Culture Talk: Attracting Candidates

Navigate authentic company culture discussions in candidate phone screens.

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Oct 31, 2023
This article is part of a series called Crafting Culture: The Art of Candid Conversations in Sourcing.

Welcome to the first part of a four-part series, where I provide sourcers with strategies to navigate candid conversations about company culture. From tailoring pitches to handling Glassdoor reviews and addressing salary concerns, I focus on ensuring genuine and empowering interactions with potential candidates. In this segment, I concentrate on culture at the top-of-the-funnel phase in the recruiting process. Communicating your company culture effectively goes beyond attracting candidates; it’s about finding the right overall match. Whether you’re working at an innovative startup or a well-known industry leader, authentically articulating your cultural essence is paramount.

The Significance of Company Culture

Understanding a company’s culture is vital in the recruitment process. It provides insight into the workplace environment, helping candidates make informed decisions. The company culture can be a magnetic superpower for sourcers and recruiters who can speak about it freely. It attracts people who want to join and stay with your company and can send people in the other direction for those who don’t appreciate it. Then why don’t we, as sourcers and recruiters, bring it up first on the call rather than wait for the candidate to ask about the culture instead?

There can be quite a few reasons for this. Many don’t know how to bring it in a natural, organic way into the conversation. Some prefer to avoid their company culture and hope it doesn’t come up on the call. Others fear that if they bring up culture, it could scare away that ideal candidate. All these things are something that I hope to help you overcome your “culture shock block” and use your company’s culture as a valid tool in your recruiter’s arsenal.

Identifying Key Aspects: What to Highlight

Before we get started on the how and when, let’s talk about the what. What is your company culture? The good news is that you don’t have to define the whole company culture on a call. You only have to identify the part you like the most and speak to that as authentically as you can. Also, please note that I won’t use the word culture at all when I speak to the candidate. That is by design. The reason is that culture encompasses every aspect of your company. You will be giving a small glimpse into one aspect of that culture with the hope that your candidate will also appreciate it and want to learn more about that or other aspects that are also important to your company but also to their needs as they do their search.

For instance, you can highlight a core value that guides your company’s ethos and the steps it has taken to ensure it is thriving in the workplace or discuss the collaborative nature of your team members, emphasizing the importance of teamwork and mutual support. Another example could be the overall mission and how it impacts the community through activities or donations to local organizations the company supports. The list goes on, depending on the company you represent and, of course, on you. So take a few minutes and list the things you like most about where you work, and be ready to identify one or two things that excite you to share your company with candidates.

Timing Matters: When to Discuss Culture

Now, let’s talk about the when. When do you want to bring up this incredible part of your company? Do you wait until the end? Do you do it somewhere in the middle? Do you insert it into your regular pitch? The answer, my fellow recruiters, is right up front. After you finish wrapping up your rapport building, talking about how awesome a weekend your candidate had or big looming holiday plans they are excited about, this is when you bring in the culture. You do it now because you’re already establishing a welcoming environment by getting to know your candidate a little, and now it’s time to share what you like most about your work to keep the conversation flowing.

Effective Communication: How to Discuss Culture

How do you bring it up and talk about it? The answer may shock you, but it’s very simple. I bring it up by saying,

“Well, candidate, we can talk about your amazing holiday plans all day, but we do have a role to talk about. Before we get started on the call, though, I want to talk about two topics. The first is our office situation (talk about your remote/work-from-home/in-office/flexibility). Is that something that you are comfortable with and willing to do if you get hired?”

Bring this up because whether you like it or not, this is a massive part of your culture and needs to be discussed as this is the topic du jour. Nothing is more wasteful of your time than speaking with a candidate who only wants one specific work environment, and you can’t provide it. As for the second topic, that is where your favorite part of the culture comes into play.

“The second topic I wanted to cover is (insert your favorite aspect of the culture here). It’s a huge part of our culture, and it’s not just something we talk about. It’s something we actively participate in. Some of the things we do in regards to (your favorite part of the culture) are (events/activities/habits/etc.). Do you have any questions or comments before we continue the call?”

If you’ve done your homework, you won’t be awkwardly interjecting; you’ll be authentically sharing, and your candidate will be able to feel that. Nothing is more attractive to a candidate about a company’s culture than someone sharing their personal experience and anecdotes about what they like most about working there. It can lead to questions for you to speak more about your chosen topic or open up the discussion to cultural aspects that are important to the candidate.

Handling Mismatched Expectations: A Positive Approach

Conversely, what happens if the candidate doesn’t align with what you shared? Good news! They probably aren’t a fit, and you identified it early on the call. I’ve had candidates share that they don’t like the particular thing I really appreciate about the company, and I tell them, “Candidate, while I’ve enjoyed this conversation, this role just doesn’t seem like the best fit. Would you agree?” They will agree, and then you can end the call and get back the rest of your time to find the next candidate who wants to be a part of your company. I’ve seen this happen the most when I speak to a startup’s fast-paced/collaborative culture of “fail fast” and entrepreneurial growth, and some people don’t align with that, which is okay. It’s better to learn it now than three months after they’ve been hired and have decided to leave the company because they don’t feel they add anything to the culture.

The Impact of a Good Cultural Conversation

With the what, how, and when knocked out, let’s talk about why discussing company culture upfront offers numerous advantages. It aligns candidates with the organization’s values, ensuring a harmonious work relationship. It also aids in identifying candidates genuinely interested in the company’s ethos, leading to higher job satisfaction and reduced turnover rates. We, as recruiters, want to find people who will add to and enhance the culture the company strives to promote.

You’ll begin to notice that candidates excited about your culture will be more engaged in interviews, provide better answers to questions, and show up better overall because they want to be a part of the company that promotes those cultural aspects that they want to be an addition to and not just look for the next job.

People who resonate with your culture will not only be happier at the new role you helped place them in, but they can also provide new ideas that your current team members haven’t come up with or align and spearhead current initiatives that the team hasn’t had the opportunity to pursue. They will stay longer, be more productive, be more engaged, and ultimately, be a positive addition to the team. Selfishly, isn’t that all we want from everyone we place in every role? Yes. The answer should be yes.

Stay tuned for Part Two of the series, where I’ll continue to explore the art of candid conversations at the top of the funnel, ensuring your recruitment process is as authentic as it is effective. 

This article is part of a series called Crafting Culture: The Art of Candid Conversations in Sourcing.
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