1. HOW MUCH TIME DO THE OWNERS/LEADERS/FOUNDERS SPEND IN THE OFFICE?
“This question tells you whether or not you have leaders in place who are in touch with the work and making knowledgeable decisions.
The best and brightest ideas oftentimes come directly from the people actually doing the work, so if a leader rarely spends time with staff, it points to a lack of innovation and support in their culture,” says Gardner.
This question may not be quite as important to ask of a large business, but “in a small business, that interaction with the top level may be key to you getting ahead, being able to get things done and having that person’s vision be carried out by their team,” Santopietro Panall says.
It “might also give you a key to the level of the workaholism that you can expect there. If the recruiter says ‘oh, our CEO Sally is here 90 hours a week, she never takes a day off!’ you’re going to know that the culture is going to be very focused on putting in a lot of hours with a lot of face time.”
2. WHAT DO PEOPLE ON THE TEAM THAT I’D BE JOINING DO FOR LUNCH EVERY DAY?
“Finding out what people tend to do on their lunch hour will tell you whether they are slammed with work, don’t want to spend time with their colleagues, or tend to be social and enjoy each other’s company,” Bowman says.
“This information can also tell you whether or not your potential colleagues might be more extroverted or introverted. Depending on your own preferences, this response can give you some valuable insight into the team that you’re joining.”
3. HOW DO YOU MEASURE SUCCESS AND OVER WHAT TIME FRAME? HOW ARE THESE METRICS DETERMINED?
If you want to avoid a boss with outrageous expectations, this is the question to ask. “Before you accept an offer you need to know that your new boss has realistic expectations with respect to what you will accomplish and by when,” Cohen says.
“No matter how attractive an offer may be, if you do not, or cannot, deliver results you will fail. So, if you are told that the bar is outrageously high and you don’t have enough time to come up to speed, think twice before accepting the terms without discussion or negotiation.”
4. WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO SHOW ME AROUND THE OFFICE?
This question is probably best saved for a last-round interview so you don’t seem too intrusive, but “taking a walk around the workspace is a great way to get a real feel for the day-to-day culture,” Larchar says.
“Are individuals interacting with one another? Do the workers look stressed? Are the individual workspaces decorated? What is the setup of the office? Does the work space seem inclusive? How are the departments organized? If you thrive on working with others, you’ll want a work environment where that feels natural.”
One thing Santopietro Panall recommends keeping an eye on in particular is how many senior-level employees have their own offices.
“It’s a clue to how structured and hierarchical the company is,” she says.
“Companies with few or no private offices tend to be less top-down than companies with a lot of private offices or a whole CEO floor. There’s a strong trend, in many businesses, of removing private spaces in offices and making all space communal — some companies are loving it and finding it effective and others are dreading it, but whether a company would even consider it is a sign of how much they are trying to embrace a certain kind of flexible, collaborative work style.”