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The one question you should always ask in a job interview, according to Wharton's top professor

Adam Grant speaks about "Option B," his new book written with Sheryl Sandberg, at a Commonwealth Club event in San Francisco.
Adam Grant speaks about "Option B," his new book written with Sheryl Sandberg, at a Commonwealth Club event in San Francisco.

A positive workplace culture is an important factor in job satisfaction, and a toxic environment can be detrimental to your health and productivity. But how do you know what a company's office culture is like before accepting a job?

To find out, Wharton business school's top-ranked professor, Adam Grant, suggests using this one simple question during the job interview process: "Ask them to tell you a story about something that happens in the organization that would not happen anywhere else," he says during a panel at OZY Fest in New York City.

Grant is a best-selling author and an organizational psychologist who consults for companies like Facebook, Google and Goldman Sachs.

Using this specific question is more useful than just asking people to describe the culture, because "they're going to say like, 'Oh these are our values,' but it doesn't tell you anything about what it is like to work there," explains Grant.

"When they tell a story, then you can start to see a pattern," says Grant. "You want to know, what are the stories that get told over and over again and what do they reveal about, is this a place where you have a sense of psychological safety, where you can trust people, where your voice is heard.

"It is amazing how often that is not the case."

Grant formulated his question when one of his students asked him for advice on how to select a job. She was interviewing for positions at several different banks, but didn't know which one would be a good fit.

When she took Grant's advice and asked his question in interviews, she got some shocking, but useful, results. For instance, one interviewer told her he heard a story about someone throwing a chair at an employee for turning in "bad work." According to Grant, "she started hearing these horror stories."

That's why the anecdotes are so important, says Grant: "If you do this over and over again, the culture comes to life."

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