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.
- Stock Trends
If the company's stock is publicly traded, you should research the stock price, the history of the stock, and how the company measures up against its competitors.
Has the stock value fluctuated significantly in the last year?
Has the stock's value improved from when it first went public, or has the price declined?
Has the stock's value changed noticeably, and if so, are there any economic or industry influences that may have affected the price, such as a rise in interest rates?
Remember that companies are responsible for promoting their own good news, and the media often hypes the bad news. Has the company been in the news recently, and why?
- Executive Turnover
You should know who is coming and who is leaving.
Has the company recently come under new management, and if so, why?
When was the last time the company hired an executive, and why?
What advantage might the new hire's credentials provide the company?
- Mission/Vision Statement
You can learn a company's values by reading its mission statement. You often can find this statement on the corporate website, at Hoovers.com, or by calling and requesting a copy of the company's annual report if the company is public.
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.
If the interviewer shows you around the office, or you are able to see or hear employees talking and working together, be mindful of the language they use. Is it formal, strict business language or do the workers speak openly and candidly? How much talking takes place during your visit? Are people joking with one another? What balance of the above language styles would you prefer?
- Dress Code
You also should notice the way people are dressed, which will prepare you to understand a company's office etiquette.
Is everyone dressed formally or casually, or is there room for your own dress style?
What is your personal style of dress?
It's also important to notice and assess the company's openness to hiring a diverse workforce, which will give you an idea of how they feel about other ideas and cultures.
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.
"We don't have enough money to send employees to training programs."
"An employee has to be in the job for at least a year before attending a work-related program."
- Perk Status
"We consider training a perk, not a requirement."
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 can find out whether senior staff holds one department in higher regard than another.
Is the boss part of your department's management team?
If not, does he or she meet regularly with the management team?
Does your department have a leader who advocates your department's needs to senior management?
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.
First, you should ask about promotion rates. Ask, "How often do people in the workplace generally see promotions?" A good answer is anywhere from 18 months to two years. A raise generally is included in the promotion.
- Performance Reviews
Performance reviews, which may or may not include a raise, should take place once a year. These meetings give you and your employer a chance to talk about your accomplishments and the next year's objectives.
- Merit Increases
These are based on performance and accomplishment and often are awarded during reviews.
Compensation and Other Pay
Find out the company's compensation philosophy.
Does the company pay salaries that are competitive with other companies' pay?
Does the company believe in being competitive when deciding upon compensation?
Does the company pay what people will accept, regardless of their value or objective?
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.
- On-the-Spot Cash Bonuses
These are unexpected payments.
What types of bonuses are offered?
Who is eligible?
When are the bonuses awarded?
What criteria are used to determine who actually receives a bonus?
How does the employer calculate the dollar value of each bonus?
When discussing stock, you also should ask whether the company offers stock in lieu of cash bonuses. If the answer to this is yes, it's a bad sign if the stock has little monetary value, and a good sign if you are dealing with a top-performing company.
- Non-Compensatory Gifts
The company offers paid holidays; or beyond that, picks up the tab for lunches or dinners; or gives out gifts, tickets to performances, or tickets to sports events.
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.
- Has this job been open before and if yes, why is the company hiring someone else?
- How many people have held the position in the last two years?
- How many people have left the position in the last two years?
- How many people have left the department in the last two years?
- Are those employees still with the company? Ask to speak with them.
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.