With many job interviews still taking place virtually, candidates’ process of evaluating a company’s culture has taken on a different complexion.
Pre-Covid, a candidate could get a feel of the organisation, its people and methods of working by walking into an office, but today, one needs to be more deliberate about deciphering organisational culture.
First of all, what we mean by culture needs to be carefully defined.
Associate Professor of Management and Organisations at Kellogg School of Management, Lauren Rivera has long cautioned employers against misinterpreting the meaning of “cultural fit.”
During a recent Kellogg Executive Education webinar, she said that instead of looking for people who share the company’s values and are aligned with its mission, hiring managers gravitate towards those who share their background and interests. Experts have said this could affect diversity in more ways than one. Most notably, it leads to groupthink which tends to have a negative impact on business results.
Candidates need to be equally cautious when evaluating a prospective employer for cultural fit. Chemistry with the hiring manager based on background and interests may not help your career advancement and job satisfaction if the corporate culture is not aligned with your values, ethics and purpose. Among other things, misalignments could manifest in the form of a lack of work-life balance, or a lack of diversity and inclusion. These could erode your motivation.
So how can you decode corporate culture, especially without the benefit of spending any time at the prospective employer’s office?
ANALYSE THE LANGUAGE THEY USE
Most candidates would at least do an online search. Glassdoor reviews, news coverage, the organisation’s website and social media channels are the most common information sources.
You need to pay greater attention to how the company communicates, whether on its website and social media channels or in its job descriptions.
How things are phrased in job descriptions can reveal a lot about a company’s beliefs and priorities.
For instance, if the emphasis is on a fast-paced, results-driven culture with no mention of flexibility, you can safely assume that work-life balance is not a priority for the company.
Words such as “resourceful” might seem harmless, but could also mean they expect you to move mountains with few or no resources.
Of course, you shouldn’t look at these indicators in isolation. This research needs to be augmented by information from other online sources or the company’s former and current employees.
The key is to spot possible red flags and investigate them further.
ANALYSE SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS
Observe what the company has said or shared during the current crisis and even past ones. The tone and quality of their responses can reveal their core values and beliefs.
Many organisations also demonstrate their commitments to communities or the environment on social media and professional networking channels. Perhaps they have articles or videos showcasing their gender equality programme or their commitment to a sustainable supply chain.
EVALUATE HOW THE REMOTE INTERVIEW IS CONDUCTED
You may not have the benefit of stepping into the office but how the remote interview goes can certainly reveal a lot. Was it scheduled easily and in an organised manner? Were the interviewers punctual and ready to speak with you at the scheduled time? Perhaps each of them joined the meeting at different times. Were some of them flustered or exhausted from putting out fires in the business?
All of this can reveal a lot about the challenges the company is facing and how managers deal with them.
ASK SPECIFIC QUESTIONS
Asking the interviewees superficial questions such as, “Can you tell me more about your company culture?” isn’t going to help. It gives them the leeway to respond equally superficially with phrases such as, “We’re very collaborative.” or “We care about our employees’ mental health.”
Instead ask specific questions such as:
- How do you deal with instances when an employee fails to deliver?
- With so many of your employees working remotely, how do you encourage collaboration?
- How long have you been with this company? What do you enjoy about working here?
- What types of people tend to be successful here?
- How do you deal with underperformers?
Formulate questions based on what you value, whether it’s teamwork, innovation, mentorship and so on.
You may ultimately only get vague responses, but even these are useful as they could indicate a lack of commitment to the values the company overtly espouses. In such cases, you may want to investigate further.
REFLECT AND GO WITH YOUR GUT
After the interview, take time to reflect on the experience.
Think about the types of questions the interviewers asked. These provide important clues to what the company prioritises. Are their priorities aligned with your values?
The interview style matters as well. Was it formal, structured or unstructured? Did it sit well with you?
Overall, did you feel at ease? Did the interviewers listen to you attentively? Did they answer your questions sincerely?
EVALUATE THE RECRUITMENT PROCESS
How many steps are there in the process? Has the company made the process transparent? Have they shown respect for your time?
All of this will give you a clear indication of how you’re likely to be treated as an employee.
How swiftly the recruitment process goes could also indicate how urgently they need to fill the role or how agile the company is in responding to business challenges.