How Do You Size Up When Answering Candidate Questions about Culture?

When it comes to interviewing, there are so many resources out there to help individual candidates prepare. These resources cover almost everything you can think of – how to dress, how firm to shake hands, how you should use body language…and most importantly, how to answer interview questions. 

There is a ton of information out there on that last bit. And, as we all know in recruiting, the job search is a 2-way street. When a candidate walks into an interview, they aren’t there just to answer questions, they are there to ask them too. The candidate has just as much right to interview a company as the company has interviewing the candidate to determine the right fit.

That said, are you (as the company) prepared for the questions a candidate might ask about your culture? Most of you may think, “sure, I can describe the culture of my company.” But if a candidate were to ask each interviewer the same question about culture, would he hear the same answer? And would the answer include not only the good, but the bad and the ugly too? And also the parts of your company that make you really unique (aside from just “collaborative,” “laid back,” “formal”)?

This is touching on two opportunities we see the most with clients when it comes to company culture – a clear picture of what your culture is - what makes you unique (the good AND the bad) and internal alignment. 

Clear Picture: A recent survey of 886 adults conducted by talent management technology review firm, Software Advice, found that candidates value "honesty and transparency" the most in a company. This means, starting by sharing the truth when it comes to what it’s really like to work for your company. This also means, you need to take a step back and actually define what that truth actually is – and it may not be what you personally think. It’s important to get input from your workforce on what they perceive the culture to be (see Susan LaMotte's post on how). The vast majority of employees may have a very different experience from those in leadership positions – for example, would an hourly employee at an Old Navy retail store describe the same culture as a corporate finance analyst when it comes to what it’s like to work there? Get out into the field and find out what it’s really like to work at your company. 

Alignment:  it’s so easy to say you are in alignment, but it’s so hard to stay that way. Have you ever had a good conversation with someone and walked away from it thinking you’re on the same page? Only to find out he/she took away very different messages (this Discover card commercial captures it perfectly)? Just like your tires, people fall out of alignment if you don’t stay on top of it.  When it comes to culture, the message needs to be simple enough to trickle down, and easy enough to understand - making alignment easier to maintain. When I worked at Marriott, we ran an employee video contest in which employees submitted videos answering the question, “Why do you like working for Marriott?” We received videos from around the globe, in many different languages, and in a variety of creative formats. One thing that kept surfacing was Mr. Marriott’s famous quote, “Take care of associates and they'll take care of your customers.” It was apparent this was embedded in the culture, and was simple enough to overcome language and cultural barriers.

You don’t have to be a Google or Zappos or Southwest to make culture a priority in your company. Darren Entwistle, CEO of Telus, a Canadian telecom company, made culture a strategic, long-term priority, and proved it benefits the bottom line. After Entwistle took over, Telus “led the world in total shareholder value creation, returning 304% to shareholders and outpacing the second place incumbent telecommunications company (Bezeq out of Israel) by 95 percentage points. It has the lowest customer churn rate in Canada and the top customer satisfaction ratings from JD Powers.” 

So, are YOU prepared to answer a candidate’s question of what it’s like to work at your company? It’s a simple question that can have a lot of impact if you get it right. 

 Lexi Gordon is a Lead Consultant for exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps organizations build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.

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