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How to assess company culture in a video interview

It’s possible to get insights into culture when you’re on one side of a camera. Here are six things to look for.

How to assess company culture in a video interview
[Photo: DGLimages/iStock]

You spend at a lot of time at work, and finding an environment where you feel you fit in and can thrive is important. To improve retention, companies often screen for culture fit, and candidates should do the same thing, too. The growing popularity of video interviews, however, means that fewer candidates are visiting offices where culture clues are everywhere.

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It’s possible to get insights into culture when you’re on one side of a camera, experts say. Here are six things to look for during your video interview that will provide insight about what the company culture is really like:

1. How advanced is the technology?

The videoconference platform that a company chooses can be a clue, says Patrick Sullivan, director of strategic projects in the Office of Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University.

“Are they using a videoconferencing tool from a large corporation, or one from a startup?” he asks. “Do they lean towards partnering with well-established corporations? Edgy startups? The videoconferencing mechanism might be a sign.”

Also look at the background and lighting, adds leadership advisor and executive coach Lars Sudmann. “Does it feel nice and professional or cold and amateurish?” he asks. “This gives a good idea of the virtual interaction skills of the company, and the emphasis they put on remote meetings.”

2. Did you get easy instructions on using the platform?

The amount of details a company provides a candidate is important, says Sudmann.

“This says something about the professionalism and processes of the company, how easy they make it for others and how much they value new recruits,” he says.

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3. How quickly does the video process progress?

Candidates should feel as though their time is valued, says Kurt Heikkinen, president and CEO of Montage, a recruiting technology provider. “If the process is moving quickly, candidates feel that their time is valued and the time of the team is valued, too,” he says. “This shows that a company has an efficient collaborative culture.”

If the interview is live, did the interviewer arrive late or were they ready ahead of time? asks Sudmann. “This shows how much they value the individual,” he says.

Also pay attention to the transition between interviewers, says Sullivan. “A smooth transition suggests that the firm has planned out the interview process and communicated expectations to their staff, who are sticking to that plan,” he says.

4. How engaged is the interviewer?

Assess the interviewers’ interest in talking to you. “What questions do they ask?” says Heikkinen. “How important does the hire seem? Do they give candidates equal opportunity to ask questions? These things show they care.”

If the interviewer doesn’t allow you to ask question, it could indicate a push culture, says Sudmann. “In my experience, a good 70/30 mix of being asked and asking is a healthy metric to look out for,” he says.

Structured interviews are better than informal “chitchat,” adds Sudmann. “It’s an indicator that the company and interviewer believe in tested approaches rather than gut feel,” he says.

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5. How do employees interact?

Also keep an eye out for subtle hints within social interactions, says Scott Steinberg, author of Business Etiquette Bible: Modern and High-Tech Rules, Tips, and Training for Professionals and Brands. “Are they relaxed and engaged if they appear as part of a group, or do they appear to be observing rules of propriety and keeping their guard up?” he asks. “These insights can help you get a sense of how liberal or conservative an organization may be.”

Also look if one interviewer dominates the conversation, says Steinberg. “Do they seem to value each other’s thoughts and opinions?” he says. “Look to place yourself with organizations in which colleagues, regardless of rank, value everyone’s input and feedback, and take the time to fully consider issues from various angles.”

6. What is the scenery?

Look beyond the interviewer, suggests Sullivan. “A sunlit atrium in the background may imply a positive work environment,” he says. “Having an open office environment where most of the staff works in the background may communicate an energetic, collaborative setting.”

Is there clutter, trash, or does it give you a feeling of being dirty, asks Brian Kelley, vice president of employee experience at Sage Communications, a marketing, PR, and advertising agency. “Or is it clean and well organized?” he asks. “Can you hear anything in the background? Does it sound like a busy office? Is it dead quiet? Can you hear someone yelling in the background?”

Also, look at the colors, Kelley adds. “Is the office vibrant and give off a good visual vibe? Or is it drab and dreary?” he asks.

Look for clues in background scenes and surroundings, adds Steinberg. “Do you see Tokidoki figurines or oil paintings hiding in the environment?” he asks. “Tattoos exposed on sleeves or workers clad in buttoned-up suits? All can provide insights into the character of an organization.”

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