When you’re looking for a job, it’s all too easy to get caught up in what a potential employer thinks of you. Are you smart enough? Do you have the right experience? Will you make a meaningful contribution to the company dodgeball team?
In this flurry of self-questioning, it’s easy to forget that the job search is actually a two-way street. It’s just as important for you to find a company that you like as it is to find a company that likes you.
Luckily, most hiring managers give you several clues (and sometimes even a few red flags) throughout the application process about what it would be like to work for them. If you know what to look out for, you can use this information to decide whether or not this is the right work environment and company culture for you.
Here are five ways to determine if a job is actually the best fit for you.
1. Check Out the Job Description: Where Are You in This Picture?
The job description is often your first contact with a company. It’s the organization’s chance to grab your attention and make the case for why you’d want to work there.
But some companies forget this. They make the job listing all about them and their needs.
Sure, it’s important for you to understand what a department is looking for and what a specific role will entail, but it’s just as important for the person writing this description to share why you would want to work there.
Next time you’re reading a description, pay close attention: Some places will simply include a laundry list of the skills and qualifications they want you to have. But the most thoughtful employers use this space to share professional growth opportunities, unique aspects of their company culture, and perhaps some of their perks and benefits.
Putting extra consideration into these few short paragraphs shows that a company values employees—and that’s a great bit of information to have from the get-go!
2. Pay Attention to the Company’s Communication Style: Are They Treating You with Respect?
Once you send in an application, this generally kicks off a cycle of communication with a recruiter or someone else from the HR team—or it may be the person who would potentially be your manager. No matter who you’re in touch with, there are a few things to pay attention to.
How long do you have to wait to hear from someone? If it’s a key stage in the process, like scheduling a phone call, do you get responses in a reasonable timeframe?
Since it’s becoming an increasingly emoji-filled world (does anyone else’s mom text them with a puzzling array of koala bears, rainbows, and flowers—or is that just me?), business communications don’t necessarily need to be stiff and formal. So, don’t be surprised if you get an informal email from a recruiter or hiring manager. But with that said, you should get the impression you’re being treated professionally. It really helps to imagine this person as your manager or co-worker. Would you feel OK about the way he or she is speaking to you?
It’s pretty common for companies to send out automated emails during the application process, and this makes sense early on, like when you first submit your application. But once you’ve had a little more contact with a recruiter or hiring manager, it’s reasonable to expect a little personalization. This is especially true when you don’t get an offer. You might be thinking, “Hey, if they’re not offering me a job, I don’t want to work there anyway!” But rejections aren’t always absolute—sometimes you might get turned down for one role but the company might think you’re a good fit for another. Or the team might hire someone else who doesn’t work out and you could be next in line.
The point is that the way you’re rejected actually shows a lot about an organization’s values, and if you’ve built up a relationship with someone there, he should take the time to personalize his communication with you, especially if it’s a rejection.
3. Observe the Overall Interview Process: How Is it Managed?
When you go in for an interview, that’s when you really have the chance to observe the working environment and your potential co-workers. In addition to scoping out the overall decor and vibe, be sure to reflect on how the company handles the interview process on the whole.
Do you know who you’ll be meeting with in advance or does your contact at the company keep all that info secret? Does each interview have a clear purpose and focus, or do you get asked the same questions over and over?
A lack of cohesiveness during this process is a definite red flag. Interviewers might not know exactly what they’re looking for, so they just ask you random questions to fill the time. Or, maybe the interviewers didn’t prepare ahead of time to make sure they’re assessing you on different things and not asking duplicate questions. Either way, it looks like the company might not have its act together when it comes to defining your role and expectations in general.
Would you feel comfortable in a work environment where you didn’t fully understand what you’d be doing, disorganization was commonplace, and hiring the right people wasn’t a priority? Didn’t think so!
4. Are You Being Tested? Yes, But So Are They
If you’re asked to complete any sort of test or project, pay attention to that process! First (and most importantly), did you actually like what you were asked to do? If not, that’s a sign that this might not be the right role for you. Remember that you’re probably being asked to perform this task because it’s indicative of the work you’d be asked to do on the job.
Also, observe what the feedback process is like (and if there’s one at all!). If you’re giving a presentation, who asks questions or brings up concerns? If you get written feedback, is it clear and actionable—or vague and unhelpful? Try to imagine that you’re already working for the person who you’re interviewing with, how would you feel about receiving this type of feedback on a regular basis?
5. Pay Attention to Answers: What Do Current Employees Share About Their Experience?
During nearly all interviews, you’re given an opportunity to ask questions, usually toward the end. Don’t squander it! When you’re preparing, make a list of your priorities—whether it’s professional development, work-life balance, a flexible work-from-home policy, or something else—and be sure to ask about these things.
Be prepared, though—most interviewers will probably try to paint a rosy picture of the company. In order to get beyond general statements like “It’s a work hard, play hard culture,” it can help to ask really specific questions like “When was a time that your company had to communicate something negative and how was it handled?” “How has the company changed during your time here?” “What are some of the concerns that came up during your last department meeting?”
Every place will have its pros and cons, but use this chance to learn if there’s anything about this company that would be a deal-breaker for you.
Remember—the application process is just as important for you as it is for a company. Each step provides you with valuable information about how existing employees communicate, collaborate, and do their jobs. And if you uncover anything that makes you feel uncomfortable at any of these stages, it’s a very good sign that this company is not the best fit for you. And isn’t it so much better to learn that now instead of after you’ve signed the offer letter?