Interviewing can be a confusing mix of elation and terror. Most of us are trained to believe that employers are the ones choosing us, but that’s not entirely true. In fact, you have the opportunity—and responsibility—to interview your prospective employers, too.
I know what you’re thinking. This probably sounds great on paper, but really, who does this in real life? I can tell you from experience, the candidates I’ve worked with who end up loving their jobs are the ones who did just as much interviewing as their employers. After all, you’re looking for the right fit every bit as much as your employer is, so why wouldn’t you take advantage of the interview process to do your own due diligence?
It sounds scary, but with a little bit of pre-game prep, you’ll be ready to put your employers in the hot seat with grace and professionalism. Here’s how to do it.
Step 1: Dig Deep
You already know that, before any interview, you’ll need to learn absolutely everything a layperson could know about a company. But it doesn’t end there. If you really want to get to the heart of how a company operates, you need to dig deep.
Scour the internet for press releases and blog posts, comb through the company’s social media feeds, and browse reviews on sites like Glassdoor. I guarantee, there’s something in there that will pique your interest, whether it’s “Beer Fridays” or a seemingly revolving door of turnover within the sales department. It can also be incredibly helpful to talk to people who work at the company or have before—a few informational interviews asking employees about their experiences are bound to raise some interesting points or themes. (For more ideas, here’s an in-depth guide to researching a company pre-interview.)
No matter what you learn, jot it down in your notes for question time during your interview. And then:
Step 2: Listen Up
Go ahead and bring that notebook with all of your notes with you when you sit down for an interview. And then, get ready to add to it. As you’re meeting with people, jot down anything they say that’s interesting—especially if it’s potentially alarming. Does the head of marketing hesitate when you ask her about the messaging strategy? Do you get an OMG-I’m-totally-overworked vibe from the hiring manager? Have there been three people leave the position in the last year?
Keep track of all those impressions, and be prepared to use that ammunition when it comes to the “do you have any questions for me” portion of the interview.
Remember: While it’s easy to get caught up in simply “winning” an offer, what you really need to be concerned with is finding the right offer. Your interviewers are going to be picking apart everything you say, and you should be doing the same.
Step 3: Fire Away
Using what you’ve learned in steps 1 and 2, you’ll want to craft some key questions for your prospective employer when it comes to the Q&A portion of the interview. I’ll be honest, this may seems like the scariest part of the interview, but it’s not. This is when you have the power, and when you need to assert yourself and show you’re interviewing the company, too.
While you don’t ever want to rapid-fire questions at the interviewer, you should take as much time as you need during this portion. You’ll first want to clear up anything that’s confusing or unknown about this position (here are a few questions to make sure you have the answers to). Then, use this time to build on what you’ve learned, asking questions to help you determine whether the company and role would really be a fit for you. This will obviously vary situation by situation, but really, everything from whether you’ll enjoy the day to day and get along with your boss and co-workers to whether the company is on track for success is fair game!
And, don’t be afraid to ask tough questions—just ask them politely. A great way to do so is to ask your interviewers to share their own personal experiences. For example, if a company has gone through a lot of changes with its executive team, ask your interviewers what it’s been like going through that transition. (More on that approach here.)
And finally, pay attention not only to what your interviewer says, but how he or she says it. Is she interested in the questions or annoyed? Does he seem to get stressed under pressure? This can you a great deal of insight on the person you’re talking to (and would be reporting to).
Interviewing is exciting and stressful, but don’t forget, it’s not just for the company’s benefit; it’s for you, too. Do your due diligence, and be ready to fire away questions on the spot. I promise you’ll have a much better feel for whether or not a company is the right fit for you.