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How can I strike a balance between selling myself to a prospective employer and finding myself committed to a company that is not right for me? How can I get beyond my first impressions to find out what it's really like to work there?

The recruiting industry is rife with stories of candidates who misread the tea leaves and fall victim to a "bait and switch." To their chagrin the new corporate environment is altogether different than their interview impressions. Instead of work/life balance, their new job is a pressure-cooker where long hours are prized just for long hours' sake. So, how can I get behind the niceties of the interview process to see if I'm right for them and they're right for me?

  1. Sell Yourself
    What you think of the culture won't matter if you don't sell yourself and are dismissed after the first round of talks.
  2. Investigate
    What kind of reputation does the company have with past and present employees? Do they retain their people? If they hold onto employees for several years, something's right. If they have a high turnover rate, something's wrong. Cast your net wide to speak privately with current employees, past employees, relatives, friends. Treat their comments with confidentiality. Investigate quietly.
  3. Evaluate
    How were you treated in the interview? Were you treated with respect? Was your time considered important? Were you looked upon as an individual or just one in a string of interviewees for the day. Typically, interviewers who see themselves as just another cog in the corporate wheel will treat you the same, while interviewers that see their company role as valued will also see your role as valuable too.
  4. Ask
    Ask what a typical workday is like. Ask what the department's greatest accomplishments have been. Ask about its greatest challenges today. Asking reveals the values that drive a company. Do employees talk about their accomplishments in terms of hours spent, or goals achieved? All companies have seasons of long hours, tight margins, pressing deadlines - that's just business. All companies have challenges to face down. No company is perfect. To handle a big challenge might be just the reason you are being interviewed. If everything was perfect they wouldn't need you. But beware of one-dimensional employer's where value is measured only in terms of time spent.
  5. Sell Yourself Again.
    To get behind a company's fa├žade and find out what it's really like to work there requires connection with whom you interview - their trust that you could be a long-term asset to their team - hence, their forthrightness about what work is really like. Finding the right company is all about choices. If you don't sell yourself (your talents, your training, your accomplishments, your work ethic, your honesty, your sense of humor) choices will be limited and the right company will remain elusive. So, sell yourself again.
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