How To Determine During Your Interview If a Company Lives Their Values
December 13, 2021

How To Determine During Your Interview If a Company Lives Their Values

by Brian de Haaff

"How can I identify companies built on the values you discuss in Lovability?" I am always honored when people come to me with questions like this. (And not just because it means they enjoyed our book.) The obvious answer is: You can examine how job descriptions are written, see what a company says on their website, and look at what people post on LinkedIn for clues. But the question spotlights a broader dilemma.

Espoused values should guide how an organization acts. But how do you know if those values are actually lived out in practice unless you work there?

Company value statements signal team dynamics, relationships with customers, and responsibilities to the larger community. Our core values at Aha! include integrity, ambition, effort, skill, team spirit, and learning. And we know that the hiring process is a way to demonstrate how we embody those traits. Candidates usually meet with four people (including me) because we want folks to get different perspectives on what it is like to work at Aha! — and also to explore whether our values align with their own.

Value alignment requires deep personal questioning. You have to know yourself well to assess what others hold as sacrosanct.

Not all companies have a series of interviews like we do at Aha! — even if they do, it can be difficult to get at the essence of what makes a company special when you have other topics to cover. You want to understand the details of the role you are applying for and they want to understand how qualified you are to do that work.

Having interviewed hundreds of people in the last few years, I have spoken with a few folks who were able to do both. A lot of it had to do with self-awareness and focused preparation. If you are currently searching for a new opportunity, here is what I suggest:

Take time for introspection

We all have morals and corresponding principles that guide how we act. What brings meaning to your life? What do you want to achieve with your career? If you have not already taken time to identify your own core values, preparing for a job search is a good time to do so. Pay special attention to words that could apply to your professional work — such as integrity, creativity, achievement, or loyalty. Then write a few sentences that reflect how you would like to put each value into action and how you would hope the company you work for would too.

Spotlight shared values

Now you have a sense of how you want to live out your values at work. You should be better able to evaluate whether a company actually lives its values. Look at their website and read any blog posts. See how they write about themselves beyond the official corporate value statement. Look for congruence between the ideal stated and the actual experience. For example, if learning is one of your shared core values — see if the company offers formal onboarding programs, ongoing education, or mentorship opportunities.

Interview with intention

A job interview goes both ways. You are probing to see if you will be able to contribute meaningfully and enjoy your work, just as much as the prospective employer is. And they likely have prepared a series of questions in advance to reveal if there is a match. So you should do the same, using your values as a guide for where to focus. The answers will uncover an insight about the role you are applying for and the nature of the broader team as well.

Here are a few open-ended questions you can add to your list:

  • Can you give me an example of a time someone challenged a decision made by leadership? What happened?

  • What is the most rewarded behavior? What is never tolerated?

  • What makes you proud to work at this company?

  • How and when do people give each other feedback?

  • What are some of the ways you celebrate success?

Observe the process

Pay attention during your interview. This is when the company's behavior and values are on display. Companies should be at their best during this process — they are eager to hire good people. So take note of their approach, how they communicate, and how quickly they follow up. These are strong indicators of how they work and what you should expect if you join their team. It can be hard to fully observe when you are part of the experience, but these details help suggest how the company truly operates.

Reflect in real time

Our memories are subjective. And you have a lot to cover during your interview. Take notes, but keep it simple — you do not want to appear distracted. Jot down the words and phrases your interviewer uses that are related to company values and culture. Afterward, scan to see how many relate positively or negatively against the action sentences you wrote earlier. Give the company a score for each value. Standouts (good or bad) might be worth more attention, either in the next round of interviews or in a follow-up email.

Living out our values does not typically happen in grand gestures. Instead it is in how we act on a daily basis — the small decisions that make the entirety of our existence.

You do not want to accept an offer only to realize a few weeks in that your new job is a mismatch. So you have an obligation to yourself to identify what matters most to you. Research what a company says matters most to them and then use your interview to see if the two mesh.

We all deserve to live an authentic life. And working alongside a team of people who are committed to a shared set of values is part of finding sustainable happiness.

What company values matter to you most and why?

Our team is happy, productive, and hiring — join us!

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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