Finding the Right Fit (Part 2)

Geeta Gubba Kirschner ‘13

Geeta is an alumna who’s been out in the ‘real world’ for three years.  She and a few classmates have some advice on what to look for in your first, or next job.  This is the second in a multi-part series “Job Search Tips From Outside the Bubble…”

If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, you can read it here.

So, you think you like the company and have been approached for an interview. How do you go about finding out if the team and manager you are interviewing for will be a good cultural fit? In Part 1, we covered the concept of cultural fit and self-reflection questions to understand what you value. In this blog post, we’ll dig into what interview questions you can ask to find out if there is a match.

It’s important to keep an open mind during the interview process (during formal and informal settings, like lunches and “meet and greet” events) and look for both positives and warning signs with respect to cultural fit instead of just falling for the marketing spiel. A friend once told me that there are three things, and you must have two of them: people, process, and product. All three make up the company culture. Finding all three is hard, but you might be able to get two and still be happy. I would say people is the number one thing you must have, process and product are secondary. You can help change processes and products, but it's much harder to change people.

Interview Questions

Ok, now that you have a good understanding of yourself and what you value from a cultural standpoint, here are some questions you can ask to figure out the cultural values of the team and company you are interviewing with. You don’t have to use all of these, but I would recommend picking three to five and drilling deep into those (use the 5-whys technique from UOCD).

I took these questions from the “18 Questions to Assess Cultural Fit” article from The Balance, and slightly modified some of them:

  • Describe the work environment and culture in which the team is most productive and happy.
  • How does the organization encourage use of your discretionary energy and effort to make your work better?
    • Olin is about doing things a better way, and you’ll bring that to your company too. Figure out if they are open to you tinkering and finding better ways of doing things.
  • Describe your boss’s management style.
  • Do you have a best friend at work? How do you feel about becoming friends with your coworkers? Is this a wise practice?
    • This gives you a sense of team unity and closeness and might also give you a sense of whether different teams across the organization interact (if there are cross-team friendships). You should consider asking about how often they interact with their friends if they have any at work.
  • What are the positive aspects of your job and environment?
  • What is the single most important factor that must be present in your work environment and company culture for you to be successful and happily employed? How hard is that to have/achieve?
    • This tells you about company culture in general and if people are fighting an uphill battle to be happy and productive.
  • What is the team’s preferred work style? Alone or in pairs/groups? What percentage of the time does the team do one or the other?
    • This tells you about group dynamics with your potential future coworkers and their collaborative nature. At Olin, we are used to working in teams a lot, but you may find that others didn’t necessarily have that experience once you graduate.
  • What are the 3-5 expectations you have of the senior leaders at this company so the company will be successful?
    • This tells you how engaged the company leaders are and how forward thinking they are.
  • Tell me about an occasion when you believe you delighted an internal or external customer. How did you do that?
    • This tells you how user-centered the team is in its thinking.
    • If there aren’t compelling answers for internal customers especially, it might show you how siloed the organization is. Internal customer satisfaction impacts external customer satisfaction.
  • Tell me about a decision you made that was primarily based on customer/user needs and input.
    • This tells you what focus they put on customer/user needs, not just business needs.
  • How would reporting staff describe their relationship with you? What would they like to see you do more or less of?
    • This tells you the kind of boss you might have and the relationship with that person.
    • It would also be beneficial to talk to some of the reporting staff--they may give you more representative answers than the boss. If you are shied away from talking to the reporting staff (your future coworkers), this is a red-flag that they might have something to hide.

Some questions I’ve come up with that you can ask in an interview:

  • Tell me about your product development process.
    • You’re looking for Lean/Agile, Continuous Delivery, DevOps, Design Thinking, and more here, not so much purely waterfall development. You should be thinking about forward thinking, innovative processes to be involved in.
    • Groups also can use the right buzzwords that may not actually have a solid process, so don’t just trust the surface level answer. Dig deeper by asking for specifics on how they work. Or, what part of their process they are trying to improve and their thoughts on how they might do this (this gives you a better sense of their mindset, one of the most important factors of success).
  • Tell me about how you continuously learn and grow on the team, either individually or as a group. How do you share knowledge on the team and how often?
    • You’re looking for how you will be mentored and how you will mentor on the team (yes, you have a lot to offer as a recent Olin graduate!). Growing your and your team’s knowledge is very important for staying competitive.
  • What kinds of employee clubs do you have, and how often do they meet? What percentage of the company is involved in them?
  • Are there workshops that teach and promote how to think about diversity?
    • There are sometimes corporate, strategic initiatives for diversity that bring in awesome consultants to work with company leaders at all levels that focus on increasing awareness about diversity in the workplace. See if you can get involved in some of these if you are interested because they offer wonderful perspectives into diversity and privilege of all kind.
  • Something you should look for, but perhaps not ask...what does the workforce you’re joining look like in terms of experiences, background, gender, etc? You should make sure you’re not just a check-in-the-box for their diversity quota because that might indicate they don’t have the right mindset or infrastructure to cultivate and keep diversity in their organizations.
  • What’s your business model and commercial strategy? How does the company stay in business?
    • This will tell you what the driving factors are for how decisions get made and if the company is going to be viable long term if they are not innovating their business model in the rapidly changing landscape of innovation. The business model might vary depending upon if it’s a hardware or software product.
    • See this article for more information:
  • What are the best and worst parts about the job?
    • Tells you how much they like their work and the team.
  • Do you and your coworkers eat alone, together, in teams, or with friends from other departments? Does the company have informal gatherings where folks hang out and don't talk shop?

And if you’re interested in more bedtime reading, here are a couple life hacker articles I’ve found extremely valuable! They have more questions you can ask as related to cultural fit:

Figuring out your top teams

Now that you’ve done self-reflection and interviewed different teams, you should be ready to figure out what teams are a better fit than others. In general, you should be looking for teams that will challenge your thinking and will accept your thinking in return. Avoid the “we’ve always done it that way” or “we tried it and it didn’t work” unless you are ready to do some change management on those teams using your toolkit from Olin.

You can use a Pugh Chart, also called a Decision Matrix, to get your cultural fit criteria together and compare the different teams based on your answers to your self-reflection questions. Here is an article on how to set up a decision matrix:

This should give you a general sense of which teams might be better than others. In addition, there is such as a thing as analysis paralysis and this is where trusting your gut comes in. An HR Program Manager once told me that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, the grass is greenest where you tend it. That means, sometimes, there are no perfect decisions, but instead the one you choose and make wonderful.


Sometimes it’s hard to remember what to ask in an interview, and you may not remember the specifics of this article by the time your interview rolls around. I recommend writing down a few of these questions or printing out this list and taking it with you to your interview.

As I stated in Part 1, you should be looking for a good cultural fit because the company will be interviewing you for the same. Just make sure you are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you.

I welcome others to add things to listen for and other questions to ask to assess cultural fit when you read this article!

Special thanks to Adela Wee (‘14) and Jared Kirschner (‘13) for providing feedback on this blog post!

Posted in: Alumni Speak