You’ve heard the advice from mentors in college, well-meaning aunts and uncles, and maybe even previous employers: when you land an interview, it’s your job to interview them as much as they’re interviewing you.
Unfortunately, the good advice typically stops there. Nobody seems to stick around on that subject long enough to really explain how to interview the person across the desk, much less offer a few basic standards with which to see how the company measures up.
So whether you’re going after a dream job after 10 years in the industry or are fresh out of college, it’s time to learn how to interview the job that’s interviewing you.
Focus on Culture
Once you start a new job, the bullet points of responsibilities you focused on so heavily during the interview process almost immediately lose their relevance in the day-to-day pace of work. Rather than the logistics, duties, and tasks associated with the job, you quickly realize the work environment and the company culture matter much more to your long-term satisfaction than whatever specific responsibilities you have.
That’s why it’s crucial to think about the kinds of cultures you thrive in as part of the interview process. Use this time to ask specific questions about what the company values and observe whether the employees seem to uphold or ignore them.
What to Ask
- What values drive this organization?
- What kinds of activities does the organization plan to foster those values?
- Describe the company culture/office environment.
- What kinds of continued learning opportunities are there?
- How do you help employees advance their careers while they work here?
- What does this company do for fun?
- What do you enjoy most about working here?
What to Look For
- What was the initial correspondence like? Did you feel like they were interested and excited to learn more about you? Were you impressed with those you spoke to, whether over the phone or email?
- Observe the environment closely when you visit the office. Who greeted you? Was the environment subdued or energetic? How do you feel in that space?
- Did each scheduled event start on time?
- How did you feel after each interaction?
Dig into the Day-to-Day
When asked if they have any questions for the interviewer, many people have to scramble for at least something to ask so they don’t appear unprepared. When this happens, their minds flick to the most recent memory from that day and they ask, “Where will I park?”
Not that you shouldn’t figure out how long it will take you to walk into work, but this invitation for asking questions can be used so much better than skimming the surface of your daily activities. The next time someone asks, be prepared to go deeper into the type of work you’ll be doing by asking questions like these:
- How is employee performance evaluated? How often, who conducts it, and what follow up procedures are there?
- What’s the ratio of individual work to team work?
- Which responsibilities involve team work and what do they look like specifically?
- How do supervisors respond to new ideas, creativity, or innovation? Are they receptive or hesitant?
The key here again is to think beyond the logistics and slowly uncover as much as you can about the culture in which you’ll be working. Think through the types of work environments you’ve loved, whether highly collaborative, thoroughly casual, or fast-paced.
Rather than asking all these questions rapid-fire in a single interaction, spread them out through the entire process. Ask important questions several times to different people to see whether the answer remains the same.
In addition, follow up on negative feelings you get during the process, whether from a clear mis-alignment of values or simply the gut reaction to a tense conversation. Identify whether those negative moments were isolated or recurring. Everyone makes mistakes or has their off days, but constant concerns and mis-fitting values may mean this job isn’t right for you.
If the culture appears to be consistently applied and embraced, there’s a good chance the company does more than talk a good talk. However, if the people you talk to aren’t able to articulate their culture confidently, or you get vastly different messages from different employees, this inconsistency could be a red flag.
Follow Up and Clarify
If you’ve been asking good questions throughout the interview process, getting a feel for the culture of the company you’re interviewing, you may be surprised at the number of additional questions you come up with based on the answers you received.
Don’t shy away from this curiosity in the moment. It can feel awkward, but asking clarifying questions like these will help solidify your final decision:
- That’s interesting. Can you tell me more about that?
- What does that mean to you?
- Can you give me an example?
Not only will they help you get specific information, questions like these also show the interviewer that you’re engaged in the process, helping to forge a more genuine connection.
Assessing the Fit
Everyone values different things about their work environment, and all the preparation, good questions, and follow-up in the world won’t help unless you know at least a little about what you’re looking for. Think back over jobs you’ve loved and those you’ve been disappointed by for the qualities you enjoyed and the ones you want to avoid.
Imagine what it would be like to work at an organization that really cares about you and seeks to empower your unique gifts and talents. Now put that vision to work!
Take the Next Step
Best of luck on all your future job interviews!