From touching on company culture to the processes in place to foster communication amongst team members, here’s what you need to know to get an accurate feel for a potential employer.Ask any employee what makes their job great and they’ll likely say it’s much more than a good salary and solid health insurance.

In fact, today’s job seekers want information not only on a company’s compensation and benefits plans, but “softer perks” like what makes it an attractive place to work, and the scoop on its mission, vision, and values, according to a January survey.

But at what point in the interview process should you feel comfortable inquiring about things like culture and non-monetary benefits?

“I don’t see any problem with questions about culture, fit or personality out of the gate,” says Sharon Jautz, director of talent acquisition at Sandow Media. “You might have all the skills and experience for the role, yet not fit with the culture.  That’s a recipe for a very short, unrequited relationship.”


“What Do You Like Most About Working Here?

Gail Berger, Assistant Professor of Instruction — Education & Social Policy, Northwestern University, agrees, arguing that the interview process serves as a way for both employers and candidates to suss each other out. Asking about company company culture without mentioning company culture is a good way to get a sense of what the day-to-day will be like.

“While traditionally we view an interview as a one-way exchange, with the employer deciding if the individual should be hired, a more enlightened view of the interview process is one of determining fit both from the employer’s perspective and the candidate’s perspective,” she says. “It is actually to the benefit of the employer to have candidates opting out if they do not feel that they are a good fit with the company culture.”


“If I Get The Position, How Will I Be Working With My Manager?”

By asking this question, you will be able to ascertain how collaborative the environment you may be joining is. Here, you want to figure out how staffers at your level are utilized, and if possible, how the company views communication between staffers at different levels.


“What Are The Challenges Involved In This Position?”

This is another, less-overt way of figuring out if the role is the right one for you. You may find that the budget isn’t there to accomplish all the goals that have been set for you. Or, the issue of end-of-the-quarter late-nights or frequent overnight travel may come up. One thing to note: If the interviewer fails to identify any challenges, they are likely holding something back.

Berger urges applicants to pay attention to the demeanor of the folks you are speaking to. “When meeting with employees at the company you should pay attention to the mood and atmosphere,” she says. “Do people seem happy?  Are they smiling?  Do they seem excited to be at work?” 


What To Wait On

While those re-entering the workforce may be particularly focused on work/life balance and the ability to manage this by working from home occasionally, for example, Berger urges restraint.

In terms of additional benefits, like flex time,” she says, “I would not begin to negotiate until I was given a formal offer.”

Finally, don’t forget that you are just as in control as the person interviewing you, and if something doesn’t feel right or requires too much compromise on your part, it might be time to move on.

“The smoothness of the entire applicant experience is of the utmost importance,” says Jautz. “We live in a world where the applicant is a consumer and if your experience as an applicant is less than stellar, ask yourself if you are really sure you want to work for that company.”


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