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Company Culture: set and reinforced through interviews

company culture

Company Culture: know where you are going

Where does company culture start?

Many people feel that company culture begins on the new employees first day. I say it starts with the job description and first interview.  Interviewing for a job is a lot like buying a car. A necessary evil. No one really likes the process but everyone has to go through it. We usually end up sharing the experience with all our friends.

I think that a lot of the companies take the interviewing process for granted and this hurts the company culture.  Companies might think they take it seriously but at the end of the day, they bring the candidate in, put them in front of a few employees, maybe a director or VP and make a decision. Some companies can hire someone in as few as 2 interviews and a single afternoon. Some take it a few steps further and hold interview training, but most companies will do the bare minimum and just review the illegal questions.  As often as we are asked illegal questions during an interview, I sometimes wonder what our HR colleagues are doing at other companies.  No wonder so many employees are down on HR. The fact that there are so many posts and articles addressing illegal interview questions tells you something. My obligatory opinion why you should answer illegal interview questions here.  

When we interview, candidates go through multiple interviews and with multiple visits.  We have them talk with folks with more experience than them, less experience, with someone in their discipline and someone from outside of their discipline. Execs have the same interview loop. We want to give candidates the best possible view of our company so they can make the most informed decision. We want as many looks from different angles as we possibly can have without making the process painful. We are also pretty confident that the more people candidates talk with, the more they will want to work with us. Answers to candidates questions will be consistent and reinforce company culture. We set expectations with the candidate about the interview process, what to expect and most importantly why very early in the process. We invest heavily in the interview process, but we feel that it pays off in a lower turnover.

So, what can the interview process do for a company beyond vet candidates?  I think that the interview process is one of the most important processes there are in a company and one with the least investment. Companies spend a ton of money on sales training, and extracurricular technical classes can run $10K per person, but how many of us have had “interview training”?

From the moment a candidate sees the job listing, talks with the recruiter over the phone, come in for interviews and are declined or receive an offer, a very lasting impression will be formed not of the recruiter, but of the company culture. Candidates are potential customers, vendors, and potential FUTURE candidates and employees. They can act as referrals and will be an evangelist regardless the outcome. We have all shared our car buying stories, and we have all shared our interview stories when we went through our last interview loop.

The Job Description

When I create a job listing, I want it to set a tone, attract the right candidates and more importantly weed out the wrong candidates. There are too many listings that just list out a generic description with nondescript bullet points that can be cut and paste into any position. We have used bullets like:

  • Office Manager: You are resourceful enough to find us a Fridge by Friday with 100.00 cash
  • Product Manager: “can’t”, “won’t happen”, and blank stares are not part of your verbal or body language
  • Tester:  You are OCD-ish attention to detail and innate ability to find something wrong with ANYTHING while bringing it up about it in a positive way
  • We mention Elvis in every listing (just because)

We are trying to set a tone, set ourselves apart, and weed out anyone that doesn’t relate. We do this because we value our company culture and don’t want to put it at risk. We WANT to scare off the wrong candidate because we aren’t for everyone, and no company is.  We want the candidate excited about working with a company that “isn’t their fathers”. We want that feeling from the moment they read our job posting.

Our company culture is that of a startup.  Folks are heads down, headphones on, and there is always collaboration at the whiteboards. Our desks are small, our chairs don’t match, but candidates continually say “I can feel the energy in this place”. We take a Zen approach.  We sell our strengths and don’t focus on our weaknesses.  We are looking for folks who will go to bat for each other like brothers fighting in a trench.

Before someone comes into the office for an interview, we set expectations.  We let folks know we have a collaborative environment. The small desks have no partitions or “privacy screens”. My neighbor’s paperwork and the coffee cup is occasionally on my desk (and that is OK, we both take cream and sugar). We let folks know up front, this isn’t for everyone, but we also let them know, it is easy to collaborate, communication is fast and we get stuff done. Agile, release every week.  Nuff’ said.

We aren’t looking for someone who needs a big office. Getting stuff done with weekly releases means more hours per week worked, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.  Yes, we do have plenty of folks over 35 and plenty of folks that are married with kids (plural). We are located in the dead center of some of the largest internet companies in the world.  AMZN is literally a stone throw away). We are a David amongst Goliaths. We don’t sell size, we sell speed. We don’t sell catered lunches, we sell an underdog spirit. If I were in Corporate America, I would be selling a different elixir. This band of Davids is proud of what we do, and more importantly how we do it.

When I introduce a candidate to someone on the team, I say something like “this is Tommy, he comes from xyz company where he managed 20 folks and was responsible for over $20M in revenue. He just closed (Insert Fortune 500 Company here)”.  “This is Bill, he just saved us $40K in AWS costs. Every person that gets an introduction to a candidate will get some serious props for both past and present accomplishments. Candidates hear greatness from team members about team members. As much as we are interviewing a candidate, we are also selling an opportunity. We are not only recognizing our team, but we want the candidate to know that we hire seriously and they better bring their A game. We are not only reinforcing our company culture to our team, we are setting the culture bar for anyone coming in.

Our ultimate goal

Our goal is to send the candidate home excited about an opportunity to work with us. If they are overqualified, underqualified or a stellar candidate, I want them stoked, anxious, and hungry for an opportunity to be part of this company culture.  This isn’t a J.O.B, this is a lifestyle. If it isn’t the right opportunity now, there may be another one in the future.   If not for themselves then for a friend they will refer.

Yes, I am a used car salesman, but I am proud of this used car and it deserves the best frickin’ driver and a bad ass pit crew on the track

As you go through your interviews, pay attention to the process. When I go out to a restaurant, if the bathrooms are dirty, then the kitchen is probably worse. If your interview process isn’t enjoyable, then question the way the company is run, how they treat the team and do you really want to spend 55 hours a week there. You don’t have to be a large company to have this process down, you just need to pay attention to the details.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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