Oftentimes job seekers feel like they are being judged and put on the chopping block during interviews. But don’t forget that you are also there to determine whether they are a fit for you as well. While it may seem like you need any job and fast, you also want to avoid a situation where you join a company and it’s so misaligned that you’re very unhappy or not succeeding.
Sometimes, declining an offer could be the best thing that you do. While no role or company is perfect, you want to understand what would be a fit for you, so that you know how any particular opportunity aligns, or doesn’t. The key is 1) fully understanding yourself and what you need in your future role and 2) understanding what the role, team, and company is all about as accurately as you can, so that you can make an informed decision.
I once had a client tell me “I am getting into a mindset where I feel that I am assessing roles and companies more than they are assessing me. If it weren't for you, I would have taken a job offer that looked good on paper but doesn't feel right for me, I’m happy I ended up turning it down.” Remember that you are an equal party in this decision, and when you show up with an air of confidence (not overconfidence, just confidence!), it will help you stand out as a candidate who knows themselves well.
How To Determine if a Company is Good Fit
Here are some tips to ensure you can get to know the company properly and determine whether they are a great fit for you:
Reflect on what you do (and don’t) want in your future employer
Based on your past experiences, brain dump a list of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, both for things that you loved and those that you hated. What are the things you really want and need in a future employer, or want to avoid? List all of what stands out to you given your past working experiences, or what you feel you’ve been missing. Consider factors that relate to your holistic work experience: i.e. the role, industry, and work environment.
Turn these needs and wants into creative, concrete questions
Make a two-column table. Your experiences (see above) would go on the left-hand side. Then, on the right-hand side, for each factor of what you either do or don’t want in your future work opportunity, translate each into a creative question you can ask a future employer to assess how that trait shows up in their organization.
They ask you “Tell me about a time…” So why can’t you ask them the same?
Adjust the phrasing of how you ask your question in order to get the most relevant response. For instance, saying “what’s your company culture” is quite broad, and you may get a high level or fluffy answer. Get creative so you can elicit the information you’re truly seeking (i.e. ask about the particular trait of a company culture that you’d be looking for). Why not ask for stories and examples? You want to ensure that your phrasing is extremely clear and purposefully phrased. Ask yourself what you’re really trying to get to know, so that your question can reflect that. Sometimes, you may intentionally be open-ended or specific with your angle. Be sure to be thoughtful about what you want to ask and how.
Know that a vague answer is still an answer
Determine how you feel about what you’re hearing. The key to planning upfront is so that when you do hear responses back, you can judge the quality of the response you’re getting. If you ask something like, “Tell me about a time someone on your team suggested a new idea and how that went,” there is a big difference between a response like, “Oh, Jane suggested [some process improvement] last week and she’s been running with it ever since,” versus, “Yes we have a running backlog, an annual review of team member’s ideas, then we try to get budget approved by our SVP, and usually we can pick one of the ideas to pursue…per year.”
Ask follow ups and be comprehensive.
Unfortunately, 90% or more of the conversation is usually questions being asked to you. But, you can and should ask for more time to chat with any of your interviewers if you need to, even after an offer is made. There is no need to rush! Even though interviews don’t always allow enough time for you to ask your questions, you can definitely set up more time to get everything asked that you need to. I would make your interviews feel natural and conversational, but I would still prioritize keeping your questions to the end of the conversation versus throughout the call, that way they can get to know you first and foremost, and you can always set up more calls later on if you need more time to ask your questions.
Chat with people who work there who are outside of your interview process
This can be a great way to understand a company culture more accurately. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can ask questions to one or more contacts who work at the organization but those who are not involved with your interview, to get additional honest datapoints. You’d be amazed by the power of asking the same question to different folks, to see if that helps you connect the dots and validate what you think you know, or if you’re hearing variance.
Reflect on what you’re hearing and feeling
Meet with people who can be your mirror, such as a mentor, coach, or peer. Sometimes you may not be sure how to gain perspective on whether you’re hearing green or red flags, or whatever you’re overthinking some things that you heard.
You can rank your interest and alignment in the role, the industry/company mission, as well as the company culture, each on a 1-10 scale, to synthesize your feelings. Jot down if you have concerns and see if you can gather more information to address them.
Pivot, as needed.
Sometimes we feel stuck once we are in an interview process to tell them what you think they want to hear, only later realizing you shouldn’t even be in that interview or shouldn’t even have applied to that role in the first place.
Determine if you’re feeling aligned with the types of roles, industries, company culture, location, size of company, or any other factors as part of your directional strategy.
Notice what you are liking or not and if there’s any ways of adjusting the types of opportunities you are pursuing so that your initial outreach efforts are already part of your strategy to optimize finding a well fitting role.
Don’t Forget, You’re an Asset to a Company
Remember that when you join a company, while they gain a major value from your time and skills, you also are deciding where to devote your time, where you are hoping they will help invest in your growth, where you will learn and have an opportunity to drive impact and explore your professional areas of interest. Don’t forget that you, too, have a choice in the job search process!