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How to get a sense of company culture when interviewing remotely

There are plenty of things to consider when evaluating whether or not a job is a good match for you. 

Does the salary and bonus match your expectations? Is the work you’ll be doing interesting? Does it get you excited? Are their opportunities for growth and development?

You’ll also find yourself wondering what the culture’s like, what the environment’s likes and what your overall experience of working there will be like.

“It’s important to understand a company’s culture because you don’t just want to join an organization where you can do work, you want to join one where you can do your best work,” Hannah Fleishman, Director of Employer Brand and Internal Communications at HubSpot

Company culture can be fairly difficult to wrap your head around during the hiring process at the best of times, and it’s even more true if that process takes place online. What about if you’re joining a company in a fully remote position? It can be even harder still.

The good news is it’s still possible to assess culture in a meaningful way, even if you never actually step foot in the office. Here are five tips to help you evaluate a company culture before you accept an offer…

1.Understand what it is you’re looking for

Determine what’s important to you and what your must-haves are (best practice suggests three to be a suitable number). Go beyond salary and benefits and consider the values, behavioural and cultural aspects you expect from your future employer and their staff.

When interviewing remotely, focusing in on these important criteria means you can keep your antennae up for encouraging signs – and indeed, deal breakers.

For example, if being able to switch off properly when you finish for the day is important to you, conversations around an “always on” culture may throw up red flags during the interview. 

Having a pared down list of non-negotiable traits helps you to decipher any cultural clues that are most important to you.

2. Do your research

Make sure you do a little digging online to find out as much as you can about the culture, the team and the atmosphere.

Take a look at the language they use to describe themselves on their social media pages and their website – about us, meet the team and careers pages in particular. Do they showcase their people? If so, what does the make-up of the business look like to you? 

If there’s a chance to look at employee reviews, then this is worth doing. Often, as important as the reviews are themselves, the responses from the company should give you an indication into how they value their employees, past and present.

3. Ask specific questions

Use the time at the end of the interview to ask the right questions about the topics that are most important to you.

Try not to waste this time with generic questions like “what’s your company culture like”, instead, ask questions that will give you a true sense of the environment and the people you’ll be working alongside every day.

Returning to the non-negotiables you set before the interview will help you craft the right questions. Remember, questions at the end of the interview aren’t simply designed to demonstrate you’re engagement with the process, they’re an invaluable way of getting your hands on the information you need to make the right decision about whether you work there or not.

4. Observe as much as you can

By this we mean, try and take in as whatever clues and information you can through your entire engagement with the company.

What’s the interaction been like throughout the process so far? Does the recruiter or hiring manager you’ve been speaking to seem excited about bringing someone new into the team? Do their answers seem genuine or are they more like stock answers?

It’s also worth looking at who’s on the hiring team. If a diverse and inclusive company is important to you, the hiring panel might give you an indication of the company’s values and approach to the subject.

5. Use the whole process as your cue

Assessing the process in its entirety can give you a glimpse into how the company not only treats applicants, but its employees too.

A few things worth paying attention to include:

Communication – did the parties involved keep in regular communication? Were all your questions answered fully and promptly? Did they keep you updated on goings on throughout the process?

Organisation – how smoothly did the process run? Any disorganisation could be an indication that working at the company could be the same. 

Did they show respect for your time? That’s often a sign an organisation values the people who work for and interact with their business.

Balance – are you receiving communications late at night? Over the weekend? That could be a sign they don’t prioritise your down time, but equally, it could demonstrate (and depending on the message) that they’re trying to be flexible around you and your schedule.

It’s important to remember a company’s hiring processes doesn’t exist in isolation. It’s the same people involved as who you’ll be working with and so it’s a great reflection of the business itself.

If you are interviewing remotely via phone or Teams/Zoom, make sure to know what you’re looking for culture-wise and focus the bits you can control around gleaning as much information from the process as possible.

 

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