Here’s a bit of good news for job searchers: More than ever before, employers want to make it clear to job candidates—and their current employees—that they have a strong workplace culture.
First, let’s explain culture. It’s “loosely defined as ‘the way things work around here,’” according to the consulting firm Deloitte. While that can mean anything from number of free snacks in the pantry to dress code, more companies are centering their cultures around better employee engagement, work/life integration, and family-friendly practices for employees. According to a 2015 survey of companies conducted by Deloitte, 50 percent of respondents said improving and updating their company culture is “very important,” which according to Deloitte is “double the proportion in last year’s survey.”
That sounds like a win-win for women re-entering the workforce, but the question remains: How can applicants really suss out whether these prospective employers are as accommodating as they say they are?
1. Ask questions about culture, but be strategic about it.
Tara Tranum, a senior recruiter for ExecuSource, an Atlanta-based staffing firm, says it’s important to ask questions about work/life integration. When not to do it? In your first or second interviews with a potential employer. “You need to develop a rapport first,” she says. “You don’t want to start the interview, asking, ‘Can I telecommute? How much PTO [paid time off] is there?’” Chances are, as you make your way through the rounds of interviewing, you will connect especially well with one of the people you’ve met with. That’s the person you want to approach with culture-based questions.
2. Repeat: Do ask questions during the interview process.
You may be inclined to wait to ask about a company’s flextime or vacation policies until after you’ve received an offer. But Claire Bissot, managing director at CBIZ HR, a consulting firm specializing in accounting and HR, says not to wait too long. “People want to find out how far along in the interview process they can get without mentioning that they need some special accommodations,” she says. But “typically the most senior person is the last interview, and that’s the last person you want to ask questions about telecommuting.”
3. Do a visual scan of the office or ask for a tour.
As your meeting is winding down, ask if your interviewer can give you a tour. Doing this will allow you to observe and “you get a good feel for the environment and culture,” Tranum says. “Some things to look out for: Do people look happy? Do they look engaged? Or do you see three people working in a cramped corner who look harried and miserable?”
4. Mine your network.
Explore whether anyone you know, or any of your contacts’ contacts, have worked at the company with which you are interviewing. “Look on LinkedIn and see who has worked at the company. If you approach them with questions, they may be inclined to give a more candid response,” says Andra Winokur Newman, a former senior director of recruiting and human resources for J.Crew who is co-founder of the startup QuadJobs, which matches college students with local jobs.
5. At the final stages of the interview process, ask for a peer interview.
Bissot says that a peer interview will help give you a sense of what it’s really like to work there. “Senior leaders tend to have a different view of the environment and they know how to pitch the company,” she says. “A peer will be more honest or will show it on her face. That’s the best way to find out.” A word of warning: Don’t be too focused on perks—or too relaxed—during this conversation, as the boss may ask for a rundown of what questions you asked.
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