To avoid regrets, ask specific questions about the workplace atmosphere during the interview.
Here’s the scenario: Thrilled when you landed what you thought was a dream job, weeks later, you want to run screaming into the Issaquah Alps. It’s not the actual work that’s the problem, and the people seem nice enough, so why the inner friction?
Unfortunately, you’ve found yourself living out the workplace version of “The Odd Couple.”
As you bang your head against your tiny electronic device, you ask yourself how you didn’t figure this out before you took the job. It may be small comfort, but you’re not alone.
“Eighty-six percent of new hires are disappointed in their position within three weeks. The same exact percentage applies to hiring managers,” according to Nancy D. Solomon, founder and CEO of Bellevue-based The Leadership Incubator.
During an interview, whether consciously or unconsciously, a candidate is going to sell themself, and a hiring manager is going to sell the position they need to fill, she says. “In essence, what happens is two ‘liars’ are sitting across from one another trying to convince each other that this is a perfect fit,” she says.
With that aspect of human nature in mind, it becomes even more important for a candidate to ask plenty of questions about an organization’s culture during an interview.
Jason Gruenig, a vice president in human resources at Seattle online retailer Zulily, recommends that in addition to asking what a company’s values and mission are, find out how they are implemented. “Not all companies truly embody, follow or support the values that may be taped to the wall,” he says.
Don’t stop there. If it’s a large organization, drill down into the department. “Specificity breeds credibility,” Solomon says, adding that while the broader company culture is important, it’s not nearly as significant as that of the team you’ll be working on.
It’s crucial to ask about career and role growth, too, says Gruenig, as well as how employee success is evaluated.
Joyce Chew, REI’s director of talent acquisition, offers the following questions to add to your list.
• What are the attributes of successful employees?
• Why do people come here?
• Why do they stay?
Always ask the interviewer to provide real-life situations instead of theoretical or hypothetical, Solomon says.
If you’re concerned about getting too gung-ho with the questions, rest assured, both Chew and Gruenig call out inquisitiveness as a positive in a potential candidate.
“I can always tell if someone is a fit for Zulily when they aren’t afraid to show their curiosity about the business,” says Gruenig.
“I don’t think any question is off-limits,” Solomon says. “It’s the way the question is framed and stated, and tone, that makes it OK to ask. Or not.”
So what can you do if you checked all the boxes during the interview and still run into culture clash on the job? Assess whether the issue is something that is unique to you, Chew says, or if it’s something that you can improve or influence, before initiating an honest conversation with a manager.
Avoid letting the issue fester. One approach that’s in practice at Zulily, according to Gruenig, is real-time feedback. Weekly touchpoints encourage conversations, and “track how an employee is doing. That way, we’re able to understand and establish collaborative relationships, solve problems together and really live our value of winning as a team,” he says.
While most everyone wants to share in the warm fuzzies of a successful team, ultimately the first step, before the interview, is to direct the questions at yourself.
“A job candidate must define their lives so others don’t do it for them,” says Solomon. “What’s your purpose? Your mission and values? Your gifts and talents? Your brand? These need to be written down, reviewed, contemplated and tested. Only then can a person seek a job that will be a cultural fit for them.”
If you’re prone to shy away from self-interrogation, think of it as an investment in yourself. “You will spend 90,000 working hours in your lifetime,” she says. “Make sure that 80 percent of the time, you’re doing what you love, and working with people you respect.”