4 Critical Questions to Ask About Office Culture

By Robert Half July 30, 2015 at 6:03pm

A company’s corporate culture, which includes management styles, business values and other factors, can make or break your level of job satisfaction — and directly impact your productivity levels and even career path with your firm or legal department. In fact, some legal professionals might go so far as to say office culture is more important than salary.

If you find that the office environment at your workplace doesn't fit your personality or share your values, it's difficult for you to feel truly passionate about your job and reaching your goals with the company. Worse, you may dread going to work every day. This is why it’s crucial to assess the day-to-day goings on, mood and tone around the office of a prospective legal employer before you accept a job offer.

Asking questions that directly address the workplace environment during a job interview for a legal position can help you determine whether the employer’s corporate culture is the right fit for your approach to work or if you should pass on the position and continue your search.

1. What three words best describe your company's workplace culture?

This question cuts right to the chase. Because the interviewer must summarize the workplace environment clearly and concisely, you’re almost certain to get a straight answer. But keep a close eye on the interviewer’s body language. If you sense nervousness or if the answer is somewhat vague, you may not be getting a completely honest answer. After all, the interviewer not only is trying to determine if you’d be a good fit, but also wants to sell you on this particular legal job.

2. What does it take for a legal professional to be successful here?

The answer to this question will give you valuable insight about what the company deems important. Does the firm value risk-taking or more careful, conservative choices? Does the company reward team players or commend legal professionals for working autonomously? When you learn which personality traits and work styles the company values, you have a better idea of how you would fit in.

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3. What’s the office environment like here?

Pay close attention to the adjectives the interviewer uses to describe the workplace atmosphere. These words can give you a feel for whether the law firm or company culture is casual or formal, fast-paced or slow and steady, rooted in routine or more geared toward spur-of-the-moment flexibility. You may even discern if the staff is a close-knit bunch that sometimes enjoys socializing together or if employees tend to go their separate ways once the workday ends.

4. Can I meet other employees on the legal team?

If the employer hasn't already built this step into the interview process, ask whether you can speak one-on-one with some of your potential coworkers. This is often the fastest way to grasp the office culture and get a feel for some of the team’s personalities and attitudes.

Also see what you can observe if the hiring manager takes you on a quick tour of the office, and even as they walk you to and from the office or conference room where your interview takes place. Do the employees look stressed or laid back? Do you hear jovial chatter or is there silence? This is just a quick glimpse and shouldn't dominate your assessment, but can help you gauge the answers you get to the questions above.

Remember: A job interview isn’t just an opportunity for the employer to learn more about you, the legal professional. It’s also a time for you to learn more about your potential employer. When the hiring manager asks you if you have any questions, that's your cue to dive deeper into company culture and gain information that will help you decide if you actually want the job once the company extends an offer.

Read the legal job descriptions found at the Legal Salary Center, where you can also download your free copy of the most recent Robert Half Legal Salary Guide.

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