Interviews can be like strange, anthropological missions into new worlds. Were Darwin to explore corporate settings, he’d find us very curious creatures.
In the pressure to be professional, people on both sides of the interview table present themselves in unusual avatars. Their vocabularies change, they tense (or overly loosen) up, they use strange phrases: synergize, action item, “We’re looking to hire gurus.”
As a potential employee, these are all details that you have to navigate. And money, a sometimes deceptive character, only complicates the equation. Accepting a position based on salary alone is like marrying for looks: it might work out, but if it doesn’t, you’ll be in for a ride.
With limited information, how do you choose? Much has already been written about the signs of a bad employer — but what about the good signs?
Observe workplace dynamics
Sometimes, your intuition is the best judge of an employer.
Once, I interviewed at a reputable marketing firm. As I weaved through the office, heading towards my interview room, I knew something was off the place. There was a muted sense of friendliness, like a married couple struggling to put on a good face at a social event.
One particularly vivid image: I was passing a long conference room. There was a single woman at the end of the table. She was resting her chin on her hand, completely checked out of the meeting. She had this look of resignation as if she’d been through hell.
On the other hand, while interviewing at the best company I’ve ever worked for, people were noticeably happy. There was a bustling movement and talking as I passed people in their cubes. I counted a dozen of smiles and heard laughing throughout the office.
As Indeed recommends,
“When you arrive early, use the extra minutes to observe workplace dynamics.”
Note their body language, their demeanor, their tone of voice, assuming that most people present somewhat of a front. Beneath that layer is your story.
Take note of people you aren’t interviewing with, too. They have no stake in making a good impression.
Analyze how they performed
Does someone greet you at the door?
Do they offer you a drink?
Do they let you know your interviewer is on the way?
When you interview, observe how well these logistics are managed.
Once, I interviewed with an e-learning company in Tampa. I stepped through the door. The receptionist asked me if I had my application. Nobody told me I needed to fill one out. The receptionist sighed.
I sat down with my new homework, filling out the same information I’d already filled out in the e-portal. I waited.
Then, a young woman came and sat across from me, grilling me about my salary at each job. Not only was I not trying to share that yet, but she was also turning it into a very public conversation. I felt cornered before I’d started the interview.
Conversely — some companies are aces. They go above and beyond, they give you a tour, offer you a drink. You leave feeling the employer cares about the impression they make.
Per Emily Moore of Glassdoor,
“The interview process tends to be a great predictor of how well you would be treated as an employee. If a company can’t even provide a good experience long enough to convince you to join their organization, how can you expect that to change once you’re in it for the long haul?”
How long have you been with this company?
At one company where I interviewed, every person I spoke with had been at the company for less than 6 months. There are few, if any, worse omens than meeting a bunch of short-timers.
On the other hand, if everyone you meet has been there for years, if they smile and volunteer how much they love working there (without you asking), this is a sign of a great culture. Rarely do bad companies have a majority of their workforce with long tenure.
If you aren’t getting a good read on the culture, and receive mostly generic “work hard play hard” answers, one strategy, according to Muse, is to ask more specific questions.
For example: “When was a time that your company had to communicate something negative and how was it handled?” Or, “What are some of the concerns that came up during your last department meeting?”
Assess your work spouse
Great managers don’t use excessive “corporate speak.” If you could win three games of Buzzword Bingo with the phrases they drop, run for the door.
Good managers are real. They can have a normal conversation. They want to understand you and your needs.
Be wary of interviewers who act rigidly, over-adhering to strict guidelines. They’re the same ones who ask why your lunch went over by 5 minutes, despite you working 50+ hour weeks.
If your hiring manager seems very positive, if you seem to vibe and understand what the other is says, means, and is concerned about — it’s a good sign.
In a perfect situation, you will come away thinking, “Man, that hiring manager seems really cool.”
Also, if you don’t meet your future boss, do not accept the job.
Choosing a company to work for is an imperfect process. If you come away thinking, “This seems like a great place to work.” you’ve done your job as well as you can hope to.
In general, look for whether the people in the office seem happy (there’s good energy). Find out if there’s great tenure with the employees. Do they boast about loving their jobs? (If they don’t mention tenure, make it a point to ask.)
Decide whether the interview process was well handled. Do they go above and beyond to make a good impression?
And finally, make sure your potential manager isn’t too rigid or disrespectful of your time.
And remember to be hypersensitive to your surroundings. Employees are walking advertisements for their company’s culture. Listen to your gut. In situations with limited information, he or she is your best friend.