So you’ve the hit the point in your job search when you’re asked to interview with a prospective employer. Considering how many applications are either ignored, or filtered out before they make it in front of an actual human, getting an interview is itself a win.
By now you’re probably familiar with the concept of using job interviews as a way not only to express why you’re right for the position, but also figure out if the organization is right for you. Typically, the focus is on finding out whether the company culture is a fit for you—and that’s certainly important. But so is the company’s values, Kristi Hedges, a senior leadership coach who specializes in executive communications, wrote in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review. Here’s how to determine what an organization’s values are, and whether they mesh with your own.
Culture vs. values
What’s the difference between a company’s culture and their values? Here’s how Hedges explains it:
Culture determines how work gets done, but values show how companies prioritize, make decisions, and reconcile conflict. A culture may celebrate innovation, but values determine what gets sacrificed in the pursuit of it.
According to Hedges, learning about an organization’s values is a three-step process, involving the following:
1. Identify your own values
First, you have to determine which values are most important to you. As Hedges explains, in this context, your values are “the tenets that are central to who you want to be in the world. If they are infringed upon, you will feel it acutely.” A few examples include honesty, integrity, positivity, quality, service and trust.
2. Make a list of questions
Before the interview, Hedges suggests putting together some questions that will reveal the values a company prioritizes. “These are typically open-ended questions that ask the interviewer to provide specific examples,” she writes. “The goal is to elicit information that you can compare to your own values—not to ask for confirmation.”
This means staying away from leading questions, like “I value honesty—can you give me an example of how honesty is valued here?” and going with some of the following, courtesy of Hedges:
- Who has done well in a similar role as this one? What makes them a high performer? Who hasn’t performed as well and how so?
- What are promotable qualities here? Who is someone at my level that’s been recently promoted? What qualities did they exemplify?
- What behaviors are not tolerated here? What’s a situation when these were violated? What happened?
- Describe the culture. How has your perception evolved over time? Can you share an instance when the culture has surprised you?
- What’s an example of conflict at the company around strategy or direction? What led to the conflict? How was it resolved?
- When you were in my seat, what were you told that was helpful to doing well here? What could you tell me that you wish you’d have known?
Feel free to ask follow-up questions, including requesting specifics.
3. Rate the interview
As soon as you finish the interview and have a minute, take some time to rank the company’s responses to each of the questions about your core values. Hedges offers this 1-5 scale to assess the interview:
- Value was never mentioned
- Value was mentioned but not demonstrated
- Value was occasionally demonstrated
- Value was clearly and frequently demonstrated
- This company models the value
When you’re done, you should have a better idea of whether the company is a fit for you, based on shared values. Unfortunately, this isn’t a guarantee everything will always line up, but at least it should help minimize surprises.
Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, CNN.