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Is Your Next Job A Cultural Fit? Ask These 6 Questions During Your Interview Is Your Next Job A Cultural Fit? Ask These 6 Questions During Your Interview
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Is Your Next Job A Cultural Fit? Ask These 6 Questions During Your Interview

Sarah Schott •  January 19, 2015 | Business and Careers

By Sarah Schott, vice president and chief compliance officer at Northwestern Mutual

When you think about your dream job, what would make it the perfect opportunity for you? Location? Salary? Flexibility? As you consider the things that are important to you when taking the first—or next—step in your career, don’t underestimate the power of ensuring a cultural fit. When an organization’s values, beliefs and behaviors align closely with yours, you’ll be more likely to thrive and reach your full potential. In fact, according to management software company RoundPegg, “The better individuals fit within the company culture, their team’s sub-culture and their manager’s values, the better they perform, the longer they stay and the more they are engaged. In fact, how well one fits culturally accounts for nearly 90 percent of his or her performance on the job.”

So, how can you assess whether a career opportunity is a good cultural fit? Ask! A hiring manager will not be surprised to hear you say, “Tell me about the culture here.” But to get the clearest picture of the working environment, ask for examples that demonstrate the culture.

  1. What qualities do your leaders or aspiring leaders have in common? How do their individual strengths complement each other or reflect the unique roles they play in the company?
  2. Do you provide the opportunity for stretch assignments for your team members? What types of projects are they? How are they assigned?
  3. How do this team and this role contribute to new ideas, approaches or processes?
  4. Can you share an example of a time when someone on your team took a risk and made a mistake? How did you handle it?
  5. How will I know that my role and responsibilities connect to the mission of the company?
  6. Tell me about how your team and the company recognize and celebrate successes—individual, group or company-wide.

These are the kinds of thought-provoking questions that will give you a much better sense of what’s important to the organization and its culture. And be sure to ask them not only of the hiring manager, but of others you may know working within the organization, too. Then you can determine if it’s the kind of environment where you’ll feel valued and that will support you in reaching your goals. If you don’t ask up front, you run the risk of being disappointed down the road. Plus, it conveys to the hiring manager that culture is important to you and that you will be thoughtful about how you personally connect to that culture at the team and company level.

I’m grateful that Northwestern Mutual leads employees to value the potential in each of us. I began my career here seven years ago as a lawyer. Since then, I’ve had opportunities to leverage my strengths in new roles, even when I didn’t necessarily have technical expertise in that area of the business. These were opportunities for me to stretch, learn and refine my leadership skills, which makes me living proof of my company’s commitment to investing in potential.

That’s why I’m also passionate about paying it forward. I am helping to shape a companywide initiative so that our culture allows each of us to approach our work with purpose and ownership. I try to live it every day, too, by encouraging my team of more than 100 people to be open to new ways of working and realize their full potential. It’s fulfilling to know that a big part of my job is to create an environment where each person knows he or she is important to our collective success, and they all want to bring their best as a result.

My experience demonstrates that, even in a big organization like Northwestern Mutual, it’s possible to create a culture where individuals feel valued, nurtured and challenged. So whether your next opportunity takes you to a Fortune 500 company like mine, a small business or a start-up, ask direct and specific questions about culture. When it’s a fit for you, you’ll be more likely to thrive.

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