For Doug Keevers, it’s a painful memory. What makes it worse, he is convinced it didn’t need to happen.

With much excitement, he left a job several years ago to accept a new position at one of the world’s foremost technology companies. For many people, such a move would be a career-high, and Keevers hoped that would be the case for him. He had certainly been told wonderful things about the organization and his future role as he went through the hiring process. He rightfully expected good things to come.

Things didn’t pan out as he had hoped.

Just three months into his new job, Keevers, PhD, who now is a core faculty member with Capella University, came to the agonizing realization that much of what he believed about his new employer just wasn’t true. His specific job and what he was responsible for weren’t the issues. It was the organization’s culture. It was a total mismatch. Keevers was dismayed, to say the least.

Looking back, he believes the whole experience could have been avoided if only the organization had honestly communicated its culture as part of the hiring process. Not generic platitudes, but a genuine, accurate portrayal of the company’s work culture. If only someone had told him what it was really like to work there. But no one did.

“It’s such a shame because if I had known what I was getting into, I could have saved myself a lot of anguish,” Keevers says. “It’s very expensive to hire and recruit qualified employees, and when you then lose them because of a cultural misalignment, that just adds to the misery.”

Before They Walk in the Door

Much of what Keevers experienced can be mitigated when organizations make the effort to share their cultures before prospective employees ever walk in the door. In other words, it is advantageous for companies to brand their cultures as forcefully as they brand their products and services.

“Organizations need to brand the heck out of their cultures, with as much specificity as possible, to appeal to those they want to attract,” says Al Gorriaran, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, core faculty at Capella University. “Those that don’t, or that paint their cultures in broad, generic, utopian strokes, help no one. Just saying, ‘We have a great organization,’ is a sales tactic. You have to make them feel it. You have to make it real.”

Even when a company does communicate its work culture honestly, the prospective employee isn’t off the hook. Gorriaran notes that prospective employees also have a responsibility to do their own research about a company before they consider applying. Do they have a good sense for the culture? Does it seem like a good fit? Why or why not?

“People who blindly apply to companies today without doing their homework are just plain foolish,” Gorriaran says. “There is so much we can find out about a company today. There is no excuse not to do it.”

One of his suggestions is to connect with people who work at the organization, through channels such as LinkedIn. Ask employees specifically about the culture. What it is like to work there? Tell them to be brutally honest. Glassdoor is another option, as it is based on company reviews. However, Gorriaran cautions that many people use sites like Glassdoor as venting platforms, and negative reviews should be taken with a grain of salt. One bad review does not mean the whole culture is rotten.

Let Your Guard Down

Although it might seem counterintuitive in the interview process that is exactly when the employer  needs to let its guard down. That’s when the full reality of an organization’s culture needs to be laid on the table, warts and all.

“It all comes down to this: you really don’t want to hire a person if that person is not a good cultural fit, even if he or she has the resume of your dreams,” Keevers says. “If you do hire them, it can result in many months of headaches with the usual outcome that the person just ends up quitting.”

Gorriaran adds that if an employer refuses to talk honestly about culture, that is a sign of a culture that lacks trust and transparency.

“There absolutely should be an inherent element of trust when talking about culture,” Gorriaran says. “The interviewee needs to feel a level of trust with the person who is interviewing them. If they don’t feel that, that’s a big red flag.”

For hiring managers who want to go the extra mile in demonstrating transparency and help ensure a good cultural fit, they can connect job candidates with employees in the organization who would be peers and encourage dialogue about culture between them. Prospective employees should be encouraged to ask pointed questions, such as “What do you love about working here and what do you not like? Are you glad you took the job? Are you thinking about leaving? If so why?”

For Keevers, he says having a conversation like that could have made a world of difference.

“We simply don’t talk enough about culture—honestly and without filters,” Keevers says. “As hiring managers, we need to paint a picture of what it is really like. The good and the bad. You don’t want to do a bait and switch. It might seem risky—that you are being too vulnerable—but in the end don’t you want to hire people who will be successful and last?”

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