What Do Company Values Really Say?
You can learn a lot about a company by examining what they say is important to them and whether they emphasize it during your interviews.
Over my career, I have sat through many sessions where a group of people have been tasked by the new leader to generate new and improved company values. For most companies, this is a painful process. Interestingly, no one ever talks about what the company values actually reveal to a candidate during hiring. Allow me to elaborate.
I'm going to start with the most common values mistakes that step on my nerves.
- Values are aspirational and/or do not actually represent the organization
- Values are not authentic to the fabric of the company
- Values are not defined (ask three people to define a value and receive three different answers)
- No one knows the values (ask three people and get zero answers)
- Executives wrote the values (sorry, not sorry!)
So, what's the best way to navigate this mine field when interviewing?
You must research and ask open-ended questions, my friend. First, carefully analyze the company's website, looking for mentions and nods to the company's values. You'd be surprised how many companies do not reference or mention the values online at all.
Then, when taking a call from the recruiter, does he/she explicitly explain why it's great to work there? Are the company values mentioned during that conversation? Same for the hiring manager - if employees subscribe to the company's values and the values are being reinforced, then the values will come up during these discussions. Is there a culture interview, where you are asked questions directly aligned to the company's values to see whether you are a match?
Next, as a candidate, you should ask your hiring manager and the recruiter questions like these:
- Are your company values aspirational?
- Which of the company's values do you feel most strongly connected to and why?
- When you accepted a role here, how were the company values explained to you?
- Who wrote the values for this organization?
The best company values are written, in part, by the people who are expected to demonstrate them - the employees of the company! They know better than anyone else what is valued on a daily basis, which brings me to my final piece of advice. Reach out to existing employees via LinkedIn and ask them whether they like working there and if their workgroup upholds the company's values.
To close with my own experience working at Acquisition.com, I'm proud to say that our values (sincere candor, competitive greatness, and unimpeachable character) serve as a filter for all our major decisions, as well as our day-to-day actions. They are embedded into nearly every discussion and we teach each candidate about them during the culture interview.
The next time you're interviewing somewhere, don't be so quick to dismiss the company values during the hiring process. Use them to evaluate that company's culture, so you can avoid crappy companies.