Culture check

Happy days are here again. Or, so it would seem according to the latest jobs and unemployment news. The economy added nearly a quarter of a million new jobs and unemployment levels dipped to 8.3 percent.

I know lots of small and midsized PR firms are hiring, but I doubt the big guys are (as I noted in last week's blog).

We're looking to fill any number of slots in financial services, social media and general PR. But, as our culture has evolved, we're being extra careful to make sure we don't:

– Make an offer to the social media prima donna who, no matter how gifted, believes she is the only one who understands the medium and refuses to play nice with others.
– Hire that really nice guy who seems to be everyone's best friend, constantly pats you on the back, praises everyone and everything, but ends up contributing next to nothing to the work product.
– Employ an erstwhile holding company middle manager who, halfway through her first week, storms into our president's office and demands to know where the research department is located (er, ah, you are the research department).

I undertake my own culture check with prospective senior level hires. By the time they get to me (and are about to be interviewed by Ed), I know their work ethic and accomplishments have been fully vetted. So, rather than ask the asinine, 'Where do you see yourself in five years' or 'How would others describe your management style' questions I probe, instead, to see how seriously they take themselves.


We have a very informal culture that is driven by our insistence that every employee be trained in stand-up comedy. We don't do it to torture them but, rather, to help them improve their presentation and listening skills as well as enhance overall morale. And, it's worked so well that we now provide it as a service offering to clients.

But, back to my culture check. As I'm wrapping up my interview, I'll lean forward and suggest a few tips that will help the candidate with her upcoming interview with Ed. These include:

– Alerting the candidate that, since Ed has lost all of his hearing in his left ear, they'd be wise to sit on his right side and shout their questions and answers.
– Alerting the candidate that Ed worked his way through college as a professional foot model and, if it's summer and Ed's rocking a pair of mandals, they should be sure to compliment his shapely ankles.
– Alerting the candidate that Ed means it when he says he expects our senior executives to roll up their sleeves and do many of the same tasks performed by junior staff. I mention that Ed's incredible work ethic is a direct result of having labored as a coal miner in West Virginia for several years. That one almost always elicits the following response. 'Really? That is so inspirational.'

Anyway, the candidates are quickly told by Ed that they've been set up by me and shouldn't take anything I say seriously. We can often judge how well a candidate will fit in by their reaction to our playfulness. Most take it in stride. Some don't care for it. But, a few get a huge kick out of it and, if everything else is equal, the latter person will be offered the job.

So, what's your firm's culture check? How do you determine if a prospect will fit in? And, for those of you on the job search circuit as we speak, what sort of culture checks have you been subjected to? I'm always looking for fresh material.

6 thoughts on “Culture check

  1. Although I don’t want a job interview with Peppercom, I’d really love to participate in group stand-up comedy. Please let me know if someone drops out. And if you’re thinking that surely I can’t be serious, don’t call me Shirley.

  2. Thanks Julie. The business world would indeed be a better place if it wasn’t populated by so many self-important people like the one you describe.

  3. I find that during the interview process deciding if the prospective candidate can handle a humorous office culture to be the key to getting hired. My agency recently started the hiring process and found that more than a person’s resume, the “make it or break it” characteristic is the prospect’s character. The final step on our hiring process is a large group interview (we’re a boutique pr agency) and while it can be intimidating, the reasoning is to see if the candidate’s personality will match the office’s. If the candidate isn’t laughing along with jokes, or at least smiling, one gets the idea that perhaps a relationship will not work out.
    For instance during my interview, I was asked who my favorite fictional character is. Someone jokingly mentioned baby jesus (obviously an inside office joke)and everyone laughed for a few minutes. Not wanting to miss out, I proceeded to join in on the fun. I was hired a few hours later.

  4. RepMan – I LOVE that you encourage stand-up comedy training for all your employees. I wish more companies would do that. In fact, I wish more companies would employ humor in the hiring process.
    I’ve been “interviewed” by HR “professionals” who barely looked up from their script of insulting (yes — insulting) questions, which they rattled off in machine gun style.
    One Nast-y company I went to actually asked me if I knew the different between B2B and B2C, and then threatened me when I wouldn’t divulge my current salary. Needless to say, a sense of humor could have been used here, but I decided to terminate the “meeting” and walked out.