Turning The Tables: Tips For Investigating Your Prospective Employer On-site, During Interviews

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Everyone knows that companies try to get the most information they can about a job prospect before calling them in for the first in-person interview, but even the seasoned financial professionals may not realize how much information they derive by surveying what’s happening on the scene when they walk through the office lobby or parking lot and in through the door.

Job seekers need to shed the perception that they’re passive players at the mercy of would-be employers, author and business psychologist Stephen Laser tells eFinancialCareers.

Those who pick the wrong job because they haven’t made it a point to look under the hood, or failed to note the feel of the workplace—whether people are smiling at one another and seem content with what they’re doing, for instance, and even what the dress code is like—may find themselves either out of work in five or six months, and faced with unending questions from future job interviewers about what went wrong the last time around, or just miserable in a job or an environment they can't stand.

“You need to ask yourself whether you’ll be comfortable in this environment where you’ll be spending the majority of your waking moments,” said Laser, author of Out-of-Work and Over 40: Practical Advice for Surviving Unemployment and Finding a Job. Beyond knowing what to look for in your physical surroundings, Laser says there are a couple of key questions you can ask potential employers when the time is right to offer even more insight into whether this is an environment in which you’ll thrive.

Laser—a Chicago-based psychologist who is often hired by financial services companies to interview and test job candidates before they’re hired to make sure they’re right for the job—offers these tips to help job candidates “turn the tables” on employers and learn some things for themselves during job interviews:

1) Evaluate the people around you

This includes those who greet you and others who are moving about the office as you wait for your interview. What kind of a reception did you receive? Did you feel like you were being processed into a detention camp, or did people seem smiling and happy? The answer will tell you a lot about the work environment.

2) Learn about the dress code

At a large Chicago bank, it used to be that the men there would not remove their jackets at their desk under any circumstances, says Laser. Particularly if there is customer interface, the company’s dress code policy will be an important part of the job and you’ll want to know if the rules will work for you. Often in financial services firms there’s a “bifurcation in cultures,” Laser notes, where those who meet with customers need to be very formal and back office people including IT experts might be fine in blue jeans.

3) Check out the physical surroundings

Inspect the parking lot and waiting areas. “If the Lexuses and Cadillacs are only in the executive parking spots, that tells you something about how perks are distributed,” says Laser. Note whether the office is lavishly decorated or whether things are more makeshift. These kinds of observations will tell you something about company attitudes toward expenses.

Besides the above, here are a few questions to ask prospective employers when an offer is actually on the table.

  • What do the most successful people within the organization have in common?
  • What about those who failed to meet expectations—what traits have they had?
  • How would you characterize your own work style?
  • What is the biggest misconception people have about you and your work style? If your potential boss says people see him as a micro-manager, “You can believe he is one,” says Laser.