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You Can’t Fake Company Culture to Candidates

by
Jim Roddy
Aug 29, 2012, 5:06 am ET

photo of Dukiet from Boston College, during his time as a player

Bob Dukiet, my hard-driving college basketball coach, would frequently (and loudly) explain why we needed to give a genuine, 100% effort at all times. “You might be able to get away with faking it here in practice,” he’d holler. “But in a game, the other guy will smell you out!” In kinder words, unprepared players and inferior teams get exposed quickly.

That principle applies to your interview process. A sales candidate at my company recently explained that he was pursuing us instead of another local employer because our culture was far superior. When he shadowed members of our team, he found every sales rep to be cheerful, hard working, friendly, and cooperative. Employees at the other potential employer were essentially the opposite. They openly discussed the disharmony at their company, chiding other cliques inside the organization.

If candidates are left alone with your team, what culture will they experience? If several candidates haven’t raved about your organization, stop over-inflating the reality of your culture in your marketing materials and social media campaigns. Get to work on establishing company principles and genuinely integrate them into your business.

Candidates could notice these six aspects of your company culture during your interview process. If you can’t place a check mark next to each item, you have some work to do.

Candidates are greeted with a smile by your receptionist. And by name, too. If a big customer was visiting your office, you’d give them VIP treatment. Well, shouldn’t that apply to any guest, especially a potential new team member? When we schedule interviews with candidates, we alert our receptionist of the day and time they’re scheduled so she can welcome them appropriately.

Professionalism is required. The candidate will judge your organization on many criteria, including:

  • The appearance of the interviewers and your facility.
  • The interviewer’s handshake, eye contact, posture, facial expressions, and attentiveness during the interview.
  • Your word being good. If you say you’ll meet with a candidate at 1 p.m., be ready at that time.

Candidates see employee photos prominently displayed. What does a proud parent do when you meet them? They show you pictures of their kids. If you’re proud of your employees, show ’em off. Snap casual photos around the office or at company events, and then feature them in your lobby on a monitor or TV screen. See some of the photos we showcase in the Jameson Publishing lobby. (The Viking award photos are the best!)

All employees are friendly and eager to help. The lobby at my company is also a thoroughfare for employees walking to another department or to the restrooms. Candidates marvel that while they’re waiting for their interview, everybody – I mean everybody – who walks by asks if they’re being taken care of. We’ve never issued a decree that folks are required to do that. But in our interview process, we hold out to hire candidates who are predisposed to helping others.

Candidates perceive energy among your employees. Though I hear about this from candidates frequently, it’s still hard for me to articulate this aspect of a company’s culture. The most common example candidates point out is people walking with a purpose. Also, candidates note they don’t see employees hanging out at the coffee machine, leaning on cube walls, or waltzing slowly down the hallways. I recall one person telling us, “I’ve never seen anything like this. In every corner, people are working. Everybody is pulling their own weight.”

Your organization embraces candor. Interviewers should integrate managing expectations, establishing responsibilities, and your company’s principles throughout the interview process. During every interview, let candidates know exactly what they are signing up for and what remaining employed with your company will require. Talk about difficult parts of the job in no uncertain terms. You are not selling the candidates on the job; you are giving and getting data.

Hire, retain, and promote those who meet or exceed your company’s principles. If you have team members who don’t currently fit your culture, work with them on their areas to improve. But let them know it’s a limited time offer. If they can’t meet your company’s standards in a reasonable time-frame, they will be asked to seek employment elsewhere.

For more advice on how to build a genuinely positive culture at your company, see my ERE article “5 Ways To Find Candidates Who Fit Your Culture” or read my book Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer.

Happy hiring!

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Richard Araujo

    Excellent article. Matching a company culture isn’t about hiding the perceived negatives, it’s about honesty and finding the right fit.

  2. Keith Halperin

    @Jim: Thank, you. With respect, companies fake their culture all the time. All they have to do is to make sure candidates see and hear what they’re supposed to, from only the people who’re supposed to show and say it to them (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potemkin_village). Personally, if I see a lot of employee photos, I think it means they probably don’t pay those employess very well….

    Cheers,

    Keith “Trust but Verify” Halperin

  3. Kate McKinnon

    I have to agree with Keith on this one. I have seen the “show” put on very effectively during the course of multiple interviews and the employees were very good at hiding the true company culture. Very few new hires (if any)lasted more than six months to a year based upon this discrepancy. On the flip side, after leaving that company and being very selective with my next job move based upon that experience, it became very easy to tell who was “faking” their culture. What I found was that when employees seemed naturally good spirited, relaxed, and happy to be at work during an interview situation, that was the place to be. Not the companies where everyone was trying too hard….

  4. ABHA MOHANTY

    rightly MATCHED ………CANDOR PARAMOUNT….

  5. Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Kate. I’m also suspicious of the ones that seem to genuinely ooze youthful perkiness and PMA- it may be a “corp cult”.

    Keith “No Thank You for the KoolAid” Halperin

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