification. Understanding how a company practices what they preach – their values – is how you can determine if they match yours. Review the vision and mission statement, the website, the marketing materials, the job postings and social media. For example, if collaboration is important to you, ask what it means to be a team player? How an organization spends their budget is a value as well. Ask to see the financial statements (if they open to the public) and recent annual reports. Explore innovation values by how the management and employees handle new ideas, new projects and feedback from all levels. Does the company value improvement of services and if so, how is this value practiced?
  1. Leadership style. Analyze the organization chart. Evaluate the structure of the business and the management. If there is a board, it’s important to understand its role in the organization. Values can be identified if you know the management style norms. Is it a hierarchical-command-obey style or is it collaborative? How does the manager and/or co-workers praise or reward its best employees? How would your performance review be handled?  How is feedback handled when there are problems and mistakes? Who will you be reporting to? How are decisions made in the company?
  1. Treatment of customers/clients/participants. Find out if there are policies in place and if and how they are applied in practice. This is critical especially if you are working with vulnerable individuals and communities who need to be protected. What happens if a staff violates the policy or code of conduct? How the management and frontline handles the treatment of the participants is an important evaluation question.
  2. Learning, training and career advancement. How an organization handles the professional development and training of their staff is an essential value. Asking the interviewers about career advancement opportunities and potential for growth as employee can help you assess this. What role does the human resources play in this value? Does the organization encourage their staff to learn, grow and be promoted?  Do they provide financial support with the tuition and professional development? What policies and procedures are in place for staff to engage in this? Is there a succession plan in the organizational structure?
  3. Communication patterns. How transparent a company is with sharing information, updates, news, innovation and relevant opportunities to its staff is indicative of their culture. What role does marketing have in the communications including materials, website, social media and other strategies? How are the meetings structured? How are job responsibilities and new tasks communicated? Is it consensus-driven or collaborative styles of communication?
  4. Hiring process. Sometimes, the way the recruiter(s) handle the application process could provide a possible indication of the company culture. Is the scheduling of the interview as well as the post-interview organized in a timely and transparent manner? Find out how the company supports diversity and inclusion. Has it won any awards in this area? Does it have a diverse workforce? Check this out on the website. Is it an accessible workplace and does the company comply with the AODA legislation? For example, how does the HR handle the accommodations required by candidates on the job interview, as well as current and new employees with disabilities?

Even if you think you have sufficient information to assess whether or not there is a good fit, you may have to risk accepting the job offer with an understanding that only when you are working at the company can you grasp the reality of the workplace culture. Organizations are complicated. You can only do so much homework, research and questioning.


Signed: Joanna

 To submit your questions for this column IN CONFIDENCE, please email

Joanna Samuels, M.Ed., CMF, CTDP, RRP  has over 10 years of experience and an expertise in  job development, job coaching, and workshop facilitation with people with disabilities and multi-barriers as well as staff training. Also, Joanna helps employers with diversity recruitment and selection, is a published author and columnist, as well as a certified Life Skills Coach, and certified Personality Dimension Facilitator.  She is available as a guest speaker on related topics.

About Joanna Samuels 6 Articles
Joanna Samuels, M.Ed., CMF, RRP is a certified Life Skills Coach, and certified Personality Dimensions Facilitator. With over 11 years’ of experience working as a job coach/job developer and facilitator at JVS Toronto, Joanna’s expertise is providing customized employment and career coaching as well as job placement and training services to individuals and groups from diverse communities, industries and professions. In addition, Joanna helps employers with recruitment, and selection, as well as meeting their diversity and inclusion needs. Joanna is a featured employment advice columnist, published author and blogger as well as a part time instructor of employment counselling at George Brown College, Joanna is a frequent guest speaker at different community events and webinars on topics related to employment and careers.

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