company culture

Your guide to being assessed for company culture fit during an interview

With an interview confirmed, the next step is interview preparation. Demonstrating the right skills and experience is an important factor in interview success. But, hiring managers will also be assessing your company culture fit.

In addition to researching the company and running through answers to likely interview questions, you will need to think about how you can convey your personal match to the culture of that particular company. To do that, you’ll first need to gain some insights into their workplace and practices.

Here’s your guide to being assessed for company culture fit during an interview.

How can you find out about company culture?

A company’s culture is effectively its genetic code; its personality. It comprises many aspects: its values, mission, practices and work environment. These elements can be useful sources of information prior to your interview:

Websites

Companies will expect you to have read the ‘About Us’ section on their website; it provides a good overview. Also look for links to their mission statements or chairman’s statement, which highlight the company’s objectives and goals. The language and tone used, together with the order and emphasis of the content within company communications, can be quite revealing. It’s not just what they say, but also how they say it!

You can glean other valuable snippets of information from directors’ biographies or the careers section. This area often contains videos of employees talking about their roles and expressing what they enjoy about working for the company.

Media

How a company interacts and engages with its customers and the wider community is a good indication of what the business cares about and what brand message it wants to broadcast.

Pictures of staff and customers can send out different indicators of company culture to media posts that simply carry corporate messages. LinkedIn is a great source for background information; previous companies listed within the profiles of employees can build a picture of similar culture fits.

For example, experience with a discount retailer is not likely to provide a company culture fit for a premium brand – and vice versa. The adjectives employees use in their LinkedIn summaries, to describe themselves, are an indication of desired company personal qualities.

Organisations

Try to find out whether the company has links to any specific trade group or whether it sponsors any charities. Who, or what, a company chooses to be associated with highlights its values and ethos. Check to see whether there are any events and conferences you can attend that may provide opportunities to hear from company speakers or chat to current employees.

Recruitment sites

Person specifications within job advertisements will frequently include the desired attributes and personal qualities relating to the role and company. Glassdoor.com is a useful resource for feedback on interviews and employment with businesses. This feedback is posted directly by candidates and employees.

Additionally, online feedback from customers can make interesting reading too: consumer experiences can be illuminating.

Ownership and heritage

A company’s history often underpins its company culture. A billion pound business can be just as entrepreneurial as a start-up, especially if the original owner/founder is still actively involved.

The ownership or performance of a business is another influential factor. A turnaround business or company pending stock market floatation will be driving different objectives to those of a steady sector performer.

Environment

Images of the office environment will, quite literally, give you an insight into the company.

Additionally, clothes are a window into a company culture and will give you some idea of what to wear at the interview. If the business is nearby, have a drink in a local coffee shop and people watch: What appears to be the dress code? Are people pausing to eat, out of the office or are they hurrying back? All valuable insights into your potential future employment.

How to use your research to assist you in your interview

Having researched the company’s culture and identified key aspects, you can set about developing ways of highlighting your strong personal ‘fit’ during the interview.

Your appearance

We all know that appearances count. From the moment the interviewer meets you, they will be asking themselves, ‘Can I imagine this person as part of the team?’

Your personal presentation gives them a valuable, visual clue. Having researched the company dress code, aim to mirror it, albeit with a slightly smarter version for a ‘dress-down’ firm – it is an interview after all.

Competency questions

Whilst competency questions are designed to assess your skills and behaviours, the interviewer will also be assessing your company culture fit through your answers.

Pick out key adjectives in the person specification: weave these words and additional, similar phrases into your answers. The interviewer will assess how you approach tasks and whether your behaviours correspond to desired company culture fit.

Direct questions

Prepare for questions such as, ‘Describe your ideal workplace environment’. Draw on your research of the company, to define your answer. This research will help you choose descriptive language that will resonate with the interviewer, for personality questions, for example, ‘How would colleagues describe you?’

The question, ‘What do you do outside work?’ will allow you to talk about your interests. Be sure to match the company’s – cast your mind back to the images of their sponsored charity runs or events.

Finally, ‘What motivates you?’ is the perfect opportunity for you to show that your values are akin to those of the company.

Cross-functional input

The interviewers may include one or two managers from other functions. Their primary role will be to assess for company culture fit. The benefit to you is that you will meet other people from within the business. This will help you confirm your own impression of team ‘fit’.

During a tour of the office, and even just waiting in reception, you will be assessed on your comfort levels within their workplace. If you are currently working in a formal corporate environment, a young start-up company will want to see you looking relaxed, sitting in a ‘fun’ chair in their foyer!

Your questions

Use the power of your own questions to emphasise your company culture fit. What you choose to ask can reveal a lot about you. Asking about flexible hours won’t be a good match for a business that operates with rigid shift patterns. However, if the business is expanding overseas, asking about development opportunities (e.g. learning a second language) will reflect the company’s ambition.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that an interview is a two-way process. You need to decide whether a company is a good match for you, too.

We are all happier and perform better in environments which are not at odds with our own personality. Hiring managers will be aware of which past hires have proved to be strong company fits and what benefits these individuals brought to the team.

Hiring managers are also aware that when staff are happy, they tend to stay with a company. Recruitment is costly, both in terms of time and money, hence assessing company culture is an increasing priority in interviews. Attracting and, more importantly retaining talent, gives any business a vital advantage.

About the author: Jenny Hargrave is the founder of InterviewFit, provider of CV writing and interview coaching services.

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