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How to spot a good company culture in remote interviews

12 May 2020

How can you assess a company’s culture when your interview can’t be face-to-face? Codility’s Natalia Panowicz shares her insights.

The pivot to remote hiring as a result of Covid-19 has brought new considerations for jobseekers, such as figuring out whether a company is right for you when you can’t visit the office or meet staff face-to-face.

Remember, job interviews are a two-way street. They shouldn’t simply demonstrate your abilities and experience to the potential employer, they should also give you an idea of whether or not the company is somewhere you’d actually like to work.

That can be tricky even with in-person interviews, so how can you judge it over a phone or video call? We got some tips from Natalia Panowicz, CEO of Codility, which is a hiring platform for remote tech workers.

Natalia Panowicz of Codility is smiling into the camera and wearing a bright blue top against a dark grey background.

Natalia Panowicz. Image: Codility

Is it more difficult in remote interviews than in physical ones to assess a company culture?

Remote interviews mean that you won’t be getting contextual cues from being in the company office. Typically, in an office setting, you’d be able to see other team members at work, you could read their body language and get a feel for the office culture.

At the same time, remote interviews can be a fantastic source of information about the company, if you go a bit more rigorously through the process as a candidate. Before your interviews, ask yourself what culture you would thrive in and what values you subscribe to.

By asking your interviewer about their company culture, wanted and unwanted behaviours, and things they are proud of or would change if they could, you will be able to get a sense of how much it’s aligned with your beliefs and needs.

When doing interviews remotely, are there any red flags jobseekers should keep in mind that might be telling about a company’s culture?  

We’re currently navigating through a global pandemic and a global recession of unknown duration, and every company is being affected in one way or another.

Ask how they are coping with the situation, whether they had to make any difficult decisions and how they went about it. Ask how the company is thinking about the post-coronavirus future. If you’re not getting a coherent and transparent answer, it’s a potential red flag.

If you’re meeting with more than one interviewer, try asking similar questions about current team, department and company priorities and check whether the picture you’re getting is aligned.

If not, you might be joining a disjointed team where team members have conflicting goals. It’s a recipe for general company underperformance and your frustration.

What about some signs of a positive company culture?

Studies indicate that high-performing, healthy company cultures have two things in common: high psychological safety and high accountability among all team members. Psychologically safe environments mean that you’ll feel included, safe to learn, contribute, make mistakes and challenge the status quo – all without a fear of being embarrassed, marginalised or punished.

Accountability means that the team as a whole and everybody individually takes responsibility for delivering great work and results. You can probe for both by asking about a recent failure or under-delivery and how the team was course-correcting.

Candidates should ask: “What does success in this role look like for a remote employee?” Hiring managers who have a thoughtful answer for you are likely indicators of a company that is thriving amidst the global chaos, and a job where you’ll be able to succeed.

Hiring managers who say that employees seem to be employing new tech and tools successfully are likewise a good sign that a workday there won’t be a frustrating experience for you.

Are there any questions people can ask their interviewer to get more of an authentic insight into the culture?  

Your interviewer will probably ask you structured behavioural questions. Why not reverse it? Ask about an example of a situation in which your interviewer observed their company culture at play. Ideally, you should hear about real work, not office perks or events.

What would be your one lasting bit of advice for people currently preparing for remote job interviews?

Job searching is stressful no matter what, so be kind to yourself and make sure you’re making yourself and the environment in which you’ll take the interview as comfortable as possible. Approach your interview with curiosity and a growth mindset – each interview can be a learning opportunity if you’re open to it.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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