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
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
Has the stock value fluctuated significantly in the last
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?
News. 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,
Executive turnover. You should know who is coming
and who is leaving.
Has the company recently come under new management, and if
When was the last time the company hired an executive, and
What advantage might the new hire's credentials provide
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.
Language. 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
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
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?
Diversity. 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
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.
Funding. "We don't have enough money to send
employees to training programs."
Requirements. "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
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.
Favorites. You can find out whether senior staff
holds one department in higher regard than another.
Is the boss part of your department's management
If not, does he or she meet regularly with the management
Advocacy. Does your department have a leader who
advocates your department's needs to senior
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
Promotions and performance reviews
You'll be happiest when you know a company's promotion
trends, especially if you consider yourself ambitious..
Promotions. 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
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.
Salary. 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
What types of bonuses are offered?
Who is eligible?
When are the bonuses awarded?
What criteria are used to determine who actually receives
How does the employer calculate the dollar value of each
Stock. 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
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
How many people have left the position in the last two
How many people have left the department in the last two
Are those employees still with the company? Ask to speak
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.
- Erisa Ojimba, Certified Compensation Professional