3. Is communication open, transparent and trusting?
Communication is the lifeblood of company culture. How people talk to each other, how electronic messaging and email are used, and the expectations people have for tone, detail and responsiveness constitute a big part of the daily experience of work life.
In a healthy company culture, whether in person or online, people should feel safe in communicating clearly, forthrightly and expediently to get important information across to their colleagues, without worrying that bad news will meet with backlash or that their words will come back to haunt them.
Transparency should go both up and down the chain of command as well as across departments. When you’re interviewing, ask different people about the communication habits in the company. How transparent is leadership about the goals and performance of the company? Is the company dedicated to diversity, understanding and inclusion? Do line workers and middle managers share the same view about how open and trusting communication is? Do employees feel management is holding back key information?
While in larger companies, direct communication from executives may be less frequent, employees in any size company should feel they have a good understanding of the business’s performance and priorities and how changes in the business affect staff roles.
At the same time, employees at all levels should feel comfortable reporting transparently about what’s happening in the business. If people don’t feel safe giving bad news to leadership, they’ll withhold key information that could affect business outcomes. Ask peer-level interviewers how bad news is communicated, both up and down the chain, and pay close attention to any signs that only good news is welcome. If employee concerns or potential risks and challenges are met with resistance from managers, beware.
4. Is employee growth a priority?
In an increasingly competitive workforce, professional development should be an ongoing priority. While you yourself should expect to take charge of your overall professional development plan, it’s important to understand how the company can support career growth.
Great company cultures promote professional development. The best take the time to develop career ladders for workers, providing training along the way, and promoting workers who demonstrate defined capabilities based on proficiency criteria.
While you don’t want to appear hyperfocused on when you’ll get your next raise and promotion, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask about growth opportunities in the business. Listen for real, recent examples of workers being promoted and try to get a feel for how management approaches employee training and development.
Early in my career, I asked an interviewer about growth opportunities in the company, and he answered, “Well, I’m not planning on retiring anytime soon.” I passed on that opportunity and never looked back.
Helping people develop their careers has always been the most rewarding part of management for me, and every time I hire, I’m thinking about that person’s growth path and how they might take on more responsibility as the company grows and their skills develop.
Even in relatively cash-strapped startups that lacked the resources for formal training programs, I’ve made an effort to develop promotion ladders and paths to advancement for workers on my teams. Top performers moved into management or higher-level, individual-contributor positions. Or they were promoted out of my department to roles that met their ambitions and abilities. So as a hiring manager, I’m always happy to talk to prospects about their ambitions and growth goals.
If you see any signs of discomfort from your interviewing manager or get the impression that there’s nowhere to go from the role you’re being hired into, pause and examine that further. In a great culture, your growth is a priority from day one.