Good Cop, Bad Cop: How to Evaluate a Company’s Culture before Accepting a Job
When you go on a job interview, you can generally learn a fair amount about the job you’re interviewing for. But it’s much harder to learn about the corporate culture so as to determine if the organization is a place you want to work. As a result, you can end up accepting a position that seemed to be ideal during the interview, only to discover once you’re immersed in the job that it’s not a good fit at all.
Maggie, a woman I met at a conference, described her approach to identifying the possible downsides of a prospective employer. She called it a good-cop-bad-cop approach to job interviews, and she said it saved her from accepting what sounded like the perfect job in a company that would have actually made her miserable.
The interview, her second with this company, was with four team members from the project she’d be on. Well into the interview, at which point she had developed a comfortable rapport with the team members, she asked a question about the positives about the job. This was the good-cop question, and it was something like, “What especially appeals to you about this company?” or “What’s the best part of working here?”
She said that responding to this question seemed to loosen up the team members as they commented about the challenging projects, the short commute, the relaxed atmosphere, the team camaraderie, and other positives. She said that when she then asked the bad-cop question—“What annoys or angers you about working here?”—they seemed to forget they were conducting an interview and nearly fell over each other as they competed to come up with the worst of the worst.
Their responses included, among others:
- Their manager never makes a decision today that he can put off till next week—or next year
- Deadlines change constantly, and they come in every day wondering what the new deadline will be today
- There’s uncertainty about resources—as in, they never have enough to do a quality job
- Management is incapable of saying no to customers; what customers want, they get
And the clincher: One person said they had to cancel a vacation twice because of a last-minute priority change.
This was all Maggie had to hear. Despite the many positives about the job, these negatives told her this was not a place she wanted to spend the next several years of her life.
Maggie made no claim that asking these questions will work for everyone, but if you want to assess a company’s culture, it could be worth trying.