How to Gauge Company Culture When Interviewing Remotely was originally published on Ivy Exec.
You’re well into the interviewing process for a new job, and you’ve thought positively of everyone you’ve met with. The offer will be coming in any day, you feel sure, and it’s a position that’s certain to push your career forward. But when all you have to go off of is a series of isolated Zoom calls with potential colleagues, how can you piece these conversations together into a clear understanding of the company’s overall culture — particularly when you’ve yet to visit the office or meet anyone in person?
What used to be a less-than common job hunting experience is now par for the course. Over the past nearly two years, people have been accepting jobs with little more than hunches to go off of about the cultures they’re joining. Is it even possible to get a comprehensive understanding of a company’s culture from afar? And how should you go about trying?
Below, we heard from experts about the seven ways to do exactly that.
1. Get clear on what’s important to you in a company’s culture.
Before anything else, be sure you know what you’re looking for in a company’s culture, including the aspects you will and won’t compromise on, David Wurst, CEO at Webcitz, said.
“Before you interview, consider the following: ‘What aspects of the corporate culture are most essential to me?’” Wurst said. “Consider your personal values and the types of places that have previously been a good fit for you, as going into interviews with these criteria in mind can help. Consider the elements that will have the greatest impact on you. It might be anything from how family-friendly they are to how collaboratively teams work together, how transparent the communication lines are, or how senior leaders’ decisions reflect the company’s values.”
2. Start online sleuthing.
There’s a good amount you can glean about a company’s culture without even speaking to anyone there — if you know where to look. Start first simply by looking at the organization’s website to get a sense of what foot they’re trying to put forward culturally, Kathryn Smithson, CMO at PathSocial, said.
“What do they say about employees, and what kind of help do they provide?” she asked. “Examine if they have employee resource groups, play an active charitable role in the communities where employees work and live, and discuss how their company principles are brought to life.”
Signs of outward culture on the company’s website, on their social media channels and on employee review sites can tell you a lot about what the company prioritizes, Sumit Bansal, CEO of TrumpExcel, said.
“Companies that put an emphasis on culture usually show their values and how they treat their employees, as this helps them attract top talent,” he said. “A strong culture should be visible in everything they do, whether it’s a group chat or a daily Slack conversation. Check reviews on sites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn, and be ready to ask some reverse behavioral questions to determine if their claims are correct or just lip service.”
3. Ask about culture, strategically.
It’s all well and good to ask explicitly about a company’s culture. But, depending on the frankness of the person you’re speaking to, finding ways to indirectly ask may result in more valuable (and less sales pitch-y) information.
A few questions that Gerrid Smith, CMO at Joy Organics, recommends asking:
- “What are some company customs that both remote and in-house employees enjoy?”
- “Why do you choose to stay here?”
- “How would you characterize the management style of the organization as a whole?”
- “What is work-life balance like here?”
- “What types of individuals appear to be successful in this department, and in this company overall?”
Sometimes, it’s not just the content of the answer but the way a question is answered that’s telling, Camille Fetter, CEO of Talentfoot, said.
“Executives will want to assess their potential boss’ overall attitude toward answering questions, which can be very telling about their management style,” Fetter said. “If they’re open to questions and answer thoughtfully, they’re likely also open to exploring and improving their working relationships and those of their employees and teams.”
4. Ask about the company’s response to the pandemic.
This isn’t just good information to have as a potential employee, as things like hybrid work policies may affect you. Leaders’ answers to pandemic-specific questions can reveal worlds about the company culture overall, Fetter added.
“In our current environment, questions should be focused on assessing how empathetic the culture is,” she said. “The types of questions to ask for this include: ‘How did the company show it cared about the well-being of employees when COVID-19 first hit? How have you continued to do so?’; and ‘How important do you think listening with intent is?’ In other words, are leaders taking the time to really learn about employees and taking all opinions into consideration, no matter their level?”
5. Pay attention to the hiring process.
If you’re, for instance, left waiting to hear back from a potential employer for long stretches of time, that can speak volumes about the culture at hand, Danny Trichter, Founder of Accessibility Checker, said.
“The manner in which a company handles its hiring process tells us a lot about its workplace environment and cultural values,” he said. “Even if you’re a small business, the hiring process should be well-organized, professional and tailored to the candidate’s requirements. For example, if the organization refuses to let you have a video meet-and-greet with different team members during the later stages of the interview process, that’s a red flag. Similarly, be wary if the recruiting manager leaves you hanging or appears disorganized or uninterested.”
6. Try to make contact with both current and former employees.
Reading static employee reviews online is one thing. But the more people you can actually speak to who either currently work at the company or formerly did, the better.
“Individuals who have previously worked for the organization are likely to provide the most accurate assessment of the company’s culture,” Daniel Carter, Marketing Manager at Loanx, said. “While current employees may be somewhat biased when discussing their present employer, former employees can provide a very candid assessment of their experience.”
7. Throughout the interview process, look and listen for these red flags.
- Mentions of multiple employees leaving: “If it is mentioned multiple times, causally or not, that a few employees have recently departed, be weary. They probably left for a good reason,” Ross said.
- Discussion of how swamped the company is: “If there’s talk of being thinly staffed, or employees needing to work overtime frequently, be cautious,” he said. “Running lean isn’t always the end of the world, but if the interviewer mentions multiple times how desperate they are for help, there’s a good chance you’re going to be thrown straight into the fire after being hired.”
- A bad personality fit with the interviewer: “Many companies have homogenous personalities and cultures, so if you have a poor rapport with the interviewer or get a bad vibe, take note,” he said. “I would try to interview with others at the company if there are follow-ups, or reach out to see if it was perhaps a one-off, but either way, take note. A poor interview connection can be a red flag.”