Kristin Schuchman, Career Strategist
What to Look for in an Ideal Employer
Updated: Mar 8, 2021
When you are preparing for a job interview, don't forget that you are putting your prospective employer under scrutiny, too. If you are seeking long-term fulfillment, you want your next job to be a place in which you engage your strengths and skills and pursue your values and goals. While websites and word of mouth can provide some back story for a company's work culture, look for other clues as you near the finish line of a job hunt.
As you pursue a job search, don't settle for less than the work environment you are seeking. While your friends are going to ask from time to time, "How is your new job going?" no one but you is more in control of determining the fitness of an employer than yours truly. Here are just a few things to watch for in the interview process:
Are the questions thoughtful? Do they seem fair and germane to the role you are seeking? Red flags include too many questions that seem impossible to answer or are trick questions. Occasional trick questions are fine — many ask the dreaded “greatest weakness” question — but a successive string of too-difficult questions indicates that the organization isn’t quite ready to hire someone or already has someone they want to hire and is merely required to list the position in order to fulfill a regulation.
Observe the people who work in the place as much as possible . Do they seem stressed or overwhelmed or are they relaxed and casual? Do their work stations or office spaces look humane or are they cramped and bleak?
Pay attention to body language in your interviewers. Do they lean forward towards you and exude warmth and openness or are they closed-off and distant? Do they make consistent eye contact? Do they smile and invite light banter or are they severe and cool in their demeanor.
Is the job description heavily jargon-laden? In the interview do they also continue to rely on this internal language or do they make an attempt to be relatable and accessible? Many workplaces get so mired in their internal language that they lose sight of the ability to relate to others or welcome outsiders. (If you understand the jargon and don’t mind it, you can ignore this caveat.)
If you have more than one interviewer, are there signs of hostility, even mild ones like eye rolling or wincing, between them? Do they seem to have a collaborative, supportive relationship or do you sense competition or (worse) repression? The interview is typically the one place in which people can pull it together to act with civility and grace. If this proves impossible for your interviewers, that is a definite red flag.
Are their values out of sync with yours or do they fail to express their values as a company? Don’t ignore this criterion as dewey-eyed mumbo jumbo. Many companies extol corporate values that are strictly lip service, but the ones that truly let it instruct their culture and behavior will exemplify these values in their hiring practices. Companies that actually live their values have work places with higher engagement and satisfaction. See if they mention the company values in print and web collateral (like the job announcement and website) and pay attention to whether your interviewers mention values. If they don’t, ask about their company values and how they influence the culture .
At the end of the interview, always ask when you can expect to hear their decision. This gives you an opening to check back with them if you don’t hear from them in a timely manner. If they are vague or express irritation at the question, this is not a good sign. You are well within the rules of decorum to ask, though, and deserve a workplace that welcomes your interest.
Kristin Schuchman, MSW is a career counselor based in Portland, Oregon who works with creative and mission-driven professionals. She writes resumes and coaches individuals seeking support for career indecision, next steps, work re-entry, advancement, and work-life-balance. She offers a free 30-minute Zoom or phone session and presently works with clients remotely. Find out more at www.sparkacareer.com.