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Ask a Recruiter: How Can I Learn About a Company’s Culture When I’ve Never Met Anyone in Person?

Plus: What a company’s coronavirus response tells you about their leadership

Photo courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio

Nearly everyone is interviewing remotely because of coronavirus. InHerSight asked Dana Hundley and Jenna Richardson, cofounders of Career Cooperative, to talk about the challenges of remote interviews and hiring.These are their answers, in their own words. Are you a recruiter with job advice to share? Email our managing editor Beth Castle at beth@inhersight.com for consideration.

What’s your elevator pitch?

We are the cofounders of Career Cooperative, an Oakland, California–based boutique consulting firm that empowers clients to face career transitions, professional growth, and recruiting with confidence. We consult with companies to attract diverse talent through impactful recruiting and interview strategies and support employees through career development. We started working together at a recruiting agency, and through our combined 15-plus years in full-cycle recruiting and career development, we’ve worked with hundreds of candidates and companies and learned a lot in the process. When you have a focus, understand your value, master the magic of your story, and build a supportive and diverse community, the realm of possibilities is endless. 

Read more: Ask a Recruiter: How Can I Job Search During Coronavirus?

What changes can job seekers expect to the interview, recruitment, and hiring processes right now?

Everything is remote—even as we see different levels of shelter-in-place being lifted, job seekers should expect either an entirely remote interview process or at the bare minimum, some elements of remote interviewing. 

Job seekers and new employees also may find themselves onboarding into their new role remotely. This means getting to know your new colleagues, company, processes, and systems will be done through email, online communications channels, video and phone, which can take some getting used to, and even additional effort on everyone’s part to truly connect when you lose access to dropping by someone’s desk or hallway conversations. Onboarding remotely also may be happening for the first time for the company. All of which can slow the ramp time, so be patient!

Read more: 14 Tips for Skype Interview Success

What are the challenges of virtual interviews compared to in-person interviews, and how can women overcome them?

Virtual interviews can create challenges around connecting with the people, when a screen can prohibit clear social cues, or make it even difficult to make eye contact. If you aren’t already getting a lot of video practice these days, practice! Get comfortable on the platform with a friend who can also provide feedback in real time. There is also the possibility of tech issues making it difficult to have a really clear conversation. Always make sure you check your technology and do a test run, then make sure you have a quiet area to conduct the interview. These days especially, with everyone home, it may be necessary to coordinate with your roommates for quiet time, or with a partner to take children outside or be kept occupied in another room. 

Also, when you don’t visit an organization in person to interview, you don’t get to see the actual office or feel the pace of the daily workflow. And when you aren’t being walked to an interview room, or given a walking tour, you miss out on the potential small talk and opportunities to ask more casual questions around the company culture. 

Without these opportunities built into an in-person interview, women have to take action during a virtual interview to make sure they get all of the information they need to best assess the role and the organization. During a virtual interview, sometimes the best way to do this is by asking direct questions about what the office is typically like when everyone is onsite, how colleagues are now engaging during COVID-19, and any expectations around what it will be like when people are back in the office.

Read more: 93 Questions to Ask in an Interview That Will Actually Tell You About the Job

What are some good ways to build a personal connection with hiring managers during a virtual interview?

Do your homework; research the company and hiring manager so you have points of reference and a connection to bring up during an interview. Ask pointed, thoughtful questions about the hiring managers' experience in the company and show that you envision yourself there. 

Make it a conversation. It is really easy for a virtual interview to feel like a rapid-fire Q&A when you just pop into a call or video without some of the opportunities an in-person interview allots to ease into the questions. Take the first few minutes to exchange in some intro talk to help calm your nerves and set the tone for the interview. For example, instead of just saying the automatic I am good, how are you? response to How are you?, you could share a little more about yourself, and ask a more pointed question in response: I am good, excited to chat with you, and I was able to get outside this morning for a walk, which was really nice. How are you? I can imagine that this interview process is different from ones you experienced before COVID-19?

Job seekers are understandably nervous about taking a position at a company they’ve never stepped foot in, especially if they’ll be working in the office once the pandemic is over. What questions can they ask of hiring managers to quell those fears?

Ask directly what it is like to work in the office—and ask everyone you talk to! Ask about communications methods and practices, the cadence of meetings, floor-plan details, even how the office is decorated. It’s also beneficial to dive in with more pointed questions like:

  • What's your favorite part of the office? 

  • Where do you spend most of your time?

  • What do you miss most about working in the office?

  • What do you think I'm missing out on from not seeing the office in-person?

  • How has the adjustment to working remotely been for you?

  • What has X company/team done to preserve culture during the place?

It is also important to ask for specific examples of how an office operates: How do you celebrate milestones?, How does leadership communicate?, How did leadership and the organization face and communicate around COVID-19? All of these questions should be followed by, And how do you see that changing once employees are back in the office?

Read more: COVID-19: 6 Questions Managers Should Be Asking Employees While Working from Home

Don’t forget to ask what your onboarding experience could look like! A question like, How are you currently onboarding employees, what challenges have you faced, and how have you tried to overcome them? not only gives a preview of what to expect, but there is opportunity to learn about a company’s willingness and ability to be nimble in uncertain times.

Women should also feel empowered to ask to speak with potential teammates and colleagues to get a broader perspective of a future employer if they are not already part of the interview process or you need more information. Employers are navigating how to adjust their interview process to create positive experiences and ensure all parties involved feel confident in making hiring decisions. As always, ask for what you need.

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By Beth Castle

Managing Editor, InHerSight

Beth Castle is on staff at InHerSight, where she writes about workplace rights, diversity and inclusion, allyship, and feminism. Her bylines include Fast Company, Charlotte magazine, The Charlotte Observer, SouthPark magazine, Southbound magazine, and Atlanta magazine. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

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