As a recruiter, you’ve likely asked a client to describe their company culture. After all, company culture plays an important role in whether or not a candidates will join an organization, even at the executive level.

But despite the importance of knowing, and articulating, company culture, it can be difficult for recruiters to uncover that information from clients. “Most people really don’t think about [company culture] or a way to be able to articulate that,” says Robert Crowder, Managing Director of Chapman Farrell Group.

Why is Company Culture so hard to describe?

Culture is typically an unspoken and understood characteristic. You either get it or you don’t. “You don’t think of it consciously,” explains Crowder. “It’s kind of like blinking or breathing.” Additionally, Crowder says, people don’t really see the world as it is, but rather as we are. So when you ask about company culture, you’re most likely to hear a personal version of the company’s culture or a vague description that originated on a corporate website. And that’s not because someone is trying to keep that information from you. More likely, that person just hasn’t thought about it deep enough to be able to articulate it to you.

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A New Way to Learn About Company Culture

So how can an executive search professional get to the core of a company’s culture? In the second episode of our new podcast, Executive Recruiter 2.0, Crowder offers one option in the form of a question he’s fond of asking clients when he’s researching an open position. “One question that I found actually gets you an answer that’s more useful is, ‘Tell me about a significant event in the history of this company and who was the hero that emerged?’”

Why does this question work? “When people start to describe that person, and what the situation was and who the hero is,” says Crowder, “that right there is the personification of the values that the organization ascribes to because that was the hero that saved us, that was the hero that turned it around, that was the hero that did x, y, and z.”

Asking the right questions, such as the company culture question above, can make the difference in understanding what a client is really looking for rather than what a client says they are looking for. Being able to do so is what Crowder calls, “The Art of Inquiry,” one of four key skills – along with emotional intelligence, the art of listening, and conceptual thinking – he describes in the second Executive Recruiter 2.0 podcast episode.

The second episode of Executive Recruiter 2.0, as well as our first episode on Crowder’s journey to starting his own executive search firm, is available now.