4 Ways To Interview The Company That’s Interviewing You

Let me start by acknowledging it’s hard to stay choosy on a long job hunt. You’re tired of searching. You’re ready for an offer. You’re sick of the uncertainty.

I get that. There’s a large element of privilege in being a mindful job-seeker, but for those not facing the very real threats of eviction, bankruptcy, or total financial dependency ripe for abuse, it’s critical that we go into the job search with a strong sense of self-worth.

You’re not just there to prove yourself worthy of the position. The interview process is a time for you to evaluate the opportunity, too. It’s critically important that you interview the company as much as they’re interviewing you.

So how exactly can a job-seeker find out if the company or position is going to be a good fit?

  1. Invest In Coffee Talk

I can’t overstate the importance of one-on-one meetings. Seek out current and past employees to hear directly from primary sources on their experience working in the company. It’s best advice coffee can buy – I guarantee it. Only then can you learn about personalities you might contend with, how the company culture measures up, and important intangibles like how much the company rewards innovation or rule-following.

Use LinkedIn’s advanced search functionality to find current and former employees and ask them out for coffee or a phone call. Be clear about your intentions, and their response may be telling enough.

Just keep two things in mind: (1) don’t say anything to current employees you wouldn’t mind getting back to the hiring manager or your future boss and (2) follow up with gratitude and appreciation for the insights and time that folks share with you

  1. Get Real Reviews

Can’t snag an employee for a coffee or phone call? You can still read real reviews online, thanks to the proliferation of company profiles popping up on job-searching sites like Monster.com and Glassdoor. There are even women-focused sites like InHerSight and FairyGodBoss that specifically collect information about family-friendliness, gender bias, and equality efforts from company to company.

Keep in mind that the Yelp effect is real on these sites, though: most folks who are motivated to leave online reviews fall into the extremes — they’re either fanatical or fuming.

Furthermore, many of these sites make money selling corporate profiles that help companies highlight how great working with them can be, and it’s not always easy to tell the difference between these PR-spun promoted profiles and actual employee reviews.

  1. Know The Role

At the end of the day, it’s not just the company you’re evaluating, it’s your role within it. It doesn’t matter how great the 401k-matching or weekly happy hour is if your day-to-day responsibilities make you want to pull your hair out.

I’ve seen far too many women sign on with organizations they believe in only to realize they loathe their particular role in fulfilling the broader mission. You love the Human Rights Campaign, but hate fundraising? A position in their finance department won’t be sustainable for you. Working at Bloomberg is a dream come true, but the overnight proof-reading is slowly killing you? The great resume line isn’t going to make your day-to-day any more tenable.

I strongly advise against signing on with a company that promises lateral movement into another department. So they’re offering you a position in sales but promise you’ll make your way into marketing (your actual desired position) in no time at all? I don’t buy it. Hiring and promotion decisions are multi-variable and extremely hard to predict — and the timing of such decisions is almost always murky. Furthermore, it sets you up for a no-win situation. If you’re “too good” at the job they initially hire you for, no one’s going to make it a priority to lose you to another internal position. And if you’re not good in that initial role? Well, that obviously doesn’t bode well, either.

Get crystal clear on what the regular responsibilities, purview, and skills needed for the role you’re interviewing for. And if the hiring manager can’t give you a cogent answer to those kinds of questions? Well, that might be all the answer you need.

  1. Remember Culture Trumps Cause

In the same way that having a clear understanding of the role is critical in the interview process, so is getting to know the company’s culture.

Keep in mind, culture is very different than the cause or mission behind the work. I’m a huge supporter of Planned Parenthood, but I have yet to meet someone who has enjoyed their time working in a frenetic culture that feels like it’s always facing down a new crisis. Unfortunately, that’s because Planned Parenthood is constantly being attacked and has become a symbolic political football for the far-right.

One of my former clients learned this lesson the hard way after bouncing from startup to startup, until she realized that her love of innovation was mismatched with her desire for a stable, supportive, and sustainable work culture. She found the right job fit only once she started basing her job search on company culture and not simply the proclaimed values inherent to the organization’s brand.

Keep an ear out for culture indicators during your coffee meetings, calls, online research, and in the interview itself by asking these kinds of questions:

  • When do people typically arrive and leave work each day?
  • How do employees communicate with each other? With their supervisors?
  • How much work is executed collectively vs. independently?
  • How are company-wide goals and new initiatives introduced?
  • How is success measured?
  • How is failure handled? Is it talked about?
  • Do people take vacation?
  • Do people work from home?
  • Are there (unwritten) consequences for employees who do?

It’s your job as a job-seeker to keep an eye out for future you. Use these interview tactics to set yourself up for sustainable success in a role you’ll thrive in long-term, not just tolerate for a few weeks.

I’d love to hear how these strategies work for you in the comments below. And if you’re weighing an offer right now, you might benefit from checking out my resources on negotiation, an important next step in the decision-making process.

This was originally published in my Forbes Leadership column and reposted here with permission.

Emilie Aries is the Founder & CEO of Bossed Up and the co-host of Stuff Mom Never Told You, the fiercely feminist podcast by HowStuffWorks.

Learn more and book Emilie to speak at your next event at wwwEmilieAries.com