Should candidates ask about organisation’s culture during interview?

Human-resource experts feel it is essential for candidates to ask questions about a company’s culture before joining it

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There are always dos and don’ts about what to say or ask during an interview. Many a time, candidates refrain from asking important questions assuming that it could be a deal breaker. One such question is ‘What’s your culture like?’ Candidates want to know about a company’s work culture, core values and goals during an interview, because they decide on taking up the offer only if they are satisfied with the answer of the interviewer.

Different candidates, different needs

For different candidates the definition of workplace culture that better suits them can be different. Some may find a posh-looking, all amenities-laced office space the right fit, while others would like it if the colleagues are cooperative and caring. Some may even find a company’s popularity enticing enough to join as it may look good on the resume. Therefore, they may want to know if their needs will be fulfilled, over and above the remuneration or benefits. Human-resource experts believe it is absolutely essential to ask questions about a company’s culture before joining it.

“Candidates should ask questions to know if this is the company where they are likely to do well; if this is the culture where they will not have to look for a change four-five months down the line.”

Prashant Khullar, senior VP-HR, Max Life Insurance Company

Culture fit

Rohit Suri, chief HR & talent officer – South Asia, GroupM India, is all for enquiring about a company’s culture before being a part of it. “HR interviews are to ensure a culture fit for the organisation. If the person is not that, either the employee will get frustrated or the company will. Therefore, it is extremely important. Many even promote that on their social-media handles. At GroupM, it’s one of our selling propositions to an employee. We talk about everything we do. One’s culture is one’s USP and it should attract the right talent. One has to be transparent about all these things.”

What does ‘culture of an organisation’ truly mean? Leadership goals, rewards, people-engagement policies, connect with the higher-ups and even the way people dress or talk. All that makes a complete experience for an employee in a workplace. Basically, anything that motivates an employee to perform better and be productive is a win, not only for the employee but for the organisation as well.

Transparency is key

“As a part of the selection process, the candidate and the organisation should have an honest conversation around the culture, values and leadership principles of the organisation.”

Bhavya Misra, HR director, PepsiCo

Amit Das, director-HR & CHRO, Bennett Coleman Co. specifies that the success of any organisation is driven by both “why”(which denotes the purpose), and “how”(which denotes the values). “The underlying belief, assumption, norms and core values in action, are the key ingredients for building the culture quotient of an enterprise. Hence, it’s imperative that organisations encourage prospective employees to have an open and transparent conversation, to assess the degree of alignment of both why and how, that is, the level of mapping for both individual and organisational purpose and values, which we indicate as culture overlap. Higher degree of synchronisation of culture — between the prospective employees and organisation— can certainly predict enhanced engagement, productivity and future value creation by the individual, leading to a win-win proposition.”

HR interviews are to ensure a culture fit for the organisation. If the person is not that, either the employee will get frustrated or the company will.

Rohit Suri, chief HR & talent officer – South Asia, GroupM India

Selection is a two-way process. The candidate and the organisation are selecting each other. Whenever one is looking for a change, one applies to multiple sets of organisations and more often than not one ends up getting two or three calls. If the organisation has the right to ask questions to ascertain if a candidate is a good fit, so should a candidate. Prashant Khullar, senior vice president, human resources, Max Life Insurance Company, points out it shouldn’t be for the sake of it.

“Sometimes, candidates make the mistake of asking questions about the culture of a company, simply to convey to the interviewer that they are interested, as that seems like the right thing to do. Instead, candidates should ask questions to know if this is the company where they are likely to do well; if this is the culture where they will not have to look for a change four-five months down the line,” Khullar explains.

Most people are excited at the time of joining but a few months later, they realise they made a mistake. Hence, it is important to ask questions. Hiring managers, in turn, learn something important about the candidates. “It gives them some insight into what the candidates are thinking, such as how serious they are about the company, whether it is just the higher compensation that’s making them join, whether they are looking for growth and learning, and so on. Then again, the reason behind the question has to be good enough,” Khullar adds.

“Higher degree of synchronisation of culture — between the prospective employees and organisation— can certainly predict enhanced engagement, productivity and future value creation by the individual, leading to a win-win proposition.”

Amit Das, director-HR & CHRO, Bennett Coleman & Co

Like everyone else, Khullar too insists that a company should never hide anything from the candidates because the purpose is not to make the company look good. “Sometimes hiring managers try to oversell or over-communicate a culture that doesn’t exist to rope in good talent. If the candidates come on board based on all that and do not experience the same, they feel let down,” he asserts.

Share the good and also the improvement areas so that the candidates are mindful and do not get a culture shock upon joining. Overemphasising on a culture that doesn’t exist is wrong. The candidates shouldn’t ask questions about culture just for the sake of it, either.

The decision to join a company is a big one and the company too would like to make the right hire. So asking questions should never be frowned upon or dissected as it’s important for both parties.

Bhavya Misra, HR director, PepsiCo, echoes the sentiments saying, “Candidates should be allowed to ask any question they want to, to ensure they are making the right call. There shouldn’t be any restrictions. Culture fit is a critical factor in this decision making – for both the candidate and the organisation. As a part of the selection process, both sides – the candidate and the organisation – should dive into this aspect and have an honest conversation around the culture, values and leadership principles of the organisation. The hiring manager/ HR representative should be candid about sharing the cultural norms and work expectations with the candidate.”

Therefore, it is absolutely necessary to ask about the culture of an organisation before joining it. But it should be done with the right intentions and should be answered with complete honesty by the company.