Important interview coming up? Realise that employers want to know if you ‘fit their culture,’ but not sure what that really means?
We often hear about companies that have a great workplace culture, and those that aren't so great, but what is ‘company culture’?
It includes things like work environment, company mission, values, ethics, expectations, goals, and how employees behave. It's not about finding clones, or people who all look and act the same way, and it's not about discrimination. It's about finding people who complement the existing skills and personalities on a team. Not only that, but finding people who can bring something new, unique and positive to the existing dynamic.
Here are the types of question you might be asked to see if a company's culture suits you, from the good stuff, to more challenging and behavioural questions:
The good stuff...
1. "Why do your friends rely on you?"
Do you keep everyone organised and make sure the next social is in the diary? Are you someone who loves exploring and is always finding new places to meet for brunch? Are you the one your friends all turn to for advice?
Have a think about how this would benefit your new team at work too.
2. "What have you achieved over the past 12 months that made you really proud?"
In this situation, the interviewer wants more than just: "I’m proud that I passed my degree".
Great answers might include something you did for someone else ("I managed to fit in proofreading my best friend’s dissertation as a favour despite being stressed about my own!"), or choices you’ve made ("I made some really great contacts while I was studying, including my lecturers, and I’m proud of the way I’ve balanced both studying and making these great connections in social situations").
Be sure not to just state the achievement you're proud of, but to explain why it makes you proud.
3. "Tell me about the last time you were in a total state of flow. What were you doing?"
'Flow' means ‘being so focused that you’re lost in your own little world’. It means suddenly realising that time has flown and being a bit surprised when you’re jolted back to the real world.
For this one, make sure the example you choose highlights your positives. If it was playing video games, you could explain that you love the challenge of problem solving, and the thrill of achieving higher levels (and that it’s the same when you’re working and studying too). If it was whilst practising a musical instrument, this could show great attention to detail and dedication.
4. "What can your hobbies tell me that your CV can't?"
This is your time to shine, particularly if you’ve only had a few part-time jobs. Your love of fishing might show that you have the patience of a saint. Snowboarding might show your ability to practise and master tricky skills as well as your willingness to take risks. Whittling wooden spoons might tell the interviewer that you pay attention to the tiniest details.
Whatever your hobbies are, make sure you can talk confidently about how the skills you’ve learnt can benefit your future employer.
The challenging stuff...
5. "How do you cope with failure?"
We all fail sometimes. Even your interviewer. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about how you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and carry on afterwards.
Answer this question honestly by giving an example of a time you genuinely failed, whilst, of course, not picking an example so terrible it jeopardises your chances of getting the job. Then, focus more on how you picked yourself up and carried on afterwards. What practical steps did you take to move forwards? How did you ensure you learnt from it and that you wouldn't fail in the same way again?
6. "When presented with 100 solutions to a problem, how would you select the one best solution?"
Hint: There’s no right or wrong answer. Your interviewer wants to see how you approach problems, how you break things down into manageable pieces, and how your brain works when faced with a challenge.
Great answers could include:
"I’d cut the solutions down to two based on my experience, then ask for advice from someone I trust in the company"
"If we have 100 solutions, maybe we need to be more specific and split the problem into smaller chunks"
"I’d look across the company, look at our competitors, and then research online to see if anyone’s tackled a similar problem before, and where they failed or succeeded."
7. "How do you handle stress and pressure?"
This may also be phrased as: "Describe a time when your workload was heavy and how you handled it.”
Avoid too much drama, and avoid mentioning times that you’ve done something silly and needlessly put yourself under pressure (like those panicked all-nighters when you tried to get all your work done in 24 hours). That won't paint you in a great light, so focus instead on a time when you were given a difficult task or multiple assignments, and you rose to the occasion. Did you get through everything by making loads of to-do lists? Did you work with someone else and share out tasks based on your individual strengths?
Your interviewer wants to know that you would react effectively to an increase in workload, without drama or panic.
8. "How do you learn?"
Do you like to be shown exactly how to do something, then try it for yourself? Do you like to be talked through each step while you try it out in real time? Do you prefer to read a step-by-step manual? Are you (like me!) the kind of person who never reads the manual and just gets stuck in exploring and working things out for yourself?
Find out what works for you, because this will be incredibly helpful for your working relationship with your manager.
9. "Tell me about the very first job you did that you were paid for. What did you learn from it?"
Whether it was babysitting, a paper round or walking dogs - think back over what you took away from it. Perhaps it taught you to be responsible, you learnt the satisfaction of completing a job, or the buzz that comes with being the best and competing against others. It's different for all of us, and your interviewer wants to hear about how you have learnt from your unique experiences.
10. "What would you expect from your boss?"
The best answers I've heard for this one sound a bit like this:
“I expect them to train and support me, but allow me room to explore things on my own too”
“I expect them to challenge me and push me to work hard, but realise they can trust me to work hard on my own”
“I expect them to rely on me as much as I rely on them, and use me as a sounding-board for ideas”
“I expect them to listen to me and to take on board my ideas, but also understand that I can follow instructions”
“I expect them to nurture and guide me, but also give me the autonomy to make decisions as I progress in the role”
Answers like these show your interviewer that you don't need ‘babysitting’ - that you’re ambitious and responsible.
11. "You have 5 minutes - teach me something you think I don’t know about…"
Step up - you’re the expert! There's no need to pick something work-related, just show them something you’re really geeky about.
If it's a brand new app that's making your life easier, show them. If it's explaining a magic trick, do it. If it's a tiny little café on a remote Greek island that had the best host and dancing you’ve ever experienced, then describe it in all its glory.
Your interviewer wants to see how you behave when you’re relaxed, at ease, and when you know what you're doing. They want to see your eyes shine with enthusiasm and see what you’re going to be like in your new role once you know the ropes.
12. "What drives you and makes you get up in the morning? What’s the most important thing that you're looking for in your next job?"
Perhaps it's the thought of earning loads of money as fast as possible, or being able to see the positive impact you have on other people. Maybe it's knowing that every day brings the chance to learn something new and to expand your brain, or it’s being recognised for great work and being praised accordingly.
These are all valid, and there are loads more. It’s personal, and it takes a bit of dedicated brain power, but it's essential to explore these questions. It's not just about you trying to impress the interviewer; understanding your own ‘leading drive’ will also help you work out if a company's culture is right for you.
Don’t forget, every company is different, so they’ll all have different ‘cultural interview questions’. Paint yourself in a positive light, but give honest answers.
Abbie Pullman is a freelancer who advises businesses on recruitment, employer branding, and unconventional employee engagement. Connect with her on LinkedIn and feel free to ask for advice!