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  1. Blog
  2. Diversity
  3. July 9, 2020

Ask a Recruiter: How Do I Know if a Company is Living Out Its Values?

And how to know if you’ll be “the only” on the team

Ask a Recruiter: How Do I Know if a Company is Living Out Its Values?
Photo courtesy of Daniel McCullough

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 offer individual career coaching and group, community programming, and courses. 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.

Assessing the effectiveness of company policies is a big part of what we do at InHerSight. Before the interview, what’s some initial groundwork job seekers can do to figure out whether companies they’re interested in not only have the benefits they want, but also implement them well?

First, check the website and career page: Some companies have a whole hub of employee benefits and policies (both employee testimonials and lists of “wellness” or “company culture” attributes and specific information about benefits and employee policies beyond “401k, benefits, competitive salary” you can normally get from the job description).

Talk to an insider if possible, the best source is someone that works there and has first-hand experience of the benefits. If you don’t know anyone directly who works there, reach out to your community to ask for referrals and/or introductions.

Read more: How Do You Know If a Company Truly Embraces Diversity?

Many companies list or talk about their values and benefits/policies on their website or in some type of collateral. That can be a lot of splashy marketing-speak to fit word count or SEO guidelines. What you want to pay attention to is the actual tangible ways in which the company claims to either already implement their values and benefits, or ways in which they plan to with actual metrics to measure impact.

Depending on organization’s size and brand recognition, we also have two pandemics calling into question (very publicly) company’s benefits, values and policies: COVID-19 and a necessary spotlight on racial inequity and systemic racism. The ways in which a company has responded, through employee support and public statements, are incredibly telling, valuable, and accessible right now. Check recent news and social channels to see how companies have been responding over the past four months.

Why employee reviews are critical to your brand management efforts

“Employee reviews play a critical role in a company’s employer brand perception and ability to attract quality talent,” Kaitlyn Holbein, founder and principal consultant at recruitment marketing and employer branding firm The Employer Brand Shop, says. “While your careers site and social media profiles can provide some information, candidates really want to hear about your culture and employee experience directly from people like them—from your current and past employees. Anonymous review sites are an ideal place for candidates to really understand your employee experience from a perspective they can trust.” Read more advice for employers

What are some good keywords to look for in job descriptions and in company values that indicate welcoming company cultures?

There is a lot that goes into decoding a job description—they are complex and sometimes misleading—but you can usually tell something about the company from the language they use to describe their culture. For example, a "work hard, play hard" culture immediately raises flags about work-life balance. My advice: focus on the frequency and intent behind word choice. If inclusivity is mentioned more than once, it's likely to map to a company value. I always like to see a call to action for transferable experience, or for applicants who may not have traditional backgrounds. Overall, pay attention to the way the job description makes you feel, and what words stand out to you. These are flags (good or bad) that you'll want to address in interviews.

During an interview, what kinds of questions should women ask to evaluate whether a company is living out their benefits, policies, and values?

Bring up specific values, benefits, and policies and ask how they are tangibly enacted and show up in the organization. Dig in if needed for proof points and data. You can also ask multiple people you interview with questions like:

  • Which value do you think is most important?

  • Which value do you think the company does well and why?

A good follow-up question is about future goals, programming, or planning as it relates to values, benefits, and policies and how the organization sets goals and then measures impact.

As mentioned above, we have two incredibly poignant, timely and tangible shifts all companies have faced in some way or another that we should be asking about:

1. How did the organization respond to COVID-19 and subsequent shelter-in-place orders?

How did the org take care if it’s employees? How has working from home been going, including challenges? What is the strategic plan to keep employees safe during impending COVID-19 surges and potential additional shelter-in-place orders.

2. How did the organization respond to the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the Black Lives Matter movement?

How is the org facing racial injustice internally? How is the organization supporting Black employees? Are there tangible goals, metrics, planning for equity and inclusion practices within the organization?

More COVID-19 advice

How might a woman in a male-dominated industry ask whether she’ll be the only woman in the office, and if so, whether that will be a problem?

Directly.

State what you know, “I noticed your website and LinkedIn have predominantly male representation—how many women work here?” If you're comfortable, take it a step further and follow-up with, "Why do you think there's a lack of female representation here?"

And ask about hiring efforts, “Has there been a conscious effort to hire women in the past; is there one now; if now, why is it now a priority/important?”

Ask about how the organization and teams communicate and collaborate internally and externally to get a sense of culture. You can also ask about how accomplishments and performance is recognized and rewarded, which can be very telling.

How can women ask about diversity of any kind during an interview?

Directly.

Especially if the company has a public diversity goal, dig into how the goal came to be. Why now? Why is this important to the organization? What data has been considered and what metrics will be considered moving forward?

It is also important to ask how an organization is supporting its employees—what training, programming, and safe spaces it is investing in and implementing—to truly build an ongoing culture of inclusivity. Ask directly how an organization is supporting, and plans to support,  BIPOC and LGBTQ employees. Employee resource groups are big in the tech space and often a great way to understand if there is representation. Ex: Does X company have any employee resource groups for BIPOC? How active are their members? What types of initiatives do they work on?

Say a woman is really interested in a job or company, but she has reservations because of reviews she’s read, negative press, or other red flags that have popped up during the hiring process. What are some good ways for her to decide whether she should take the job?

Listen to your gut and ask the tough, direct questions. The red flags popped up for a reason. The best way to decide whether to take a job if you have any concerns is to address all concerns head on. Ask direct questions of the people you interviewed with (and in some cases, ask the same direct questions to multiple people for different perspectives); ask the recruiting or hiring contact; or ask to speak to someone outside of who you have had contact with for additional perspective if you don’t feel like you are getting the whole picture.

If you noticed bad reviews, pay attention to how the organization responded publicly or if at all, and notice the frequency in which there are bad reviews and what’s being talked about. You can address those during an interview: “I noticed some unfavorable employees, is that something you and your team are aware of and how have you addressed or engaged with the reviewer?”

Read more: How to Rate Your Job (& Why You Should)

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Photo of Beth Castle

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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