Company Clues: What to Look For at an Interview

Most job candidates are aware of the standard preparation that’s expected of them before an interview. It’s essential to research a company and its management online for a successful interview, and not just to give the applicant information about the kind of company to which he or she is applying. Doing research and being informed will prove to the employer that the applicant is interested in the company. Even so, research will only provide the job seeker with a small snapshot of the employer. A good photographer and copywriter can make anything look good online, and an employer isn’t going to publish something on their website or social media that doesn’t show them in the best way possible.

What a company really has to offer usually reveals itself to the job seeker at the face-to-face interview. It is in a candidate’s best interest to know what signs to look for and what they signify, because accepting a job is an important step on an employee’s career path. Here are a few bits of information about an employer that can be gathered during the interview process, and how they may affect you as a future employee.

The office

When arriving for the interview, pay attention to your surroundings. Is it in a nice neighborhood? Is the building well-maintained? Is the office décor attractive? While there are surely many successful companies located in declining neighborhoods or boasting shabby-chic décor, the majority of successful companies take pride in their office’s appearance, and vice versa. Once inside, take note of the facilities. You might look for available snacks and beverages, a comfortable breakroom for employees to relax in during lunchtime and breaks, clean bathrooms, and ample security for those who decide to work late. Like most people, there’s a good chance you will be spending more waking hours at work than at home. For this reason, a company’s office is more than just a building to house your desk and computer. You’ll find much greater employee satisfaction with an employer that offers its employees comfortable, well-maintained surroundings and amenities than with those who provide a less comfortable or attractive environment.

The employees

Make an effort to interact with as many people as possible at the interview. Note how you are treated by the receptionist, as well as the interviewer(s). Are they friendly and cheerful, or do they appear overly busy and inconvenienced by your presence? Most importantly, pay attention to other employees around the office. Though you may only have limited interaction with them, notice if they appear friendly in their dealings with each other, or overwhelmed by their workload. Remember, you will be spending 40+ hours a week with these coworkers. They might become lifelong friends, or end up causing you countless hours of frustration. This will be difficult to tell from your first meeting, but it can at least give you an idea of the company culture and whether there is a positive work environment.

The interview

Remember that the interview isn’t just a chance for the employer to evaluate you, but for you to evaluate the employer. The preparation and professionalism with which they conduct an interview can tell a candidate a great deal about a company’s management. Did the interviewer keep you waiting? Was the interviewer relaxed and prepared, or frustrated and overwhelmed? Were they interested in your answers, or did they appear in a hurry to finish and get somewhere else? While you might not be working directly with the employee who interviewed you, you’d certainly be working with the management team this person represents. If the interviewer appears inconvenienced, rushed or simply not welcoming, you’re likely to see these reoccurring traits as an employee.

The parking lot

Yes, this sounds a little superficial, but take a look at the employees’ vehicles as you exit the office parking lot. Are the majority new and well-maintained, or old and in poor condition? While an individual’s talent or work ethic is rarely reflected by the car they drive, an argument could be made that a company’s success as a whole can be judged by the cars in its parking lot. Of course, this depends a great deal on the location of the company, because owning a new car in New York City costs a lot more than owning one in a small Midwestern town. Whether or not you believe this to be true, it still makes sense that if public transportation isn’t available, an employer whose employees can’t afford to perform routine car maintenance probably won’t rank very high in employee satisfaction.

A common mistake among job seekers who are just starting their career is focusing solely on impressing the employer in the interview. This is certainly important, but it’s also important to use the interview as an opportunity to gather important information to determine future work satisfaction. Unless you know an employee of the company or have done business with them in the past, your only direct interaction with the company that may become your future employer for years to come is the interview. Pay attention, and keep your eyes and ears open throughout every step of the interview process. Act as if your future depends on it, because you’ll probably find out that it does.