Career Advice

4 Virtual Interview Tips That’ll Give You a Real Sense of a Company’s Culture

Mary Grace Garis

Mary Grace GarisJune 18, 2020

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Photo: Getty Images/Oscar Wong

For those who are on the hunt for a new job in the time of coronavirus, the search probably looks and feels quite different than ever before: Since the application process doesn’t have much by way of an IRL component in the age of social distancing, getting a sense of a company’s culture (and whether it’s healthy or toxic), can be tough to glean. But, making use of certain virtual interview tips can help you make sure you’re effectively learning about a company so you can know whether you’d even want to accept any potential job offer.

So after dusting off your most professional shirt so you look business-ready from the waist-up, go through the following checklist of virtual interview tips. They’ll give you a sense of whether a job you’re applying for has a legitimately healthy work culture.

4 virtual interview tips that’ll help you get a sense of a company’s culture

1. Always insist on the Zoom interview over phone

“I can’t emphasize this enough,” says career coach Erin Hatzikostas. “If they’ve offered a video interview, that’s great. But if they haven’t, I suggest requesting one. It’s so much easier to have a deeper conversation and connection if you’re looking at each other’s faces and not your cell phone black hole.”

“If you can tell they’re multi-tasking or overly stressed, that can be a red flag that the company might not be a good fit—unless you love lots of stress and people who don’t take the time to listen to you.” —career coach Erin Hatzikostas

So much of communication happens without words, so recognizing body-language cues on video chat is at least something you can work with. “If they’re attentive to your questions and responses, that shows that there’s a culture of listening,” says Hatzikostas. “If you can tell they’re multi-tasking or overly stressed, that can be a red flag that the company might not be a good fit—unless you love lots of stress and people who don’t take the time to listen to you.”

2. Know what your 5 core workplace values are beforehand

Some work cultures that would be horrible for one person would be a space to thrive for another. By identifying your core work values, you’ll be able to distinguish this.

To learn your core values, you can take quizzes online (like this one) to get an idea of what matters most to you in a job. Is that stability and security; autonomy, independence and freedom; respect and recognition in being valued; or something else entirely? Being able to identify whatever values you have will help you know which questions to ask in your virtual interview.

3. Do your homework pre-and-post-interview

“Check out key leaders on LinkedIn,” Hatzikostas says. “What do they share? What are the values that are most important to them? Are they authentic, or do they simply go through the motions?”

You might also want to have mini, informal interviews with friends or other people in your network who are have connections with the company, and ask their thoughts and feedback. “LinkedIn is also a great place to find people that are connected to the company or the people you’re interviewing with,” Hatzikostas says. “Ask them things like, ‘What do you like about the person or company?’ or ‘What should you watch out for?'”

4. Ask thoughtful, open-ended questions

The best way to get a feel for a company’s work culture via a virtual interview alone is asking the right questions. “One of my favorite aspects of my leadership coaching is teaching new managers how to cherry-pick the best applicants,” says Carrie Skowronski, leadership coach. “Any good interviewer knows this is a mutual test drive, which means you should feel free to ask thoughtful questions to get a sense of how they feel about their workplace.”

Plus, if you stick to simple yes-or-no questions, you’re likely to get a yes-or-no answer. And let’s face it, your interviewer isn’t likely to share their direct thoughts on their workplace being toxic, even if it is. So by being clever and inquisitive, you’ll get hints as to whether the place actually shines or you’re really just seeing a radioactive glow.

“For example, you can ask, ‘How many people on the leadership team were promoted from within?’ if you want to understand their culture for investing in their own talent,” says Hatzikostas. “Or you can ask, ‘What one thing is best about your company culture? And what one thing is a challenge I should be ready for?'”

Beyond that, Skowronski breaks down important questions to ask that can give you a sense of what the company’s office climate is like.

The basics

While these questions may come up organically and are (ideally) addressed with specificity in the original job posting, it’s really easy to not be transparent. Asking these questions give you the outline of the role, while cross-checking if the company was upfront in their job listing.

  • Is the role full-time or part-time?
  • What is the compensation structure? Hourly or salary? Is there bonus potential?
  • What is the dress code?
  • What are the typical business hours?

The day-to-day

Now we have questions that address what the average workday looks like. These questions can also dip into how co-workers interact and support each other.

  • Who would be my most important partners? (“This provides great insight into whether you’re working in a silo or collaboratively with other team members and departments,” Skowronski says.)
  • What is the decision-making process like here?
  • How do people spend their lunch break?
  • How do you celebrate successes?
  • What is the most important way I would be expected to add value?
  • Now that we are all working virtually, how do you onboard your new hires to make sure they are set up for success?

The company culture

The following essential questions showcase how the company works as a collective.

  • What is your favorite thing about working here?
  • What are the company’s mission and values? (These might be on their website, so do your homework.)
  • How do you see those values play out at work every day?
  • When you’re looking for the right culture fit, what’s the most important characteristic you’re looking for?
  • If there were one thing you could change/improve about the culture, what would it be?

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