An interview is the only time during the hiring process when you and your interviewer can form a mutual relationship based on observation and communication. You're both on the same level: the interviewer wants to do his or her best to get to know you, answer your questions, and find out if you would be a good fit for the job and the company.
Despite its etiquette and formality, your interview can yield a wealth of information. The key to a successful interview is to bring some knowledge with you yet keep your eyes open for the intangibles, such as office culture and the staff's personalities. You also should know what kinds of questions to ask the interviewer, and how to interpret the answers.
Researching a Potential Company
Knowing your subject is as important as asking the right questions. Do enough research so that you can speak authoritatively about the company during the interview. Here's what to look at the day before.
Attitude and Environment
Employees tend to thrive in certain work-style environments - relaxed, formal, or a combination of both. A company's environment indicates the team's personality styles and the way the company conducts business. This is a personal judgment call on your part.
Training programs help facilitate your transition into a new company and job. Look for companies willing to enhance your skill set and knowledge, regardless of your job level. Chances are, a company that trains workers also wants to retain and promote them.
The company should be willing to send every employee to at least one training session. You also should feel free to ask whether the company would send you to additional industry conferences, both local and long-distance, if you feel such an event could strengthen your knowledge and contribute to your performance. Listen to the response. Here's what you don't want to hear.
You can gain a lot by learning what kinds of relationships workers have with senior management. A relatively collaborative organization respects and values all departments, and indicates that top management is willing to expend time and resources on developing each area of the company. Here's what you should learn:
You should find out the time commitment the company expects from you. Ask, "How many hours do employees generally work per day and per week?" You also can ask to speak directly to some employees if you want a more representative response.
Knowing whether the company generally expects its workers to put in a certain amount of extra time is important, even if you already had planned to work more than 40 hours a week.
Travel and Relocation
Find out whether the company expects you to travel and whether they will reimburse for travel expenses such as overnight stays and gas mileage.
You also must realize your threshold for change. Ask the interviewer about the relocation history of the company, such as, "Do you change office space often?"
Also, if the company frequently moves people within the office, it could be a sign that they regard their employees' professional workspace as dispensable. If an interviewer tells you the company is expanding its staff, ask where they will be placing the new workers, and if this would affect your workspace.
Promotions and Performance Reviews
You'll be happiest when you know a company's promotion trends, especially if you consider yourself ambitious.
Compensation and Other Pay
Find out the company's compensation philosophy.
You also might be interested in learning the types of rewards the company offers. Ultimately, you'll have to decide whether you even value these gifts and rewards. In any case, giving out rewards implies that the company is good at searching for and recognizing positive performance in its employees, and that's always a plus. These can include the following.
This is perhaps the most important question you may want to ask. If employees are leaving in droves despite bonuses and perks, you know something is wrong. Workers may be dissatisfied with their pay or with management, or find their work culture unfulfilling or unproductive. Again, you can ask to talk to an employee. Here's what you need to be sure to ask.
Acquisition and Litigation
It also would be wise to ask whether the company is undergoing any talks concerning acquisitions or mergers, which could mean layoffs in the future. If negotiations for mergers or other partnerships are underway, you need to ask what kind of relationship the company will have with its partner, and whether this situation could affect your job. Will the company become a subsidiary, or will there be a total merger - where downsizing is almost certain? Ask whether your department will become a duplicate once the merger takes place.
You also may want to ask whether there are any current litigation proceedings, which could mean forced bankruptcy in the worst case. If the answer is yes, ask the basics: How long has the litigation been going on? What kind of monetary claim is being discussed? From your earlier research, you also may find that the company's recent stock price reflects investors' uneasiness with a lawsuit.
After the Interview
An interviewer will contact you about the job if he or she is interested. You can ask how long you can expect before a telephone call. If you have any questions in the meantime, feel free to call and ask the interviewer.
You can send in additional materials or references if you think they would strengthen your candidacy. But the interviewer will weigh the decision mostly on what he or she saw and heard from you during the interview.
Do your best to leave a great impression.