Interviewing your prospective employer

Not long ago, I was mentoring someone starting a search for a new role. The person was curious about how to interview a prospective employer.

image of a meeting from

Not long ago, I was mentoring someone starting a search for a new role. The person was curious about how to interview a prospective employer. I wrote explicitly about this in a blog post a few years ago (, but I think I was able to further distill some of the ideas in our conversation.

There are three things when considering a new role assuming the basics (i.e., pay, benefits, location) make sense.

  1. Can you be successful at the company?
  2. Does the role move you toward your career objectives?
  3. Are you excited about what you will work on?

Suppose you can get all three. Wow! Take that job! Two of the three is pretty good, but it likely means that you should not expect the role to be long-term unless you misjudge the situation or something changes. One of three? Take it if you must but have an exit plan.

If you are in a decent role today, you can always choose to keep looking rather than take something that doesn’t meet enough of your criteria. While the lure of something new might be tempting, it can be hard to understand a role before you are established in it. If your initial investigation raises questions, it may be better to keep your search going.

The critical element is knowing yourself and the perspective role well enough to make the determination (the technique I describe in the blog post referenced above is helpful for this). If you don’t know what you want, keep exploring. Look to new roles to increase your skills or experience with industries, company size, or company culture.

Once you know the conditions where you do your best work, where you want to go with your career, and what excites you to work every day, you can put together questions to ask when talking to the recruiter or as part of the interview process.

Try to avoid asking direct, obvious questions. If the interviews are going well, people may tell you what you want to hear. For example, asking, “How is the work/life balance at your company?” is less likely to be helpful than asking, “What times do meetings usually start or end during your day?” If several employees tell you that their day starts early or ends late, you will see some work/life balance patterns.

Another problem with direct questions is that they reveal more about you than you might want in an interview. For example, when a candidate asks me a direct question about something specific, such as raises, review processes, or work/life balance, it tells me not just that they are interested but that they may have had bad experiences with this in the past. If I get a sense of a bad experience, it will usually prompt me to better understand the nature of their concerns. If you are concerned about review processes, for example, I wonder if you have received negative reviews in the past and what was the story behind them. So, asking more generally about how often the company performs appraisals and the process will elicit less concern than asking how employees can appeal negative reviews.

Ask indirect questions about how the work is done, the day-to-day responsibilities of the role, and what conflicts arise. Look for clues in the answers that speak to reality. You may find some of your interviewers are more forthcoming and open. Leverage that transparency. Find friends or friends-of-friends that know people who work there to get the unvarnished truth.

But also realize that companies evolve just as people do, just as you will. So even if things are good for you initially, they may not stay that way.

So, when your three-of-three company becomes your two-of-three company, you may wait things out to see if things will change, but you also might want to start looking for your next three-of-three company. Although every company will have good/bad periods, once you have been at a company for a while, you’ll understand if the current situation is temporary or part of a more permanent shift.

Of course, in today’s job climate, you might need to take that one-of-three job or even zero-of-three position. If that is the case, don’t despair. Instead, focus on taking care of things until you can find a role that fits you better. Tech is cyclical, just like the broader economy. If you can wait it out, things will get better.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.