How to Vet a Company During the Interview Process to Avoid a Toxic Culture

Stepping into a new job is exciting, but it can quickly become a nightmare if you unwittingly land in a toxic work environment. A toxic culture can lead to chronic stress, burnout, and diminished job satisfaction. So, how can you avoid these pitfalls and ensure you’re stepping into a healthy workplace? By vetting the company during the interview process.

The Importance of Avoiding a Toxic Culture

Before we delve into the process of vetting a company, let’s look at why it’s vital to avoid a toxic culture. According to a Gallup report, disengaged employees caused by poor work culture cost U.S. companies $550 billion a year in lost productivity1. Moreover, a study by the Harvard Business School showed that avoiding a toxic worker was worth about $12,500 in turnover costs2.

Step 1: Research the Company

Start with a thorough online investigation of the company. Websites like Glassdoor and Indeed offer employee reviews, providing an inside look at the company. For example, a pattern of reviews mentioning poor work-life balance or high stress at Amazon led to a New York Times investigation, revealing a demanding and competitive culture3.

Step 2: Ask the Right Questions During the Interview

When interviewing, steer the conversation toward the company’s culture. Uber’s former engineer, Susan Fowler, highlighted the importance of this step when she revealed a culture of sexism and harassment in her viral blog post4. To avoid such situations, ask questions like:

  • How do you handle conflicts or disagreements within the team?
  • Can you describe a situation where the company’s values were put to the test?
  • How is feedback given and received here?

Step 3: Observe the Dynamics

Look at how interviewers interact with each other and other employees. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, emphasizes this: “Observing how your potential boss interacts with their colleagues will be very indicative of how they might treat you in the future”5.

Step 4: Speak with Current and Former Employees

Reach out to individuals who work or have worked at the company. They can offer valuable insights into the company culture. For instance, former Apple employees often share stories of a high-pressure, competitive environment, which might not suit everyone6.

Step 5: Evaluate the Onboarding Process

A thoughtful onboarding process can be a positive sign. Google, for example, has a robust two-week onboarding program called “Noogler” orientation, which demonstrates their commitment to new employees7.

Step 6: Look at the Turnover Rate

A high turnover rate can indicate a toxic culture. A LinkedIn study showed that the tech sector had the highest turnover rate at 13.2%8. If a company seems to have a revolving door of employees, it could be a red flag.

Step 7: Consider the Diversity and Inclusion Policies

A culture that values diversity and inclusion tends to be healthier. Verna Myers, Netflix’s VP of Inclusion Strategy, aptly puts it: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance”9. Look for companies that encourage diverse voices and opinions.

Step 8: Trust Your Gut

Finally, trust your instincts. If something feels off, don’t ignore it. Your intuition can often guide you in situations where facts and figures cannot.

Avoiding a toxic company culture is a crucial step toward ensuring your job satisfaction and career progression. By using these steps to vet a company during the interview process, you can

set yourself up for success in a supportive and positive work environment.


1: Gallup, 2023
2: Housman, M., & Minor, D. (2015). Toxic Workers. Harvard Business School
3: Kantor, J., & Streitfeld, D. (2015). Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace. The New York Times
4: Fowler, S. (2017). Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber. Susan Fowler’s Blog
5: Sandberg, S. (2013). Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Knopf
6: Simon, M. (2019). ‘It’s a pressure cooker’: Confessions of a burned-out Apple Store employee. Business Insider
7: Bock, L. (2015). Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead. Hachette Books
8: LinkedIn, 2023
9: Myers, V. (2019). Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance. Netflix TechBlog