What Company Clues Can You Pick Up at the Interview?

Before a job interview, most candidates are aware of the standard pre-interview preparation that’s expected of them. Researching a company and its management online has long been a prerequisite for a successful interview, not just to inform the applicant of the kind of company to which he or she is applying, but more importantly, to prove the applicant’s interest in the company to the employer prior to the interview. Still, this only gives the job seeker a small snapshot of the employer. After all, anything can be made to look good online with a good photographer and copywriter, and what employer would publish something on their website or social media that didn’t paint them in their best light possible?

For most job seekers, however, what a company truly has to offer reveals itself at the face-to-face interview. Considering that accepting a job is an integral step on an employee’s career path, it’s in a candidate’s best interest to know what signs to look for, and what they signify. Here are a few bits of information about an employer that can be gleaned during the interview process, and how they may affect you as a future employee.

The office

As you approach the office for the interview, take note of your surroundings. Is it in a nice neighborhood? Is the building well-maintained? Is the office décor attractive? Surely there are plenty of examples of successful companies in declining neighborhoods or boasting shabby-chic décor, but the majority of the time, a successful company will take pride in its office’s appearance, and vice versa. Once you arrive, take note of the amenities. Are there snacks and beverages available? Is there a comfortable breakroom for employees to relax during lunchtime and breaks? Are the bathrooms clean? Is there ample security should you decide to work late? Remember that you will probably be spending more waking hours at work than you do at home. Therefore, a company’s office plays a far bigger role than just a building to house your desk and computer. Working for an employer that offers its employees comfortable, well-maintained surroundings and amenities will yield much greater employee satisfaction than those with less comfortable or attractive surroundings.

The employees

During the interview, make an effort to interact with as many people as possible. How are you treated by the receptionist? How about the individual(s) performing the interview? Are they friendly and upbeat, or do they appear overly busy and inconvenienced by your presence? Most importantly, take note of other employees around the office. While your interaction with them will probably be limited, do they appear friendly in their interaction with each other, or overwhelmed by the burden of work? Keep in mind that these will be your coworkers with whom you’ll spend 40+ hours a week. They can become lifelong friends, or cause you endless hours of frustration. While you may not be able to tell this from your first meeting, you can at least get an idea of the company culture and whether the employees will make for a positive work environment.

The interview

The interview itself isn’t just a chance for the employer to evaluate you, but for you to evaluate the employer. A candidate can tell a lot about a company’s management simply by the preparation and professionalism with which they conduct an interview. Was the interviewer on time, or did they keep you waiting? Did they seem relaxed and prepared, or frustrated and overwhelmed? Did they seem interested in your answers, or did they appear eager to wrap up and get somewhere they’d rather be? Whether or not you would be working directly with the person who interviewed you, you would certainly be working with the management team this person represents. Should you get the feeling that the interviewer is inconvenienced, rushed or simply not welcoming, chances are you’ll recognize these reoccurring traits as an employee.

The parking lot

This one may seem a bit superficial, but as you exit the office parking lot, make a note of the employees’ vehicles. Are they relatively new and well-maintained, or old and in poor condition? While you obviously can’t judge an individual’s talent or work ethic by the car they drive, one could argue it’s easier to judge a company’s success as a whole by the cars in its parking lot. Obviously this will depend a great deal on where the company is located, as owning a new car in New York City will put you in a whole other income bracket than owning one in a small Midwestern town. Whether or not you subscribe to this theory, the fact remains that if public transportation isn’t available, an employer that doesn’t pay its employees enough to perform routine car maintenance probably won’t rank very high in employee satisfaction.

Job seekers who are just starting their career often make the mistake of focusing solely on impressing the employer in the interview. While this is important, they may overlook the fact that the interview is the opportune time to gather information essential to determining future work satisfaction. Unless you know someone who works at the company or have done business with them in the past, the interview will be your only direct interaction with the company that may serve as your future employer for years to come. Keep your eyes and ears open throughout every step of the interview process as if your future depends on it, because you’ll soon find out it does.

By John Feldmann

John Feldmann is a Senior Communications Specialist for Insperity in Houston, TX. With over a decade of marketing and employment branding experience in the recruiting and human resources industries, John specializes in employment- and HR-related content development for a variety of media types in order to communicate Insperity's brand to both business professionals and job seekers. Follow John on X @John_Feldmann.