6 questions to crack the company culture

Each company has a unique culture that is communicated through their job requirements, expectations from their employees and internal communication processes. Remote work gave a lot of professionals the privilege to pick and choose between companies and get into the one that is most in line with their internal values.  

However, it's pretty hard to understand the culture from outside. In the age of Instagram-perfect job feeds and profiles, it's really hard to really see what are you going into when you start to work for a company. Of course, eventually, you'll get the grip of their culture but if it doesn't fit you, it means that at least a few months went in vain. Your time was wasted, the employer's time was wasted as well.

Ever since I started doing freelancing had around 30 jobs (short-term small tasks and 2 big projects) and I've met different kinds of customers, employers and project managers. And I developed a set of questions that will help me to remotely understand the culture of the company to cut out the ones that definitely won't fit.

To be clear hear are the things that I'm looking for in a potential employer:

- a simple communication process,

- a simple project management process,

- lean management structure.

Here are 6 questions that help me understand the culture during the initial stages and 3 additional signs that are red flags for me when I'm already working (or in probation)

Questions for the interviewing process

1. "Do you use any project management methodologies?"

This question is very important. Be it a startup or a more corporate company the answer to these questions means a lot.

- if they already have set methodology (scrum, kanban, waterfall, etc) it means they generally know what are they doing, what their strategy is.

- if they don't have a methodology, it means that you eighter have to learn how they operate and change your processes to align with their unwritten rules, or you have to help them to build their own processes. This can be really fun, but if you're hired to be a software engineer and simultaneously do project management it can take a lot of time and energy.

2. "How often your processes/methodologies change?"

This question is important because it clearly reveals if the company is obsessed with methodologies. If they stick to one practice and make few changes to align with their team, or they try every new thing that comes out every month.

I've worked with few teams that one day we were working with a kanban board, then 2 weeks later changed their board models, after they implemented a mix between scrum and kanban. In the meantime, we were asked to update all boards no matter we were using them or now. This eats up a lot of time and you're not focused on the development process, but to have all your boards set up for your next retrospective or any other meeting like that. If they change say they're constantly trying new things that's a red flag for me.

3. "What tools do you use to manage your processes?"

There are a lot of tools that help to manage the processes, especially for remote teams. Most popular combinations are:

- Slack+Trello/Asana+Google calendar + Github/Bitbucket + Zoom (because everything perfectly integrates with slack),

- Basecamp which has everything built-in.

Knowing their tools at the very least shows what are you familiar with and what you need to learn, and also if they have too many lists/task management boards and integrations this also can be a sign that did not set up the project management process.

4. "How many days it takes to approve a new feature?"

Oh, I love this question. One of the reasons is, not every recruiter expects to hear it from the developer. From the cultural point of view it perfectly shows how agile/lean is the company. Do they have 1 or 2 key people that work on a product, do they have a dedicated product manager and strategy that clearly sets the product development expectations and process. Or maybe they have zillions of committees that need to approve each and every step, the outcome of which may change your task a couple of tasks. Noting is more frustrating than to work on a specific feature and than to throw it all away because a new decision was made and your feature is no longer relevant.

5. "How often you have communication calls?"

Are you out and about in the wild all alone? How often you need to communicate your work in progress? Who's the person you're reporting too? Who's reviewing your code/pull requests? Essential and simple things that each new recruit should know. During communication calls you're getting information about the product development strategy, are (hopefully) communicated with company goals and strategies. Being on the same page as everyone is crucial for each remote worker, especially developer.

6. "Is there a dedicated person/manual for onboarding?"

Another big thing that reveals how productive your work will be is how fast you will get in touch with their processes and integrate with them. As a software engineer you need to know their release dates, what branches to work on, how's their pipeline. If you have to figure out things on your own it means there's a chance to break their system a few times (I know I did). So if the employer is expecting you to understand everything through a magical process of knowing it all then maybe it's not the best place. Also if they expect you to set up the process, it also means that you'll have less time on coding and more time on process management.

These are the examples that can be used during each interview, however, as everyone has different perspectives and boundaries there's no one recipe that will fit everyone!

Good luck with your job hunt!