10 Key Items Candidates Should Assess During the Interview Process
Interviewing, and accepting a job offer, can be a really stressful time. There are many items to consider so you can be confident that your next move is the right one! If you're better equipped to assess the things important to you during the interview process, you'll feel much more confident in either accepting or declining an offer!
Here are our top recommendations of items to assess during the interview process to help ensure you make the right long-term career decision for yourself:
1. Culture and environment
The importance of culture and work environment is increasingly rising on candidate's list of must haves for a new role. To put things in perspective, we spend most of our waking hours with those we work with, so it's ideal to enjoy the place you work and the people you work with! Yes it can be difficult to get a true sense of what the culture and work environment is like until you actually join the company, but during the interview process there are certain things you can hone in on that will give you clues as to what it's really like to work there. Do their core values align with yours? After getting the chance to visit the office, did it appear to be a place in which you'd thrive? Did the managers and leaders you meet with have a vision that you can get behind? Was it evident that training and upward mobility was important to them? You can also ask questions to get a gauge of culture, such as "How would you describe the culture of your team? What traits do the majority of team members have, and that you look for? Why do you/your team members enjoy coming to work? How do you create a strong culture?" Everyone has different ideas of what an ideal culture is; just be sure that the company you're interviewing with aligns with yours!
When we say benefits, we don't just mean money, healthcare coverage, vacation, etc. There are many more parts of the compensation equation and overall benefits plan that you want to consider! Yes, money is extremely important to a lot of people, but we've seen many candidates accept a lower salary because the benefits, flexibility and company perks were so fantastic. Maybe there is a work-from-home policy, a casual dress code, bring your dog to work day, PTO for philanthropy or Tech For Good initiatives, "play time" (i.e. 10-20%+ of work time towards personal pet projects), excellent training offerings, a day off for your birthday, and the list goes on. Although traditional benefits like PTO, health insurance, and 401(k) are extremely important, don't forget to inquire about any other additional perks the company and the specific group/team may offer! At the end of the day, ensure that their benefits package meets your needs before accepting an offer.
3. Growth and development potential
How the company views training and development can be a huge indicator on whether things like upward mobility, promotions from within, and personal growth are important to them. Companies with a strong emphasis on T&D tend to be extremely supportive of their employees learning new skills/technologies and moving into new roles to advance their careers. Inquire about emerging leaders or mentorship programs they offer. Ask how long employees typically stay in the same role. What is the potential career path for this role? Most people want an environment that fosters their creativity and thirst for knowledge, which ties directly into personal and professional growth and development. Ensure you're joining a company that will encourage this if an environment of continuous learning is important to you!
4. Current versus future state of technology
We've seen many situations where candidates have turned down job offers because a company's technology roadmap doesn't appeal to them or they're using extremely outdated technologies. We've also had candidates join organizations simply because they were moving to a tool they were eager to try! As a technology professional, things are constantly changing and it's important to stay abreast of trends and keep your skills up to date. During the interview process, it's a good idea to ask which tools and technologies are currently being utilized and is there any plan to change / update these in the future. The answer provided will give insight as to whether or not their technology roadmap is in line with your expectations and goals for the future. From this, you can also evaluate if this job will keep you sharp from a technology standpoint.
5. How organization copes with change
One frustration we've found with individuals in their first few months at a new company, or in a new group, is that they're "resistant to change." This matters more for certain skill sets, but if you're an Architect or Project Manager trying to implement a new process, approach, technology, etc., it's important! Some organizations have better, more open "change management mindsets" than others. If they are more open, it can also correlate to being more of an "early adopter of technology," which is certainly a plus for many technology professionals! Again, if this aspect is important to you, inquire about it during the interview process. You can ask questions such as "How open is your organization to change? How long does it typically take to get organizational buy-in when a new process is implemented? How quickly does your team typically adopt a new technology, version or tool once it's released?"
6. Management style and structure
Management can truly make or break any job. Personally, I'd rather take a tough, stressful job, if I have a great manager supporting me, versus a dream job with a bad manager who is unsupportive, negative, etc. In most cases, your manager has the most influence on your daily work life and satisfaction, so it's important to evaluate if this is someone you can work with, and for. Does this person seem respectful, positive and supportive? Do they seem to set realistic expectations? Do they have a good reputation amongst his/her peers, within the company, in the industry, and does their management style suite your needs? Do they support learning? How do they communicate with their team? You may not have an answer to every one of these questions during the interview process, but hopefully you've had plenty of opportunity to interact with your potential manager(s) and evaluate if it'll be a right fit for you.
7. Key priorities and anticipated challenges
One of the best questions you can ask during an interview is around priorities and expected accomplishments, and timelines around those. As Geoff Smart and Randy Street explain in 'Who: The A Method for Hiring,' one of the most effective ways you can get a gauge of true expectations is to ask "What do you expect me to come in and accomplish over the first 3 months? First 6 months? First year?" Not only does this give you strong insight into their expectations and a more realistic breakdown of what the job will truly entail, but it sets you up to customize your "professional elevator pitch" around your relevant qualifications and how you could contribute to the goals of that role! There are going to be challenges and potential roadblocks in every job and on every project, so it's helpful to understand what those are from the beginning.
8. Why the position is open and overall team turnover/retention
We always recommend inquiring as to why this role is open, if you don't already know. It may be a brand new position, or the previous individual recently got promoted, but it could also be because there have been multiple individuals in this role in the last year who didn't work out. The last one is a red flag and could be an indicator to you that something is off in this environment, with the project / client or with this team / manager. Maybe the expectations aren't realistic, it's a toxic culture, or maybe there aren't enough training opportunities. It may be none of those, and it may simply be a case of bad hires, but it's definitely something worth exploring. On the flip side, if the position is open because the team is growing or the individual got promoted, that's a positive sign of the company and career growth potential! We recommend gauging "average tenure of the team" with each team you interview with, which is always an indication of overall satisfaction.
9. Why team members enjoy working there
Hopefully you had the chance to meet some, if not all, of the team you'll be working with during the interview process. One of the questions we always tell interviewees to ask is "what do you like about working here?" and "what are your biggest challenges?" Listen to what they say they enjoy, as well as what their challenges are. Both answers give you valuable insight into whether or not this is a company, and team, you want to join. You're interviewing for a reason, often because you're looking for something that you're not currently getting. Are they mentioning things like meaningful work, team morale, company culture, technology, neat perks that are offered, etc.? Everyone's motivators are different, but getting a sense of why the team comes into work every day is great information to obtain during the interview process. Hopefully their responses make it easy for you to make a decision!
10. Overall flexibility of the company, team, client and manager
There are a lot of recent studies that show the benefits of workplace flexibility – increased productivity, teamwork, morale, and not to mention attracting and maintaining top talent. Flexibility can mean a lot of things to different companies, but assess what, if any, the company you're interviewing for provides. Potential offerings may include: flexible work schedule (not a traditional 8-5), telecommuting options, using processes and technologies that you deem best to get something accomplished, a manager that's willing to get hands-on to help complete a project, etc. Additionally, we recommend sharing examples of your flexibility in previous roles during the interview! This is a great way to sell your skills and start the conversation of what their environment is like. Do their team members support each other and are they willing to help out if someone is out of town or simply needs help?
When you start your next job search, do a little self-reflection before you start searching, applying and interviewing for positions, and:
- Determine major things that are important to you, including some of the 10 outlined above or others you've identified that truly contribute to your overall job/company satisfaction
- Flush out some questions and/or other tactics for assessing each of those areas
Here's an example 'Interview Assessment Criteria Plan' with some of our top motivators:
- Culture of organization – if things are going well during the interview process, ask if it's possible to "shadow" or meet a few individuals on the team
- Training offerings – what internal training programs exist? What sort of continuous training does the team do? How does the Manager support training? Is there any education, certification and/or conference reimbursement?
- Philanthropy – how does the organization and team support the community? Is there any time off for volunteering?
- Flexibility – is there any flexibility that exists? Now or in the future?
- Job Priorities & Purpose – what are the major goals of this role? How is this role going to impact/influence the team, project(s), client(s), and the organization as a whole?
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