Interviewing is a complex process. It is more like two sides exchanging products who have to meet each other’s expectations. Candidates need more than a shiny office and great revenue history. Today, they seek better understanding, ongoing support, clear and honest communication, and many more. I am one of the candidates who search for something more than a paycheck. I have always chosen the companies I have worked for by searching for answers to six questions. Within the list, bellow evaluation of the company and my decisions have always led me in the right direction through my work experience. I have checked my understanding with another 2367 people through an online survey in the first half of 2021, and they confirmed my list of questions. So here I am sharing this simple list of questions to help me not get into a toxic relationship in my years of professional experience. I believe that the list can also help you and save you from being involved in a relationship with no value.
Q1: Are you allowed to interview your future leader/manager?
The first sign that not everything is OK is if the company “hides” your possible future manager. The interviewer organizes the first meeting and invests much time in it. Then some tests come on the horizon, followed by role games, assessment centers, and other tools. Next, you interview potential peers, but the one whom you will report to is not to see anywhere. The most common excuse for this situation is often that your future boss will enter the process last after he hears the opinions of others. If you fall into such a situation, then you will need to re-think how honest they are with you. The person you will be reporting to is not involved in the process until the end of the process approaches. In a normal situation, that should be the first person to interview without counting the meeting with the talent acquisition person. If this person is hidden after many tools or discussions with others, something is not OK.
Q2: Are job responsibilities clear?
Years ago, before joining Coca-Cola Hellenic, I interviewed with another company in the Digital technologies industry. I had three interviews in a row and couldn’t understand why they needed the person they wanted to hire. At my final meeting with the local country CEO, I asked directly if he could explain what he expects the person to do. The answer was, “I do not know now, but we will have to figure that out when you join the company.” Two days after our meeting with the CEO, I had to choose between an offer for this company that was twice what I expected and an offer from another company with only ten percent above my expectations. Guess whom I chose to work for.
If you go through interviews, you invest your time and energy. When you win a job interview and get an offer that you agree with, you put your reputation, skills, knowledge, and expertise on the table. If you do not know what you will have to be engaged with, then you may not be able to contribute to company success. If the people you are interviewing do not understand your responsibilities, you will have to think if the place will allow you to contribute fully. Contribution toward expertise is most successful when you know what is expected and put your efforts into helping the company. Anything else is just collecting some work experience on paper that can even harm your professional reputation if things do not develop positively with the company.
Q3: Is the company respectful and professional?
Years ago, I interviewed with a large company. I was nervous and did not do very well in the interview. People from the company were smiling at me, but it was written that you were losing time on their faces. We are bored, and we do not want to invest time with you. At the end of the interview, the hiring manager told me, “No matter your efforts, I am not convinced that I will have to allow you to join my team.” A year after that, working for a consultancy firm, I entered the same company as a consultant to help them re-construct their organizational structure, find the brightest talents in their team, and lay off people who were not meeting the new company standards. After the assessments, the reports on people performance, and discussion with the company CEO and HRD, I have had to give feedback to the same hiring manager who rejected me a year ago.
We sat down. I showed her the results from her assessment and an assessment of her behavior from thirty other people the lady was working with. She did not believe her eyes. The results showed her as unapproachable, arrogant, disrespectful, and unprofessional. Her teamwork abilities were scored on one of the lowest levels in the company. The lady was shocked. But one question she asked me also surprised me. She did not ask why her colleagues ratted her so low but asked me, “Did I look the same way to you when we interviewed a year ago.” I said YES. After that, the lady quit her job willingly and without any complications.
I am telling you this story because I felt guilty about that lady. I do not say that you have to be rude, but if you think in the same situation and see that people against you act disrespectfully. The interview is held in an unprofessional way. You better stop it and leave the room or the meeting if it is online. Disrespectful people do not change in time. They will be the same even if they decide to offer you the job, and you will not feel OK in the company even if the salary is ridiculously high.
Q4: What is the company’s reputation?
This question is crucial for your decision. I do not say that people have to believe everything written on the companies’ review websites, but there is a dose of truth in what is written there. Before connecting with a company or sending your application for a role getting to know the company is a must-do step. There are many ways to answer the question about reputation. I do ask on LinkedIn former and current employees about their opinion.
Another thing you can do is use the information from the review websites and ask about details of your network. No matter what you ask, you can get an honest answer, or at least there may be someone who can connect you to an employee at the company you are interested in. The solution to the question about company reputation is also crucial because it allows the person to evaluate the company’s approach and actions against his values. If there is a match, you are good to go, but if there is a significant mismatch, you will need to think again before you apply or accept an invitation for an interview.
Q5: Is there a pattern of people leaving the company?
There are plenty of examples where a good company tolerates one black sheep. All other departments are well structured and work in a balanced way, while one is not performing well. People are leaving, there are job ads posted online frequently, and the hiring process is slow. These are all signs that something is not OK with this department. While assessing the department, the candidate must go through the history of hiring, look for patterns like how often people leave the department, what type of people are hired in, how descriptive the job ad is, and the person contacting the candidate open and sharing information or not. The answers to these or similar questions can quickly form a pattern to understand why the department is hiring so often and what is happening inside. Direct contact with people from this department or another department in the company can also help to form an opinion about the company
Q6: Are people talking behind their backs?
This one is easier to spot after the new hire enters the company. It is easy to spot through the way people talk, what information they share and what part of the information is not shared publicly but is gossiped about. Although there are many signs about the company’s way of communication and employees’ integrity, even if you only see what is written online on the review websites, the new hire must see it with his own eyes and decide in what way this gossip talk is not aligning with his values and internal standards. Before entering the company, the information about his question is somehow hidden from the public, and people do not talk openly about it. But it is easy to spot it after you enter the company and spend some days with the new team and colleagues. A helpful approach with this question answer for the candidate is to ask for a short meeting with the team they will eventually work with and talk informally with the team members. During such conversation, the spotlight will fall over the type of communication (open or covert communication style), careful or available interaction, and many more. All the signs expressed for the team can help form opinions on what is really happening there and if the person will feel OK with the team or the company. If there is such an issue as people talking behind others’ backs, then the red flag should be high. For example, suppose the company is filled with rumors and second-scene talks. In that case, the official culture may be weak, and standing behind this toxic cultural environment weakens the company and, at the same time, positions it as not a good place to work.
The six questions shared here are a good starting tool to explore company culture and decide if it is your or not your place to work for. What looks like a toxic environment for one maybe he paradise for someone else. Finding the best answers to the questions here defines everyone’s next career step.