8 ways to spot a bad company culture at interview

When people are interviewing to get a job, they tend to be so focused on making a good impression, that they forget that they can and should also be interviewing the prospective employer. It always surprises me how few people actually take this into consideration.

You are unlikely to thrive in a bad company culture. Work for a happy place, and you’ll likely do better in life.

The challenge is how to spot bad company culture during your interview?

There are signs, you just need to be attuned to them. Don’t view them in isolation, but if you see a few of these signs, they can amount to a good indication of what you might be walking into if you should take the job.

1. The interviewer makes a big deal out of the Ping-Pong table or other “fun” activity. 

A Ping-Pong table is fine. Bragging about one is not.


The corporate world has somehow equated owning a pin-pong table, having a brightly decorated office with ‘fun’ competitions with projecting a fun company-culture. If your potential employers emphasize what ever they have deemed as “fun”, it may be a sign of prescribed fun. The employee may just be checking off boxes rather than giving their employees what they really want and need.

2.  Only the Managers have offices.

A place where everyone works in a cube except for the bosses can indicate a hierarchical structure in which management and employees are at odds.

3.  Your interviewer talks about excellence.

Every organisation strives to succeed. That should be a given. A company that emphasises excellence may also hold its employees to unachievable standards. This might mean you  end-up working in a highly pressurised environment.

4.  The atmosphere feels subdued or just feels weird.

A happy workplace should hum.

People should be moving around, and chatting with their colleagues. People should not appear bored or stressed. As you walk to your interview, take a look around the office and ask yourself if the average person seems happy or not.

5.  It’s five o’clock, and everyone is buried in work.

If you can, schedule your interview late. Five o’clock gives you a great opportunity to see how a company manages the work-life balance. A few people working late is fine, but some should be heading home around this time too.

6.  Your interviewer arrives late

Your interviewer arrives late and doesn’t apologise or give an explanation for their tardiness. This quite simply demonstrates that they have no respect for you (or anyone else). You do not want this person to be your boss or to have influence over your life.

7. The interviewer talks too much

The interviewer does all the talking, not giving you a chance to talk. You will be surprised how often this happens. If an interviewer behaves like this it’s a clear indication that they don’t listen to others and are more interested in the sound of their own voice. Who wants a boss like that?

8. Questions to ask that will help you get an insight into the company culture.

  • What would you like me to achieve in the first 6 months?

          The answer will tell you if the expectations are reasonable and achievable

  • How long have they worked for the company?

         If  interviewer is new, be wary of their opinion

  • Ask what they like and dislike about the company?

        Listen carefully to how easily they answer the question, hesitation and or omissions that might seem strange.

  • Ask what they think your biggest challenge will be?

         This will help you decide if you are up for the job.

  • Ask how high staff turn-over is or what their sickness records are like?

          If there is a problem, the numbers will speak for themselves

None of the above are fool proof at spotting a bad company or boss, but they might help you make informed decisions. Remember you are also interviewing the company.

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