Most recruitment processes begin with a video or phone interview. Questions are scripted, and there is a specific amount of time allotted so as not to favor one candidate over another from the outset. During the initial exchange, everyone is cordial, and interaction can be somewhat superficial. Though emotion may be detectable, attempts to read body language aren’t always reliable nor can comments be interjected as smoothly as if speaking in person. Answers to the scripted questions are hopefully well prepared and short; but substantive.

The second exposure in the recruitment cycle is the in-person or F2F interview. An agenda is prepared for the candidate to meet with key individuals. She/he may be hosted by groups during meals for more extensive interview exposure. Variations of the same superficial questions are asked as each interviewer does whatever they can to find out what sets this candidate apart during the brief time they have. Before being sent home, some companies offer to drive candidates around for a glimpse of local culture. Others arrange a real estate tour or offer additional time to explore the area on their own.

A week or so later, the candidate is notified that they’ve been selected for the position. An offer is extended under the condition that a response is received within 5 business days. After discussing the offer with family and friends, the following determinations are made… Financially the offer is sound. The atmosphere was pleasant, and the people seemed nice enough. The role would be both challenging and rewarding, and the benefits comparable. It’s a positive career step and the location is manageable… What else is there to consider? Everyone is onboard… So, the candidate accepts.

The details of this scenario are standard. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know… but, let’s continue from the perspective of the candidate… YOU.

The next day, you receive a contract electronically. There’s language included that you were informed of during the interview process which doesn’t surprise you. All seems in order – but you have a legal friend review it anyway. You sign and return the document within the allotted time.  

You give your notice and begin to wind down your current position, make relocation arrangements and say your goodbyes. A month later you step into your new office for the first time. The people you interviewed with are busy doing their jobs. Your office is bare and needs some TLC. You don’t know what your first day will be like because you hadn’t heard from anyone in your new company since they sent the welcome letter acknowledging receipt of your signed contract.

There are some papers on your desk – an org chart, a company directory, and a 3” binder with company policies and procedures. You identify at least a dozen pages that have been marked by signature/initial flags screaming for your attention. Before reading until your eyes blur, you reach out to support personnel for contact information of those with whom you will be collaborating in your new position. You send a few emails introducing yourself and setting up meetings for the rest of the week.

You venture out to lunch on your own and return to find more light reading on your desk, so you dive in. The first day is now over. It was rather uneventful. Tomorrow will be better.

Most organizations have a combination of some of these elements intertwined in their recruitment efforts. No two companies manage recruitment alike. It is important for both the candidate and the employer to recognize that the care for and genuine interest in a candidate that takes place during this vital time should continue long after the contract is signed. Retention requires it!

With recruitment, the organization and the candidate are beginning a relationship journey in solidarity.  Sometimes it’s difficult to know how much of what we experience as a candidate is first impression staff training at work and how much is genuine relationship building which will continue beyond the honeymoon phase of the relationship.  The quality of organizational culture isn’t found cannot be measured in a brief interview period and is not usually available in the fine print of an employment contract.

However, there are ways that a candidate can determine if the espoused values, culture and mission are the foundation of the organization’s daily reality. Here are a few suggestions in making this determination…

  • During your F2F interview, invite direct support personnel to meet with you. This type of meeting may already be part of the interview schedule. In general, support personnel assigned to the role for which you are applying will be transparent about culture and working conditions in hopes that you will either fit right in or take up their cause to make the changes they feel necessary.
  • Ask for any verbal commitments to be put in writing and sent to you electronically. This way, you can review them in a more leisurely setting – after your visit. Oftentimes F2F interviews will reveal areas of congruence where the employer can accommodate or is willing to support a request specific to a candidate – should they be offered the position. Since these details had not been prepared prior to your visit, discussions should be chronicled and revisited to ensure that everyone heard the same thing.
  • Prepare a list of questions that go beyond what you’ve read about the organization. Here are some suggestions, the responses to which can be used to dive deeper into the actual vs. espoused organizational culture…
  • What has been the toughest organizational decision you’ve had to make in the last 6 months?
    • How did this affect the staff?
    • What measures have been taken as a result and what steps are still in process?
  • How would you measure moral of within the organization?
    • What would you like your employees to rally around or focus on?
    • What measures are in place to increase employee engagement?
  • What do you value most for the person filling this role?
    • Why?
    • How is this role perceived within the organization?
    • Are there any challenges that I can get in front of?

This may not be a necessary admonition but: Questions that you ask should always be relevant to the context in which you find yourself. In other words, please take time to listen, ensuring that your questions during an interview are relevant. Don’t just use what I have outlined as examples.

The main takeaway… As a candidate, respectfully and professionally… Interview the Interviewers. Simply engaging in conversation beyond what you’ve read; either in the contract or on the published website data will increase your understanding and knowledge of the organization; hopefully leaving you with a sense of whether this organization maintains a culture in which you can thrive. Set yourself up to make an informed decision – with eyes wide open.  

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