Everyone wants to work at a place they fit in, right?

You probably don’t want to work with a team of “yes” men if you thrive on spirited debate. Or collaborate with people whose motto is “Move fast and break things” when you’re more of a perfectionist.

But how can you figure out the personality traits and work style of your co-workers before, well, you sign on the dotted line of an employment contract?

You can certainly do your research ahead of time. (Especially right here on The Muse, where the company profiles give you a great sense of what it’s like to work somewhere.) But for many companies, this information isn’t readily available online, or it varies by department or role. Not to mention, during the interview, most employees are presenting the most professional, buttoned-up version of themselves, and you can’t be sure you’re getting the real deal. So, what else can you do?

Answer: You can ask.

I interviewed an applicant this week who did exactly this, and I thought her approach was so smart, I just had to share it with you.

Here’s what to do: Before the interview, write down a list of qualities that describe you—how you work, how you interact at the office, what makes you different than others. Skip “creative,” “hard-working,” or other words you hear all the time, and write down five or six traits that couldn’t be said about just anyone or that have a clear opposite. For example: Are you quick to make decisions, or is slow and thoughtful more your style? Are you competitive or collaborative? Risk-averse or willing to try anything once? A social butterfly or all business, all the time?

Got your list? Good. Now, during your next interview, when it’s your turn to ask questions, try:

“What are the traits of people who really succeed at this company / on this team / in this role?”

followed by:

“And what are the traits of people who don’t?”

The thing with these questions—especially the second one—is that they’re bound to elicit pretty specific responses. Even if your interviewer is being diplomatic, he or she will likely share some distinctive qualities that people either have, or they don’t.

And you can use that information to go back to your list. How does it stack up to what you’ve just heard? If there are a lot of similarities—that’s a great sign. If not? It’s also a great sign—a sign that you likely wouldn’t mesh well with this particular group of co-workers. And it’s better that you know that now, rather than three months from now when you’re miserable at your new job and wondering how long you can last before you start the search again.

Note: It’s much more helpful to make your own list ahead of time so you don’t bias yourself by trying to fit into roles that aren’t right for you. (“I could definitely be more competitive, if I wanted to be!”) Remember: An interview isn’t just the chance for a hiring manager to assess you, it’s an opportunity for you to decide whether a job and company is the right fit for your career.

Photo of interview courtesy of Shutterstock.