6 ways to nail your interview at an open organization

6 tips for interviewing with open culture companies

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For the last several years, I've been studying under an open organization and future of work guru. And for longer than I can remember, I've felt that business should operate differently—really move at the speed their people can innovate rather than standing on who's held office the longest.

So you can imagine how long it took for me to embrace the open organization mindset. It was rather like an old school touchdown dance in my mind. I'm excited by the value proposition open organizations present.

Knowing I wanted to be engaged in a company that leverages the value of those at its table, I decided to begin seeking out one I could join. I knew the impact I could personally have on the world could become exponential if I did.

So far, I've learned so much that can help both those beginning the interview process and those in talent management—and I'd like to share it. I hadn't interviewed like this in more than a decade. The traditional companies to which I applied had remained exactly the same.

The open organizations were vastly different.

Lesson 1: Research is important

While being a forward thinker, I'll admit I was nevertheless rusty at this process. So I began with the old way of doing things. I sought out a role of interest, reviewed the description, and then applied. But pretty quickly, I realized this wasn't going to get me where I was trying to go.

Instead I needed to research companies with an eye toward their culture, employee approval ratings, and any public feedback I could get my hands on before even considering submitting an application. Using a site like Glassdoor opened the hood for me, and I gained insight before determining if I would fit. Also, I began to search by region for startups and tech companies who were thriving in seeking out employees who might be aligned with an open culture.

The quantity of my leads didn't change—but the quality did.

Lesson 2: Be ready to pitch

I don't know about you, but I become irritated when a system asks for me to "build my profile" with LinkedIn, only to then require me to manually enter all of my data again. The traditional companies, using well known systems like Taleo, were still doing what they have always done. No improvement. Applications took 15-40 minutes to complete and offered the company no real input on the quality of candidates like me.

On the flip side, open organizations seem to prefer a "pitch style" to applications. I found myself answering three or four quirky questions that would showcase my passion, connection to purpose, and personality to determine whether I'd fit their culture. Often, I only had to connect my LinkedIn profile and it was all over in 30 seconds. Not only is the pitch a time saver, but I was able to lead with strategic thinking and value.

One company, who touts themselves as a "60-year-old startup," included a 30-minute personality assessment and 10-minute timed comprehension quiz. Their process followed up with a video cover letter submission before determining if you'd move forward to a phone screen.

Lesson 3: Value and experience trump degree

My background is extensive. I've worked my way from the entry level to mid-senior roles on several occasions. I've benefited from learning all aspects of workflow, people operations, team-building in several industries. My verticals vary as well. One client referred to me as a Swiss army knife—able to do just about anything.

But despite my deep experience, expertise, and proven results, I can rarely get past a hiring gatekeepers due to my lack of a degree. This particular interview process revealed to me that some companies use algorithms to automatically separate resumes that don't contain degree listings. It's unfortunate.

How much amazing, bright, and innovative talent—which could have a massive impact on an organization—is being overlooked?

Those who embrace open culture, on the other hand, were not wondering if I was competent and capable of performing the role. In fact, one turned me away because it didn't have anything "senior" enough to match my capability and experience.

Lesson 4: It's conversational, so grab a coffee

The next notable difference in the interview process was that it was more conversational in open organizations. We spent time getting to know each other and determining our "flow." Questions seemed aimed more at determining if we were a culture fit: Would my personality vibe with others on the team?

Interviews occurred over Skype and were more informal, as though we were hanging out at the local coffee shop—one colleague to another, talking shop. It was refreshing. My guard was down, so more of me came through. And I noticed my tone was more relaxed. My replies were fresh and not rehearsed.

Lesson 5: Get ready for some tough questions ahead

To succeed in interviews at open organizations, know your key successes and quantifiable results for several different competencies. I was surprised that no one had my resume in front of them, which is why it is crucial you have your highlights ready. You'll be steering the conversation as you present them as answers.

Be mindful of your conversation flow as well. During one conversation, I found myself spending too much time speaking to the development of an individual without realizing my interviewers were interpreting that as a sign of insufficient experience and no desire to build teams. In fact, one of my greatest achievements was creating a national benchmark team at a Fortune 100.

They'll be looking for innovative insights that you would personally contribute to the organization. When discussing a Head of People role, I was caught off guard when someone asked, "What systems would you put in place to manage our growth while operating lean?" I hadn't prepared for a question as specific as this one. I was able to answer it generally and at a very high-level. But if I had known we were going to deep dive, I would have done more homework on potential solutions for that organization.

Lesson 6: You'll need team consensus

If open culture thrives on collaboration and consensus, then so should the interview process at open organizations. Anticipate several interview stages with multiple team members and potentially a project to complete before getting to an offer stage. While this seems frustrating to a job seeker looking to move quickly, it is a cost-saver for the organization. And, ultimately, you want the right fit and place to grow.

Where to go from here

If you're looking to interview with a company who embraces the culture of an open organization, keep in mind that what you bring to the table and your passion for what the company is about will put you ahead of the curve. Take time to research each company and understand why they do what they do. Be honest with yourself about whether you're a good fit for them.

It's all about collaboration and purpose. Watch videos the company has posted. Can you see yourself contributing to the environment they depict?

Finally, be prepared to pitch yourself and showcase your results. Most importantly, be adaptable in the process. Each organization has a different way of doing things.

And for those on the flip side, still hiring talented people to work in traditional organizations: Human resources needs to continue to be more human. Everyone has a story, and perhaps their story is just what your company needs to take it to the next level. But we need fewer check boxes—and more emphasis on emotional intelligence—if we're going to find them. Let's put great people in the right seats, and all grow toward greater solutions together.

2 Comments

Sandra McCann

Some great points here. I especially like the idea of knowing my own 'pitch' so to speak. Rather than knowing individual tasks I've done at different companies, it makes me think differently about what it is that I brought to each workplace and how that worked in a collaboration to get some great things done.

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jenkelchner

Thank you, Sandra! I am a firm believer that if we operate from our Genius Zone we are always top performers. So to showcase those "great things about us" to potential employers or clients is most successful - and ultimately shows why you're best for the job!

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