How to Get a Grasp on a Company’s Culture (Remotely)

When you’re interviewing for a new role, there are a number of things you care about.

Of course, you want the salary you deserve and adequate benefits. You want to know there’s room to grow and develop within the company. And maybe you’re keeping an eye out for some extra perks—like flexible schedule options or tuition reimbursement.

Regardless of what your priorities are, we’re willing to bet that this is on your list somewhere: company culture.

You aren’t alone. In one study conducted by Jobvite, 46% of candidates said that they believe culture is very important in the hiring process. A grand total of 88% of job seekers said culture is at least of relative importance.

But, how can you suss out what a company’s culture is like before you sign on the dotted line? During a traditional, in-person hiring process, you have the benefit of seeing how people are interacting with each other as you walk through the halls or picking up on the overall energy of the office environment.

Figuring out company culture becomes a whole lot more challenging when you need to interview remotely. You’re only given a limited glimpse into that employer (hey, you’re only seeing your interviewer from the shoulders up) which makes the entire process feel even more anonymous.

The good news is that there are some strategies you can use to get a handle on a company’s culture—even if you never get to shake hands and complete an interview in-person. Here’s what you need to know. 

1. Ask specific questions.

You’ve likely experienced this before: The interview is coming to a close, and the employer asks, “Do you have any questions for us?”

Your answer should always be “yes.” Not only does asking questions demonstrate your interest in the position and your engagement in the hiring process, but it’s also one of the best ways you can uncover more about that company’s values and work environment. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions that specifically pertain to culture. Some possible questions include: 

  • How do you maintain close connections when the staff is working remotely?
  • What tools do you use to communicate and get your work done?
  • How do you uphold your company’s values in a remote environment?
  • What three words would you use to describe your company’s culture?
  • What’s your favorite part about working here?

Pay close attention to those answers (and jot down a few notes if you have to). That information will reveal a lot, and you can also reference it as you continue doing more independent research into that company. 

2. Observe carefully.

You might not be able to physically visit that office or watch carefully from the lobby as different team members interact with one another. But, that doesn’t mean there’s no room for observation.

If you’re interviewing with more than one person at a time, pay close attention to their exchanges and how they speak about one another. Do they introduce each other with enthusiasm and admiration? Is there a lot of interrupting and talking over one another?

These aren’t foolproof indicators, but taking note of how the team communicates and collaborates in front of you can clue you in on how they work together when you aren’t there.

It’s also wise to pay close attention to the hiring process itself. Is the hiring manager emailing you late into the evening? That could mean that they have an “always on” culture that doesn’t prioritize unplugging. Or, have you had to ask for information several times? That might mean that they’re overworked or have chaotic communication systems in place.

Again, these observations won’t give you the full picture. But, they can certainly help to shape your overall impression of that company’s culture. 

3. Peruse that company’s resources.

Employer branding has become a core focus for many companies, with 72% of recruiting leaders worldwide agreeing that an employer brand has a significant impact on hiring. 

That means that many organizations proactively make resources available for candidates who want to learn more about their mission, values, and culture. 

Start by taking another look at their website and do a search to see if they have any pages that spell out their culture and values. You can also look at their company blog (if they have one) to see if they’ve published any posts about company-wide initiatives or passions.

It’s also wise to look at their company social media accounts. Whether they’re sharing about their annual hackathon or their team’s commitment to volunteering, you can get some helpful tidbits about what that company invests in and prioritizes. 

4. Search your network.

Let’s face it: That company is likely only going to say positive things about their own culture. Much like you do, they want to put their best foot forward during the hiring process. So, they’ll sweep any flaws or complaints under the rug and shine a spotlight on their best attributes.

With that in mind, existing employees are your best source of information for what it’s really like to work there. 

How do you find them? Turn to LinkedIn. Visit the company’s LinkedIn page and select “people” in the left menu. That will bring up employees of that company. Now you can see if you have any existing connections who work there, or if you have any connections in common who might make an introduction.

If you find someone, send a connection request and then reach out with a simple, friendly message that says something like: “Hey, [Name]! I hope you’re doing well. I’m currently interviewing for a [job title] position at [Company] and would love to find out a little bit more about what it’s like to work there. Would you be willing to answer a few questions? No pressure!”

They might accept—or they might not. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to try. 

5. Do a simple search.

Finally, you likely already know that the internet is a well of information. Use it to your advantage!

Start with a simple Google search to see if any recent happenings with that company pop up—you could find anything from PR blunders or lawsuits to new products they’re launching and awards they received.

You can also check out an employee review site like Glassdoor to see how current and past employees rate their experiences at that organization. 

Fair warning to be cautious and take those reviews with a grain of salt. Remember, customers are 21% more likely to leave a review after a negative experience than a positive one, and employees are no different. So, keep in mind that you could be getting a skewed or biased perception of that company. 

Company culture doesn’t have to be a mystery

As you’re figuring out your next career move, company culture undoubtedly plays a big role in where you want to end up. Yet, it can be tough to determine, especially when you’re going through the interview process remotely.

Rest assured that discerning a company’s culture from afar isn’t impossible. Use these strategies, and you’ll uncover some valuable information about what that employer’s really like. You’re one step closer to figuring out if that’s a place you can see yourself thriving.

Kat Boogaard

Kat is a Wisconsin-based freelance writer who focuses mainly on careers, productivity, and self-development. She has written content for The Muse, Trello, Atlassian, QuickBooks, Toggl, Wrike, and more. When she manages to escape from her desk, she loves spending time outdoors with her two rescue mutts.

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