Many companies claim to have “core values” which are supposed to guide their decisions, but it can be hard to tell what those values are, how well they match your own, and if they are actually reflected in the company’s behaviors and actions.
This post will help you analyze a potential employer both before and after you apply, so you can decide whether the organization will honor your values before you start working there.
Look at Their Media
The obvious first step when researching a company’s values is to start with their mission statement or “purpose statement.” This is generally found in the “About Us" section of the company's website.
A strong mission statement will not only define the company’s values but also provide examples of how those values guide their decisions - from offering employee benefits to how they build their products.
It’s also worth scrutinizing a company’s social media posts, press releases, and other forms of advertising. Try to determine how well these align with the company’s stated mission and values. Do their social media posts reflect the stated mission and values? Why or why not?
Lotte van Rijswijk
Most company ‘Careers’ pages will tell you what great benefits and perks there are for employees. If a company has strong values, theft should reflect in the way that they treat their workforce.
This is a good way to get started, but always remember that these posts you’re reading are marketing. Their job is to make sure the company looks good. This step is about learning what a potential employer claims their values are. The next steps are about ensuring they live up to those values.
Identify Hollow Values
Imagine looking at a company website and seeing the following values listed:
Communication. Respect. Integrity. Excellence.
Those sound pretty good, seems like a place worth working at, right?
Except those corporate values came from the 2000 annual report of Enron, a company now best known as a vehicle of fraud and corruption. Those values were just hollow words, clearly meaningless in the way the company actually behaved.
Enron’s an extreme case, but they’re not the only company to have hollow values. For example, many younger companies make a big deal out of valuing “wellness and well-being” but will not offer comprehensive healthcare to their employees - or they’ll insist on coming into the office despite known COVID risks.
For larger companies, it’s worth checking news headlines for any recent reports on them. (You’re not looking for press releases from the company itself, you’re looking for independent reporting from journalists and business publications.) Try searching the company on Google, then clicking the “news” tab to see this.
But just because a company’s behaviors don’t make the news, doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.
Consider People Who Already Work There
The people with the best sense of whether a company lives up to its values are the people who have already worked there. Websites like Glassdoor and Indeed offer opportunities for former and current employees to provide feedback on their workplaces, and there are also similar sites like FairyGodBoss which cater to specific demographics.
As you read through these reviews, think about your own values. Does it sound like this workplace would honor them?
Beware of the “Yelp effect” - where self-reported surveys tend to skew negative because unsatisfied people are more likely to write reviews than satisfied ones. But if you see patterns, like multiple reviews complaining about the same behavior, that’s probably worth considering.
The best way to learn about how a workplace runs is to actually talk to people. Search LinkedIn or your network connections for current or former employees of the company or department you’re considering. Use our guide to introduction messages, and reach out to them.
When you’re talking with these connections, bring up your values specifically, and ask if their experience made them believe those values would be respected. Always be grateful for the insight, and accept it if you walk away knowing that you and the company might not be a fit.
Just Ask Them
If you’re called in for an interview, there are ways to ask about your values using the same behavioral interviewing techniques they’re likely to use on you. Remember, a job interview is just as much for you to see if a company fits you as it is for them to see if you fit the company.
Remember the results of your values inventory - pick those three to six values and develop open-ended questions that reveal their take on those values.
You’re not trying to be direct like I value _____, can you give an example of _____ here? Instead, you’re trying to ask questions that get the interviewer to reveal information about the company that you can compare to your own values. (Again, this is the same tactic they’re likely to use on you.)
Here are some examples. Pick one or two that fit your situation, and try to develop one or two more on your own.
Who has done well in this role or similar roles before? What made them such a top performer? Who hasn’t performed as well and why/how so?
What qualities do you consider promotable here? Who is someone around my level that’s been recently promoted? What qualities did they show?
What behaviors are not tolerated here? What’s a situation when these were violated?
Describe the culture here. Can you share a time when you were surprised by the company culture?
Can you give an example of conflict here related to strategy or direction? What led to the conflict? How was it resolved?
When you were interviewing here, what do you wish you’d known? What did you learn that was helpful in doing well here?
As a bonus, interviewees who ask good questions tend to stick out in employers’ memories. So these questions may increase your odds of getting hired.
If you get the opportunity, try asking these questions to multiple people. That way you can gather different perspectives, compare responses, and look for patterns.
Finally, rate the responses. Look back at your list of values and for each one, rank how well you thought the value was represented in your interview on a scale of 1-5. If all or most of your values rank highly, then you might have a good value fit.