The savvy candidate knows that the interview is an opportunity to both vet a company and to be vetted. But beyond researching a company’s products, financing, and sales stats, it’s vital to find out as much as possible about a potential employer’s work culture. And while most companies today will have thought about their culture and are actively selling it, it’s important to learn how to distinguish between what’s real and what’s nothing more than a public relations campaign. You need to be certain that what you get is what you thought you were buying into.
We’ve laid out some important clues to look for when interviewing and how they relate to the understanding a company’s work culture.
Be a fly on the wall. Arriving early for an interview is always good advice - it prevents rushing into a meeting flushed or frazzled, but it also allows you some time to watch the company at work. Consider the lobby as a window into a company’s soul - take a moment to look around and listen. Are employees friendly toward strangers and each other, or are they rushing about with sour expressions? Is the receptionist rude and dismissive or does he greet you with a smile? You’re not looking for a Stepford experience, but you will get an idea of what daily life is like just by sitting in the lobby and watching the flow of people in and out.
Reach out to your network. Just as you might research a potential employer on Crunchbase to better understand their growth, funding and growth trajectory, mine your social connections to find out what it’s really like on the ground. Contact 1st or 2nd degree LinkedIn connections who have worked or do work at the company. Keep your inquiry specific to their experience. You’re looking to hear what kind of person thrives there, what is the feel in the office, do they find it a good place to work.
A word of caution: this is not an expedition to weed out office dirt - what you’re looking for is a peek into the culture.
Separate the wheat from the chaff. Company policy is one thing, how it’s actually implemented a whole other. It’s all fine and well for an employer to state that they support employees working from home, or that they always try to promote from within. But whether or not they actually operate in accordance to these policies is what you need to be looking for.
Be watchful also for aspirational policies- programs a young start-up might hope to one day implement but are not in the position to follow through on at this time. If this is the case you’ll have to weigh the company they are against the company they hope to be, and decide if it’s worthwhile.
What it’s like interviewing with a company is what it’s going to be like to work there. The interview process can take a very long time from start to finish. According to a recent article in Fast Company, a software engineer may have to endure 35 days or more during the interview process. So judging a company by how long they take to make a hiring decision may not be the best metric. However, looking at how they operate during the interview, vetting and hiring processes is a highly valuable data set to consider. Everyone knows first impressions matter, but when considering a new employer, it’s the 2nd, 3rd and 4th impressions that reveal how the company operates on a day to day basis.
Keep your eyes open throughout the hiring process to make certain that the company is a good fit for both your work and life styles.