Go prepared: a shortlist of interview recommendations

Photo by Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

Two promotions, three job changes, and one layoff over the past 8 years have taught me a few things about the interview process.
by Taylor Cashdan, first published on Medium.

Individuals too often treat interviews as one-way transactions, but a good interview has both parties leaving with more knowledge than when they entered.

Job searching tends to be a long, arduous, and often mentally defeating process. These side effects, if you will, can be mitigated with strategic preparation before embarking on the journey. The 4 sections below outline the plan of attack I’ve used to gain valuable perspective about a job before accepting or turning down an offer and make the process a whole lot more palatable.

It’s important to remember that it’s the interviewer’s job (the company) to make sure that you’re a good fit for the company, not the interviewee (you, the job seeker). Your sole job is to make sure that the company is a good fit for you.

Do some pre-digging

Spend no more than 30 minutes ransacking a company’s website, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor profiles. The first two will give a basis of understanding so that you can use the latter to identify patterns. These patterns will represent the go-to factoids or discrepancies for conversation during your interview process.

I usually consider something pattern-worthy if there are ~5 or more comments about a particular issue. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that the sentiment is true, but it gives you a discussion point for when you speak with the recruiter/manager/representative from the company. Be ready to interview them just as they are you.

Smaller companies might not have Glassdoor profiles, which means you’ll have to rely on your gut a bit more when you get the chance to talk to them.

Ask questions

This is probably the best piece of advice that I have. This is just as much a chance for a potential employer to get to know you as it is a chance for you to get to know them! Generally speaking, I go in with the set of questions below. They’re usually informed by any identified patterns from my research (above), sentiment from other friends/colleagues that may work there or know of the company, or general things that are important to me that I’d like to know before committing to another interview/the job.

“The job description mentions this…can you elaborate more?”

Most of the time, job descriptions aren’t written well and there are things in there that 1. I’m not comfortable with/fluent in, 2. seem out of place, or 3. are interesting, yet generally out of scope for the particular job I’m applying for. Either way, getting clarity on something like “collateral design” or “research and testing” will help you understand what you’d actually be responsible for.

“What’s the team size and structure?”

Here’s where you get to find out if you’ll serve as the solo-representative of your skillset or will have a team to work with. You can also dig into the management structure a bit and find out who you might directly report to, where they fit into the bigger organizational structure, etc.

“What are YOU looking for in a team member?”

This question always yields different answers from different people — and I always ask it to anyone I speak to. This will give you insight into the kind of qualities your team/managers/the company might be looking for. And it gives you a chance to see if you can/want to meet those expectations, introspectively.

“Is there room to grow within this role and explore new areas of my field?”

Think “if I stay here for 1+ years, will there be new responsibilities/advancement opportunities”? Most companies have “tracks” for the roles they offer that often include new skills, learnings, tasks, etc. But some don’t — and the only thing that “grows” is potentially your pay, but most commonly your responsibilities, over time.

“Does the company support extended learning, like additional training or conferences?”

This will give you a sense if the company is invested in “we have a need and want to fill it right now” versus “we have a need and want to invest in the right person(s) to grow beyond our current needs”. In my career, I’ve found attending conferences to be invaluable, and most companies have training budgets that will pay for, or at least help, your attendance to these kinds of events.

“XYZ sounds awesome, can you tell me more about it?”

If there’s something on their website (like a department or service) or something that comes up in discussion that’s particularly interesting to you, ask more about it! Remember, this is your chance to get more information, too.

“What’s a typical day in ‘the life’?”

This question never gets answered the same way, and is often something that doesn’t reflect the absolute truth, regardless — but that’s the best part of asking it. You can reinforce/anchor the patterns you identified in your research through this question. You might also find out some things about the culture.

“How’s the work-life balance? General hours? Dress code?”

This question almost always comes out of the “typical day” question, but they go hand in hand and serve different purposes. While the “typical day” question allows for a “creative” answer, this question is more direct. You should want to know if they expect 40, or 80, hours per week out of employees. Or if they offer flexibility of work location (like remote days, etc), or schedules (some employers want folks in by 9 am, some 10 am, etc). And most importantly, are you expected to wear formal attire? Or can you wear a pair of pants with your favorite graphic tee/a sundress that you really like?

“Glassdoor had a lot of sentiment about XYZ, can you help me dissect it?”

Like I mentioned above, Glassdoor can help you identify patterns, but it can also be a black hole of negativity — and seldom do people go to online submission forums to write nice things. Give the company a chance to defend something that you identified as a red flag, or better yet, reinforce something positive you saw.

“What are the next steps after this interview?”

Always ask this question if you are interested in continuing with the interview process. For one, it shows you’re interested, but more importantly, you’ll know what’s expected of you before your next touchpoint. Sometimes that’s waiting for a call, sometimes that’s sending over availability for an onsite meeting. You don’t know until you ask. Plus, it’s nice knowing that an interview process might take 6 weeks versus 2, or that there’s a team interview versus a one-on-one with the manager, etc.

You don’t have to ask these in order — go with the flow of the conversation. It’s also worth noting that I try and ask the bulk, if not all, of these during the first interview. The person you speak to first usually is a talent management person or recruiter, so they won’t have all of the answers. However, asking them shows that you’re diligent and have interest in the company, which makes it into their notes about you, and ultimately to the person(s) that manages the position you’re applying for.

Have patience

The interview process is awful and usually full of a lot of waiting. Don’t take this personally. Hiring managers have handfuls of candidates to sort through for each position, and even if you’re #1 on their list, they need to do their due diligence to make sure. That being said, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket — just because you applied and are (potentially) interviewing with one company doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply to another.

Be ready to say no

Not every company you interview with or even receive offers from will be a good fit for you. If you don’t get a good vibe, feel uncomfortable, or aren’t excited about the role you are allowed to say no and continue your search. Taking the wrong job is worse than waiting for a better one to pan out. You have a set of principles, wants/desires out of an employer, and a skill set that you’d like to leverage and grow within — find a place that will align as close as possible to that.

This plan of attack has proven useful to me, and is “recruiter approved”. I hope it sheds some light and clears the air for you during your interview process.

Good luck, hold true to who you are, and let the odds be ever in your favor.

By Taylor Cashdan
Published July 12, 2019