An organisational psychologist has a sneaky job-interview question to figure out what it's really like to work somewhere

Sebastiaan ter Burg/FlickrDon’t ask about company culture directly.
  • Be sure to ask interview questions about company culture.
  • For example, ask the hiring manager to tell you a story about something that happened at this organisation that wouldn’t happen anywhere else.
  • That’s according to Wharton psychologist Adam Grant.

It’s the hiring manager’s job to sell you on their company – to tell you all about how psyched everyone is to work there and how much fun they have together.

It’s your job to cut through the BS.

Wharton psychologist Adam Grant has a sneaky strategy for doing just that. In a video featured in his “Work in 60 Seconds” series produced in partnership with GZero Media, Grant recommended asking employees to tell you a story about something that happened at their organisation that wouldn’t happen anywhere else.

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Grant said, “If you ask enough people that question, you start to hear some common themes and stories.” These stories, he added, might focus on “Can the little person get to the top?” and “Is the big boss human?”

If you simply ask the hiring manager to tell you about the company culture, you’ll hear vague phrases like “innovation” and “teamwork,” Grant said.

On Ladders, Scott Ginsberg recommends that job candidates ask to speak with current employees. To be sure, the company will probably put you in touch with staffers who have only positive things to say – but they may be slightly more candid than the hiring manager herself. Ginsberg also encourages asking, “If the local paper were going to run a four-page article about your company’s culture, what would be impossible not to include?”

Read more: An executive coach says practically everyone forgets to ask the job interview question that exposes a big red flag

Interestingly, people tend to underestimate the importance of company culture, especially early in their career. As Dane Holmes, Goldman Sachs’ HR head, told a group of Goldman interns, the people you work with matter even more than the specific job you’re doing.

Holmes said, “Working hard feels very different when you like the people around you and when you don’t.”

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