How to Identify a Companies True Culture during Your Interview

“Describe your corporate culture for me.”  This is a standard question I ask every employer that engages me to assist them in recruiting security industry professionals to their team. It is also a question that an astute candidate will ask an employer during the interview process. How it is answered is very telling.  If you are a candidate the question is critical and so is the answer you will receive – listen carefully to the reply. If the company is not able to articulate an answer and offer some concrete examples of this culture you should immediately hear sirens in the back of your head.  It does not mean you must turn down a job offer should you need the work.  You can consider taking the job and either work towards establishing a new culture or continue looking for new opportunities. Just keep in mind establishing a culture or changing one is a major undertaking and difficult to do unless it is part of your overall job description. To help you identify an organizations true values and company culture, here are two important questions to ask yourself as part of your deliberation process.

*Did the Response Seem Credible? On at least one occasion I can recall a hiring authority telling me “we just want everyone who works here to have a good time” when I asked him to describe the firm’s culture. To me, that’s like a candidate saying they are a people person when describing themselves. It does not instill confidence and does not come across as a well thought-out response to an important question. Now, If an employer says something like, “we expect everyone to work toward our established goals and meet their individuals objectives which will lead to good times for everyone on the team” that’s fine but, everyone having fun just for the sake of enjoying themselves sounds more like college days and not a believable modern day business environment. Also, be certain the culture definition fits with the firms stated business model and mission. If the company representative articulates an answer that suggests it cares about employees, customers, shareholders, and business partners – you have found yourself an organization that sees the bigger picture, one that recognizes and appreciates the significant role culture plays in the work environment. Don’t be shy about asking for examples of how they foster their culture. If they are able to provide examples this will strengthen the credibility of the answer.

*Did You Hear a Common Theme? It is likely you will interact with a cross section of employees during the interview process. Ask everyone you meet with from the HR screeners to the highest level of management to offer their view of the organizations culture; the answers should be the same. If so, this is an obvious signal that the company has a vision and culture that everyone is able to identify and the company takes its mission and employees seriously.  In addition, it is evidence that the company has dedicated time and resources towards outlining their culture and most importantly, has received buy-in from the employees who currently work there. Congratulations! It is now safe to move on to the next phase of the process. If the answers are inconsistent and follow up questions don’t provide clarity, then smile, shake hands, extend a sincere thank you, move on and consider this a learning experience.

While we still have a long way to go, I see positive signs – more organizations today grasp the importance of a supportive and empowering culture to attract, grow and retain top-tier employees. Enhance your own personal and professional development by creating a culture like this in your workplace or join a firm which shows they get it.

What are some of the companies you think have this type of culture?

David Lammert

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