How to interview potential new employers
That’s right, how to interview employers.
Often interview processes can feel like the pressure is on you, the job seeker, but in reality, it’s an opportunity for both parties to get to know each other. With current skills shortages, there are more jobs than applicants meaning that it’s a job hunter’s market. Take advantage of this, and be picky.
Here’s how to interview the company you’re applying for and some subtle red flags to watch out for. Sometimes what’s left unsaid in interviews can speak volumes!
Watch out for these buzzwords
Sometimes, flashy buzzwords can actually translate to organizational issues. Here are some popular examples.
“We’re like family” – This can mean that the company has a really monotonous culture. For example, all white, middle-class, Ivy League college graduates. Even if you fit the person specification it’s a company that won’t be innovative as everyone will have the same ideas. And if you don’t fit in with this family dynamic, it can be really hard fitting in in this role period.
What’s more, when a company is like family, boundaries won’t always be respected. This means it can be particularly hard to switch off from work at the end of the day. You may be ok with your Great Aunt calling you for a chat on a Sunday evening, but when it’s your boss it’s a big no-no!
“We’ve got a startup mentality” – Not a good sign when the company is in fact, not a startup. Usually, this translates as a team that is far too small for the size of the organization meaning that employees are overwhelmed with work. This can also be an excuse for underpaying employees too.
“Work hard / play hard” – A phrase that is beloved by Mad Men-inspired business leaders. Similar to family dynamics, it can be hard to draw a line under work at the end of the day when you’re then expected to regularly socialize with your colleagues.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re a bit younger and are looking to make friends, but is only really suited to those who have a lot of energy for late nights and early mornings.
“We’re a company that never sleeps” – A sure sign that you won’t either, and it probably means you’ll be expected to work on weekends too. These organizations may ask questions about how hardworking you are, if you can put the hours in when it’s needed, and if you’re ready to “grind”.
A little politeness goes a long way
Prior to an interview, there’s no doubt you’ll have put the work in. You’ll have checked out their website, their social media channels, and may have even had an informal chat with someone in your network who works there.
In return, you should expect the same. If an interviewer hasn’t read your resume, wasn’t expecting you, acts flustered, and then appears bored or disinterested while you talk, then they aren’t showing basic levels of politeness.
This can also be a real eye-opener to the way the company operates. Say for example you arrive at an interview and are kept waiting for quite some time. The manager then rushes you over to the interview room explaining they haven’t had a moment to look at your resume. This business is clearly disorganized, they haven’t engaged managers with their recruitment processes (so there could be a huge disjointment), and they do not respect the time and effort that has been put in on your part.
Assess their interview process
Think about an interview process as a bit like a resume. For the employer, your resume is a tool for them to get to know you. You can use the same methodology with an interviewing process.
Firstly, think about how well the interview process has been communicated to you. A huge green flag is when a company has explained their interview process, when each stage would be and what would be expected at each stage as part of the job application. It shows the company knows what they’re doing and that they’re good at communicating.
However, if the company publishes these details and then doesn’t follow through without a reasonable explanation it might suggest that the above has just been copy-pasted from another open role.
When you’re invited to interview, were you given some flexibility around dates and times and were you told who would be interviewing you and who they were in advance? This is a sign that the company is able to provide flexibility to their workers and is another demonstration of good communication.
It’s also worth exploring whether the interview process feels tailored. Just like you should tailor your resume, different roles require different interview panelists, different tasks and a different amount of stages.
Is the interview process too short? Again, like your resume, an interview process should not feel rushed. If an organization is desperate to hire you on the spot, it could be a sign that they’re struggling to fill roles and will hire anyone.
On the flip side, interview processes can be too long. It can be tempting on your resume to go for many pages about your skills and experience, right back to your lemonade stand in Middle School, but you’ll probably have resisted this temptation. If an organization creates a long and laborious interview process, they probably don’t know what they’re looking for and it’s a sign that decision-making processes are too complex. If senior management cannot allow a junior hire without the whole of the senior team’s sign-off it could mean making progress with work is just as hard.
Choose your questions wisely
Prepare them in advance and have them written down. What’s particularly important to you in this new role and why are you leaving your current one? If you’ve been passed over training or promotion opportunities in the past then ask about whether they have formalized processes and what these look like. At each interview stage, come along with at least a few questions.
Assess the interviewer’s answers in the same way they will assess your own. Think about how clear their answers were, did they give examples, or did they not know what to say? If questions are left unanswered, follow up with an email after the interview and ask again.
If you feel like you’ve got a lot of questions to ask, this is probably a sign that the job description and the interview process so far has been vague.
The fewer questions you feel you have, the clearer the business has been at communicating with you. This is a good sign.
Everyone started really recently
Sure, staff turnover is not uncommon, especially at the moment but if everyone is a new start this can signal a retention problem.
If it gets as far as the offer stage and you haven’t spoken to anyone established, ask if you could have a coffee with one of the longest-standing team members to really get to know the heart of the business.
The harder this is for a company to do, the harder it must be for them to keep their employees happy!
Some even more obvious red flags
Now, most likely these will already be hard nos when it comes to finding a new role, but we’d better list them just in case.
Rude jokes are a no-no. This could be banter that is sexist, racist, ableist, or just downright rude or could even be targeted at another member of staff. Say for example you were shown to the interview room by a young female receptionist. When you sit down, and she has left, and a panelist makes a comment about her to you or the other panelists. “How did you find Judy? She’s a bit of an airhead but the customers love her”. This shows that the culture is disrespectful and toxic.
Moreover, it’s not unheard of to experience microaggressions in an interview aimed at the interviewee. Not a good sign if the interviewer is meant to be on their best behavior.!
By now, you should be aware of what you should be looking out for during an interview and how these reflect positively or negatively on the company that is hiring. Remember, the job market is currently hot, so you have the power to not settle for something that isn’t going to be great long term.
Many of the examples above are worst-case scenarios, and we’re pretty sure most companies can iron out the kinks when you ask the right questions back. Best of luck with your search!