Mention the modes

4 questions to ask in a job interview to make sure the new position is a fit

How to determine if the culture and the work are right for you

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So this new company wants to interview you for a role with their very successful organization. And you, being who you are, want to ensure this company will be a great fit. You want opportunities to grow—doesn’t everyone? You want real benefits if you can get them. Sure, you do. And of course you want to ensure that your experience working for the company is impactful.

We all want meaningful work experiences. Yet new recruits often don’t know how to assess a company’s ability to deliver. Should they ask about the culture? Should they focus on mentorship?


We’ve surveyed tens of thousands of people about what makes their work lives most satisfying and meaningful. Here are the four main questions you can ask in an interview to understand if this role is right for you:

What flexibility is there to work in a way that best supports my total well-being and effectiveness?

A great work environment helps employees develop flexible and intentional systems for doing their work. By systems, we don’t mean software or processes; we mean the systems people set up to do the work that makes them most effective and strengthens their overall well-being.


In your personal life, you create systems (we call them life systems) that help you focus your time and attention on the most meaningful things to you. You have systems for paying your bills and others for managing your home, family, and even vacations. These life systems are made of inputs you provide and outcomes that you get. For example, you might have a family life system for dinners. There are foods you like and others that you don’t. Sometimes you shop and make dinner at home and other times when you go out. As long as everything stays in balance, the system works for you.

The same is true for work. Our research shows that employees want work environments that allow them to manage their work for effectiveness and well-being. They want to know if they will have great resources to help them. Meetings and procedures need to be effective. Timelines need to be managed. And employees want the flexibility to focus on their assignments how and when they need to. Great working cultures naturally lend themselves to great personal work systems. By asking about the organization’s flexibility to work with your personal systems, you’ll understand more about whether they are a good fit to meet your needs and deliver superior outcomes.

What processes do you use to determine how well individuals and teams are working?

Most meaningful experiences only become meaningful after reflecting on the events. Reflection is powerful, personally and for teams. Many work environments focus on speed and momentum. But growing and becoming a highly skilled person and team requires reflection.


Some companies have postmortems when a project is completed. They get together and discuss what worked and what didn’t. They come up with ideas for the future. This type of activity is great for the team. But it’s not enough. People need opportunities to reflect on their efforts that go beyond performance evaluations. They must take time—even daily—to think about what they did and why it matters.

Companies that create opportunities for personal, team, and organizational reflection that improve performance, effectiveness, and satisfaction. Our research shows that people who reflect on their lives daily are likely to be high performers, while people who don’t reflect at all tend to be low performers.


Of course, reflection can take different forms: rituals, ceremonies, celebrations, moments of silence, and personal time. Giving people dedicated time to reflect helps them to set goals and think through what’s working. It also shows employees that the company cares about them personally.

What modes does this role most rely on?

This question will be fun for your potential employer and may need some explanation. A hip employer will catch on quickly to the question. A mode is a mindset and set of behaviors that people get into temporarily. The key word is ‘temporarily.’ You might get into mommy or daddy mode, relaxing mode, or cleaning mode at home.


Your employer has expectations of the modes that you will be in at work. Understanding those modes is a way to clarify whether you will find personal satisfaction in your future role. What percentage of your time will you spend in strategy mode? Implementation mode? Research mode? Organization mode? Sales mode? You might need to prompt the employer with types of modes to get a clearer sense of expectations. Consider these categories:

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Screenshot: Stone Mantel (Other)

By knowing in advance the modes and expectations your role demands, you’ll better understand how it fits with your goals and gifts.

What are some of the little things that make working here meaningful?

When you ask this question, your future manager may think you mean dress-down days, free snacks, and half-day Fridays. And maybe that’s what you mean, too. But little things can be so much more and can really matter. Let’s say you have a sick child at home one day. Many companies have PTO policies that allow you to be there for your child. That’s important.


What’s more meaningful is when co-workers and leaders send you notes saying they hope your child gets well soon. A Slack chat, an email, a message. Just a little thing to show that they are concerned.

Or, what happens when your workload doubles because of a deadline? Will others come to your aid? What happens when an initiative fails? These are actually big things that require a strong culture and great leadership. They are also opportunities for little things to occur as well. You deserve to know what they entail.


Little things can be smiles, flowers, kind words, giving due credit, after-work activities, friendships, etc. And the more little things, the more your life will feel rich and full.

By asking this question, you’ll have a sense of the little things your potential manager values and an opportunity to probe into those you know matter most to you.


Chances are your future employer hasn’t heard these types of questions before. They provoke thought. It will allow you to hear how the questions are answered. Is your future manager a good listener? Do they ask follow-up questions? Does your leader like to think about things in new and interesting ways? And do they value your perspective?

Dave Norton is the founder and principal of Stone Mantel, a research-led consultancy at the forefront of customer and employee experience strategy. With the support of chief consultancy officer Mary Putman and lead strategist, motivation, and behavior science expert Aransas Savas, the team guides, researches, and builds frameworks to help companies like Coca-Cola, Marriott, US Bank, Best Buy, and Clayton Homes.