By Nina Berman on May 17th, 2021
Workplace Culture Green Flags: Positive Signs You Can Spot in an Interview
As you apply to jobs and interview for them, there are plenty of red flags that can let you know that a workplace isn’t healthy. I can start with just the ones I have personally experienced.
During interview processes, I’ve seen interviewers spend the whole meeting complaining about what a mess their gallery is, interviewers forgetting to confirm appointments, interviewers sending an offer letter and then rescinding it because of internal power struggles. All of these things not only made for a bad interview experience, they showed me something about the office culture that I would have theoretically been exposed to if I had taken the jobs. In these interview interactions, I saw workplaces that were unhappy, overly stressed, and rife with internal conflict and miscommunication.
But what about the opposite? How can you tell during an interview process if a workplace is going to be healthy for you; a place where you can thrive and then also have enough space to live the rest of your life?
Here are some green flags to keep an eye out for in the interview process:
Salary Posted in the Job Listing
If a workplace posts the salary in the job listing before you ever even interview, it’s a good sign. For one thing, it shows that they don’t want to waste your time applying for a job that won’t pay you the amount of money you are looking to earn. If you as an applicant are applying for a managerial position only to find out in the final interview stage that it only pays $45,000 per year, you might have just wasted a lot of time applying for a job that pays too little to be worth your time.
Posting salaries is also tied to increasing pay equity. The wage gap is an effect of racism and sexism and one way to close that gap is to make salaries more public. Not posting salaries requires that workers guess what a job will pay and negotiate accordingly. Requiring this kind of guesswork and negotiating favors white and male applicants over everyone else. If a workplace publishes their salaries, it’s an indicator that they are perhaps thinking about how to increase pay equity and pay transparency in their own workplace and in their sector.
When jobs hide salaries or just say that they are “competitive,” you as an applicant are stuck not knowing what competitive means. And, often, it’s a number so low that they are embarrassed to share it publicly.
Posting salaries or salary ranges in job descriptions is respectful of applicants’ time and shows that a workplace understands that pay transparency is part of building a more equitable workplace.
Clear Steps for the Interview Process
A hiring process that has clear steps for you as an applicant can indicate a general overall thoughtfulness about organizational design. This might mean a workplace explicitly stating the deadline for applications, when applicants should expect to hear about a first interview, what the next steps are throughout the interview process, and when an applicant should expect to be notified if they made the cut. And, like listing the salary in the job description, clarifying the interview process steps demonstrates that the job is considering how the process looks and feels for the applicant. It helps everyone know what to expect and what timeline you are all working on.
Without a clear sense of what the interview process will look like, it can feel like you are throwing applications into the void and going to interviews only to get ghosted afterwards.
The first example I ever saw of a hiring team being extremely up-front about what the hiring process would look like is Hearken.
Interview Process is Directly Related to the Position
Sometimes interview processes require you to do a number of tasks or answer questions that don’t have anything to do with what you are being hired for. A green flag during an interview is when you can tell that what they are asking you about and what you are being asked to do is directly related to the job that you are applying for.
If you are applying for a job as a coder, you should expect that the application and interview process will test your ability to code and to work with a team of coders. If you are applying for a writing-intensive job, it’s a good sign if you are asked to submit writing samples based on the kind of specific writing you are applying to do.
When the interview process is directly connected to the job that you’re being hired for, it shows that the hiring team is thoughtful about testing for the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to do the job. They are setting you up for success if you get hired and also setting themselves up to hire someone who really can do what they need someone to do.
Interview Process Includes Non-Senior Staff
When interview processes include people at multiple levels of an organization or a company, it’s a good sign. These people could be the people who will be getting a new manager or a new peer worker on their team. This practice is a good sign for you as an applicant in a few ways.
First, including non-senior staff in the interview process shows that a workplace values the input of people who aren’t just at the very top of the hierarchy or the org chart.
Including staff at multiple levels can show that a workplace cares about hiring someone who will fit in well with a wider team, not just succeed in their own little quadrant. It shows that they are thinking about culture fit as well as skill fit. It also demonstrates that a workplace isn’t afraid to let you talk to people who are working there for fear that they’ll let something slip about a bad company culture.
Fractured Atlas Program Operations Coordinator Colleen Hughes always makes it a point to ask her interviewer their favorite and least favorite parts about working at the company or organization.
She does this to get an inside look at the workplace, but also to get a sense of the workplace culture. If an interviewer is able to articulate some challenges about a workplace in a well-thought out, constructive way, it shows that the work culture is a healthy and reflective one. It demonstrates that they have cultivated enough psychological safety for people to talk openly about challenges of a workplace without fear of retribution.
If an interviewer isn’t able to tell you a negative aspect of a workplace, it can show that there isn’t enough honesty or trust to speak openly at that job. If, on the other hand, the interviewer piles on every little frustration when asked and turns the interview into a place for them to vent, it can show you signs of a toxic workplace.
Overall, a healthy, honest conversation about the real challenges at a workplace can be a good sign.
The Workplace is Changing
As you interview for a position with an organization or a company, you want to see that it is changing. It doesn’t have to be a huge upheaval or a constant maelstrom of new ideas and new strategies, but you don’t want to see a place that’s stagnant.
If they are just looking to hire someone to be the “new [insert name here],” they aren’t really thinking about their ongoing needs and goals and the ongoing needs and goals of their community. It’s also an indicator that they might not do a great job at recognizing the unique perspectives and skill sets of their individual workers.
It’s a good sign if they are thinking about how to use a hiring process to do what they do in a more ethical, efficient, or sustainable way. That might include shifting around teams, changing a role’s responsibilities, or experimenting with new programs or products.
If a workplace is able to articulate or demonstrate some of the ways that it’s hoping to change, you can see that they are flexible and creative about what they do and how to do it better in a changing world. It indicates an experimental and strategic mindset, even though change is hard.
Acknowledgement That People Don’t Stay in Jobs Forever
In so many ways, it was a revelation to me to start working somewhere where people talk openly about something that we all know to be true about jobs. Individuals and institutions like jobs will intersect for a time and then eventually the paths will diverge. People don’t stay in jobs forever and when we leave jobs, it doesn’t have to be a tragedy or a betrayal. We can do great work at a job and then leave and go do great work elsewhere.
In an interview process, you’re likely going to be talking about why you are looking for a new job or hearing about why a current position is vacant or available. It’s a good sign if you get the sense from your interviewer that the workplace understands that the relationship between employer and employee is a temporary exchange of skills for money and that when that exchange ends, it’s okay. It shows that there is open and honest communication at the workplace and that they respect the boundaries between work and life, including the emotional commitment you are expected to make to your workplace.
High turnover can be a sign that a workplace burns through folks and low turnover can show that people might be stuck. It’s not a great sign if either everybody is leaving or nobody is leaving. It’s best when a workplace culture understands that jobs are not forever.
No Workplace is Either Perfect or Irredeemable
No workplace is perfect. Everywhere you might work has flaws, challenges, and frustrations. There are, of course, places to work that have fewer challenges, a greater capacity to discuss and address those challenges, and that will better compensate you for your labor.
Nowhere is all-good or all-bad. These potential green flags can just help you get a gut check on what an organization values and how they work. Whenever you’re interviewing for a job, you should be interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.
We always recommend asking your interviewer questions. Here are six questions that we think you should start with.
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.