how to get the inside scoop on a company before accepting a new job

When you’re interviewing for a job, it can be tough to know what working there day to day would really be like. Good companies will try to help you get a strong sense of their culture, but plenty of employers try so hard to present themselves in a good light that they obscure important information about working there. And even when companies try to be transparent, candidates are often so eager to get a job offer that they overlook warning signs about the culture.

It’s crucial to find ways to dig into what’s it’s really like to work somewhere before you accept an offer. Otherwise, you risk finding yourself in a new job that makes you miserable.

Here are seven ways to get the inside scoop on a company before you accept a job offer.

1. Ask smart questions. Too often, candidates don’t ask many questions of their own during job interviews, instead relying on their interviewers to tell them what they need to know. Don’t squander your opportunity to hear directly from your interviewer about the company culture! These questions can get you useful information:

  • “What kind of person does especially well here and what type of person isn’t as strong of a fit?”
  • “What time do you normally come in to work and leave for the day?”
  • “Can you tell me about a time there was a disagreement on the team and how it was handled?”
  • “How long was the previous person was in the role, and how many people have held the role in the last five years?”(Unusually high turnover in the role can be a sign of problems; you often see it when the workload is unmanageable, the boss is difficult to work with, or the expectations are unrealistic.)
  • “How have you seen the company change since you’ve been here?” (This question assumes that your interviewer has been with the company at least a few years.)
  • “If you could change one thing about the culture here, what would it be?”
  • “What do you wish you knew before starting work here?”

 2. Ask to talk to other people on the team that you would be joining before accepting a job offer. Good employers will be willing to connect you with the people you’d be working closely with and give you a chance to talk informally with them. If they don’t, consider that a red flag from a company that may have something to hide.

3. Check review sites like Glassdoor.com. Glassdoor can contain a wealth of information about what it’s like to work for a company, because it posts reviews from current and past employees. Be wary of reviews that are either glowingly positive or horrifyingly bad, which can often be from people with an agenda; instead, pay attention to the reviews that are somewhere in the middle, which are most likely to give you the real story.

4. Work your network. Talking to people who have actually worked at the company will be your best source of insider information. LinkedIn is a great way to see if anyone in your network has connections to current or former employees, and see if they’ll connect you for an off-the-record conversation.

You can also look at your prospective manager’s background and see if anyone in your network is connected to people who worked with her at her previous jobs. They might be an additional useful source of information about what she will be like to work with.

5. Talk to recruiters. In many fields, recruiters can be a great source of information about what a company is really like to work with. They often hear the inside scoop from employers and employees alike and might be willing to give you their candid take, or at least tell you whether the company has a reputation for being a great place to work – or the opposite.

6. Pay attention to what you see during the interview process. Do the employees you pass on the way to the office where your interview is held seem happy? Frazzled? Miserable? Is the hiring process well-thought-out and organized, or is it chaotic and inefficient? Do your interviewers seem to care about making sure the job is the right fit? Do they give you a chance to ask your own questions, and do they give you thoughtful and genuine-seeming answers? Do you feel like you’re being sold a product rather than being given a real look at what the work is like? Do your interviewers meet their commitments to you, like following up with you by the date they tell you they will? Or are you left hanging for weeks past when you were told they’d be in touch?

7. Don’t let your desire for the job blind you to signs that it won’t be the right fit. One of the biggest ways that people end up in jobs where they’re unhappy is by not paying enough attention to warning signs during the hiring process. It’s easy to get so caught up in wanting the job that you overlook or minimize important signals that the workplace culture won’t be for you. Resolve to keep your eyes open during the hiring process, and when you see red flags, explore them further.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 26 comments… read them below }

  1. Cautionary tail

    I once mistakenly went in the employee entrance of a company and saw the miserable working conditions the employees had to endure. The people looked frightened to be there. After I went home I called up and asked to have my name taken out of consideration.

  2. hayling

    I really like the questions you suggest. I’m going to bookmark these for my next job search.

  3. Colette

    A while ago, I was laid off by a company that had some issues. (Not “run away in fear” issues, but “I would have liked to known about this before I accepted the job” issues.)

    The person who was hired to replace me was someone I’d worked with in the past. I always thought it was strange that he didn’t contact me to ask what it was like to work there.

  4. Cajun2core

    Are the questions in number 1 more suitable for the first or second interview?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Depends on whether it’s an in-person interview or a phone interview. For a phone interview, I’d probably only ask the first one on that list.

      1. Cajun2core

        Thanks!

        So for the first in-person interview, the questions are fine to ask?

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yes, as long as you’re getting the vibe that it’s intended to be an in-depth discussion and not just a really basic screening.

  5. lionelrichiesclayhead

    These are great tips and just generally good interview questions. I always forget that the interview is also the place for ME to evaluate the company and not just the other way around. These questions will help facilitate that change of mindset. I’ve pinned this article to my interview prep board.

  6. YandO

    Alison,

    I recently asked the “what differentiates a good employee from a great employee in this role?” question from your book and the CEO of the company looked at me very curiously and said “That’s such a great question!”

    His answer was pretty general and I did not end up getting that job, but I think he was impressed. Thank you :)

  7. What about liers?

    I like your suggestions, but I’m curious if you have any advice on how to avoid being lied to. Slate came out with a fascinating, but disheartening study showing that women are far more likely to be lied to then men during negotiations, and it’s been my experience that I am lied to often during the interview process.

    1. Jill 2

      Yes, I’d like to know about this too. I asked some of these questions during the interview, and was misled on some counts and flat out lied to by others. I would imagine it’s here where the network comes in, but what if it’s an entirely different industry and/or you don’t have connections there? If that’s the case, I’d really be limited my pool of prospective employers.

    2. Joey

      You can’t avoid being lied to. It’s similar to candidates who will say anthing to get a job. Because let’s face it, few hiring managers are going to say they are tyrants and the job sucks. You’ve got to look for red flags the same way hiring managers do. That means looking at things like credibility, the way you’re treated, whether or not they’re forthright, etc.

      Personally, if i know nothing about the rep of the company I treat them like used car salesmen. That is, I’m going to listen to what they say with eagle ears and look to verify, verify, verify and do as much homework as I can before I start deciding whether to believe what they’re selling.

      1. What about liers?

        How do you verify, say, the way their performance evaluations work? Do you ask *everyone* you interview to describe it?

        The main problem I run into is that I am typically lied to by the HR person, but the vast majority of the things the HR rep and I discuss (Salary, benefits, the way performance evaluations work, etc) are typically items that you are not suppose to show interest in until the *approrpriate* time.

        1. Joey

          Don’t ask HR about performance stuff. The direct manager is nearly always the one who has to write them. If she takes them seriously you’ll be able to tell quickly. Ask what the goals are, what metrics are used, how often they’re reviewed and what you can expect in terms of feedback. HR is only going to tell you how it should work or how they assume the manager does them. Only ask HR about policies, benefits, employee processes, company wide type stuff.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Yeah, I don’t think I’d even ask about performance evaluations specifically at all. I’d ask how performance is evaluated and what success looks like, but asking about evals specifically seems awfully processed-focused and not like something that’s going to be particularly helpful in deciding if you want the job.

    3. Artemesia

      I asked all the right questions about the financial stability of the organization I worked for at my first major professional job after grad school; this was pre-internet and I was a naive job seeker. I asked the right questions and they flat out lied in my face. A couple actually apologized later when the place went down the tubes and we all lost our jobs.

  8. ZenCat

    I actually wish I had googled the manager and looked at more than their LinkedIn. I’d have gotten a fair warning on some stuff. Likes are telling!

  9. Bekx

    I was terrified of the owner of my first job out of college. In retrospect, that should have told me a lot…but I was fresh out of school and they offered me the job immediately. My boss just…scared me. But they had an office dog, and it was a 10 minute commute and it was in my field and I figured I wouldn’t have to work with her.

    Needless to say, all of the glassdoor reviews on my old job are 100% true. They are all 1 star, except for one 2 star review. It’s a little humorous whenever I see a new review on there, because I remind myself how fortunate I am to have my great awesome job now. I mean, without my experience there I wouldn’t have awesome job, but still…you couldn’t pay me enough to step foot back in that building.

    I still get knots in my stomach when I drive near their office.

  10. Hooptie

    -Don’t just go to company’s website, google search the company name and go down a few pages in the results. You could be surprised.
    -Google search: “‘company name’ press release” to see what they are promoting, causes, etc. This can be really helpful in interviews.
    -Go to PRWeb (dot com) and search for the company name. They sometimes have releases that aren’t indexed on google.
    -Long term – set up a google alert with the company name as soon as you apply. It is amazing what gets pulled out of those.
    -Social Mention (dot com) and/or Topsy (dot com) – search for the company here. These are free sites.

    1. Jill 2

      Setting up a Google alert for companies you’ve applied to work for is BRILLIANT.

  11. lost in bizzaro land

    Alison, it looks like you have upgraded your questions:-). I am currently in a job that I landed 6 months ago and I’m ready to start looking again; the culture question will be at the top of my list.

    When I asked about company culture to my current boss, he admitted that had I asked a few months prior, he probably would have told me something different. We have a serious turnover problem and it really hurts morale.

    How many of you here started a new job and realized after month 2 or 3 options needed to be kept open?

    1. Seeking

      Me! I just started 3 months ago. I didnt want to stay in my current industry, but I moved from my previous company to a director competitor because they offered a little more money, gave me a manager title, and it was a chance to do something a little different than what I had been doing. But aside from that, had I known the culture and my boss’ true attitude, I would’ve stuck it out at my old company to find something I truly wanted to do. The company culture is bad at both companies but at least I had the benefit of PTO at my old company- it’ll be a few more months till I’m able to accrue enough PTO to go on interviews, and now I look like a job hopper. I might try to stick it out for a year so I can take my newly acquired sales manager title and really run for it, but I’m on the edge of walking off daily. My current company also has a serious turnover problem and I learned that the previous person in my role quit because she hated feeling anxious and nervous every day thanks to the boss.

    2. Virginian

      “How many of you here started a new job and realized after month 2 or 3 options needed to be kept open?”

      Yup! I relocated for a new job, but I’m not planning to stay long past the two year mark. It’s okay, but stresses me out at times and I’m not sure if management is right for me.

  12. Marin

    This is such a fantastic article. I’ve really struggled with how to word questions that get below the polite smiles of an interview panel and dig into what the potential problems might be – and have come a cropper as a result.

    In response to bizarro land, I have had two jobs when I realised within weeks of starting that I needed to ‘explore new options’ because the job was so different from what I’d been expecting. I felt on both occasions that the hiring managers hadn’t fully thought the jobs through before interviewing. In one instance I was employed as a copy writer when the company’s projects were so behind schedule that there was nothing to write about; in the other I was hired as a project manager but all the projects were reallocated before I started. I pitched in where I could in both jobs but I wasn’t working to my strengths and I didn’t stay long.

    All this leads me to another question. What questions can you ask to drill down into whether the hiring managers have actually thought things through? Since these two bad experiences I have asked how the role fits into the work of the wider team, but I feel something more pointed is needed.

    Short of saying “Have you thought this through?” what is the best way to get this information?

    Can anyone help?

  13. SLG

    Marin, I’d recommend downloading Alison’s book on interviewing if you haven’t already — it has several good questions that would probably give you some insight into what you’re looking for.

    Other than that, a few I can think of (which I may be just remembering from her book!) are…

    – What does a typical day in this position look like?
    – If I were to take on this role, what are some of the projects I’d be working on in the first few months?
    – What would success look like in this role after, say, 6 months? a year?
    – What would you say are the biggest challenges the person in this role will face?

    A lot of vague, platitudinous answers are a sign that either the person you’re talking to doesn’t know these specifics, or the role/responsibilities/success definitions just aren’t that clear.

Comments are closed.