How to ask about bad company culture in interview?
November 27, 2018 2:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm interviewing for a job at a large, well-known media company that's had several instances of harassment publicly reported. Though I've heard things have improved, I want to ask about this in my interview and I want to hear how this aspect of company culture is being addressed. What's the best way to approach this?

The company, which is based in my NYC borough of residence, has a reputation for edginess and, at least in the past, for being somewhat of a boy's club.

I'm not particularly experienced in job interviews as I've mostly worked freelance or on my own projects, but I did have a recent staff position with a company that was, while poorly run, full of good people trying to do good things while being kind to each other. I'd really like to get a sense of whether this sort of culture is being fostered at the prospective employer and what specifically is being done to confront shitty behavior. How can I do this in the interview (or through other means) without coming across as negative?
posted by theory to Work & Money (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My current workplace had some pretty bad Glassdoor reviews. In my second interview, near the end, I said something like "in researching this company I noticed that your Glassdoor reviews weren't great, which surprised me because I've gotten a really good impression of this place so far. Can you shed any light on that?" (Turned out there had been some major turnover since the reviews were posted, including the departure of a couple of bad managers who were the source of a lot of the problems.)

With a good interviewer, I think just asking the question the way you phrased it but with sliiightly more asskissing - "I've heard things have improved following [scandal], which is wonderful, and I'd like to hear some of the steps you've taken to address it" - would reflect well on you as a person who does their due diligence. Some interviewers may also react badly to the question, but if they do, I'd consider it a red flag.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:21 PM on November 27, 2018 [33 favorites]

Yup, what showbiz_liz said. A company should be aware of its external perception and it ain’t news to them. Ask politely but directly. An interview is a 2-way thing.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:36 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

As a veteran of many job interviews, I'd say that if the interview is being well run, there will likely be a "Do you have any questions for us?" portion, so that gives you a window to ask and politely frame it in the way suggested above, which is pretty spot-on advice, IMO. And asking about "company culture" is a super-relevant question - even if the company has an immaculate reputation - that anyone you'd want to work for would be happy to discuss.

And given they're a media company, their own PR is something they're going to be very attuned to.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:40 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

showbiz_liz has it. This is a totally legit question to ask at an interview. Their reaction will tell you a lot about whether or not you want to work there. Also, it gives the impression that you're not desperate and have the luxury of walking away from a potential employer with a bad rep, which may actually make them desire you more.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:53 PM on November 27, 2018

For what it's worth, having worked at a company that had a sketchy reputation in its industry and poor Glassdoor reviews, I always found it a bit suspicious when people didn't ask about the reputation and Glassdoor reviews. It made me think the candidate was desperate for a job and/or wasn't appealing to other employers and/or was oblivious to company background - none of which are a good sign to me.
posted by saeculorum at 4:17 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

"Why did the previous person leave this role? What do you think the person in this role needs to do to improve upon what the previous person was doing?"

If the answer is, "He went to another company," you're OK, but then ask about advancement opportunities down the road. That person left for a reason.
If the answer is, they lacked a specific skill, you're OK.
If the answer is, "We fired that guy," then ask, "Can I ask what happened?"
If the answer is hemming, hawing, and 'we just didn't like him,' or 'it was bad culture fit,' that gives you more avenues to ask more questions.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:26 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Most definitely ask specifically about the company culture in the wake of the harassment situation. Straightforwardly, in a nice neutral tone, like any other question about how the company operates. They should be professional enough to be able to give you a reasonable answer without getting offended or mush-mouthed, and if they can't.....................well, there's your answer.
posted by desuetude at 9:51 AM on November 28, 2018

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