Interviews are stressful. You spend hours over your initial application, research and prepare for days, and then generally have less than an hour to try and prove that you’re the perfect person for the role. And because you’re so focussed on impressing your interviewer and being your best self, it can be easy to forget that, actually, their opinions aren’t the only important ones.
Interviews are your chance to evaluate the company, just as they’re evaluating you; it’s a two-way street. It’s crucial to get insight into the company before making up your mind whether or not you really want to work there, and there’s only so much you can glean from the Internet.
When you go to your next interview, pay attention to the following 5 things, and you’ll be able to come to the right conclusion regarding whether you’re the right fit for the company.
Start forming your impression of the company as soon as you arrive. After all, the reception area is the first place that any visiting clients will see, so it should tell you a lot about how the company chooses to present itself. The set-up will vary according to the size of company – a start-up or small company with 5 employers might not have a lobby at all – but do you like what you see when you walk in? And can you imagine welcoming someone there yourself?
More importantly, are you greeted with warmth? If the person on the front desk and the employee who comes to meet you make you feel welcome – by making small talk, or by offering you some refreshment – then that suggests it will be a pleasant place to work. On the flip side, a company that doesn’t make the effort to treat its visitors well might have a similar attitude towards its employees.
The same goes for any other people you pass on your way to the interview room. Do they hurry past you, or smile and say hello? They might be busy, but if they seem unfriendly then this might indicate that it’s a cheerless place to work.
Finally, does the interview begin on time? Being late to an interview is known to be a disastrous move by a candidate, and you should hold your interviewer to the same standards. Unless they offer a great explanation, being late suggests that they don’t respect your time.
Office layout and décor
The environment you work in can have a significant impact on your happiness and productivity, but many people don’t take this into account when choosing where to work. According to the 2014 Human Spaces Report, 77% of people would not let the design of an office affect their decision to work there.
However, the report also demonstrated that factors such as natural light and greenery in the office increased workplace productivity and well-being by 8% and 13% respectively. The physical set-up of the office is certainly worth paying attention to.
You should also make note of whether the layout is open plan, or whether everyone has their own office or cubicle? This isn’t a question of whether one is better than the other, only of what kind of environment you would be happy to work in. If you’re sociable and enjoy being around people all the time, an open plan office may suit you. But if you work better in a quiet space that you can personalise, take that into account.
If you can, take a peak into any shared social areas. They might have a break room filled with free food, a pool table, and decorated with pictures of the team, suggesting that they’re fun-loving and tight-knit. Even in a very corporate environment, the social spaces are worth checking out: it might be that the company spends money on fitting out areas that will be visible to clients, but not those only used by staff.
Before you attend the interview, you should do your best to suss out the company culture beforehand. The company website, social media channels, job specification, and online reputation should give you an insight into what it’s like to work there. Now it’s time to see whether your expectations match the reality.
One of the easiest but most effective ways to assess the company is simply to pay close attention to all the employees you see. Do they look happy or strained? Enthusiastic or exhausted? Busy or rushed off their feet? The more people you see, the better an impression you’ll get – if you meet one person who’s having a terrible day that’s one thing, but if everyone looks grim and overworked it might be time to make your exit.
On top of that, what are the noise levels like in the office? Some places will be lively with chat and might have music playing, while others are quiet. Again, it’s a matter of your personal preferences, but you should hesitate before signing up to work somewhere if you think you’re not the right fit for the company.
Tone and body language
Your interviewer will be forming an impression of you based as much on your tone and body language as what you say, and you should do the same to them. They may be saying great things about the company, but do they actually sound proud to be working there? Or are they slumped in their seat or distracted by emails on their phone?
It’s especially important to pay attention if you have more than one interviewer, or have another chance to see employees interact with each other. If one person continually interrupts the other, or ignores someone more junior than them, it’s a warning sign. If you feel like something is off, it can be worth trusting your gut.
As well as observing everything around you, don’t pass up the chance to find out more information. Almost every interview will end with your interviewer giving you a chance to ask them any questions, and this is your chance to learn more. Steer clear of enquiries about the salary or job benefits, and instead ask searching questions about company values or what makes them proud to work at the company.
Claire Kilroy is a content writer for the UK’s leading graduate recruitment agency, Inspiring Interns. Check out their website if you’re on the hunt for internships or graduate jobs in London and beyond, or head to their blog for more graduate careers advice.
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