"I recommend arriving at least 10 minutes early; sit in the lobby and just observe, because you can gain a lot of insight just by watching the employees interacting with each other in a non-professional way," Aiken says."Take note of the general 'vibe' in the office. Do you see people coming and going frequently? How do they talk to each other? What's their tone of voice? Their body language? How do the employees seem that differs from what the company claims is their culture?" she says. "If you see behavior or overhear conversations that make you uncomfortable, don't ignore it. This is one of the best ways to gauge what the working environment will be like," she says.
Azzarello suggests going out to lunch or for a cup of coffee with the interviewing team, if that's possible, to get an inside look at how your potential supervisors and colleagues handle their 'power,' either real or perceived.
"If you can, to out to lunch and closely observe how they treat the waiter," she says. "People who are otherwise smart and competent can turn into narcissistic, controlling jerks when in a position of power, and you need to gauge how they treat others who they perceive as being in a 'lesser' position. If you can't go out to lunch, notice how they treat their assistants, their office staff, and people who walk into the office," she says.
Kin HR's Bryant suggests asking to spend some time with the people who could become your colleagues, too. "You can talk — or at least request of the interviewing manager — to spend some time with the folks who are your peers at the job," he says.
"Ask them what expectations they held coming into the job and whether or not those were met. Ask them if they have the tools and resources they need to do their job effectively. Ask what the biggest obstacles are to success, and why those aren't removed," Bryant says.
"If you're looking for specifics about the person who'll be your immediate supervisor, ask things like, 'How does s/he communicate? What are her/his methods for holding people accountable? Can you describe a typical decision-making process? Do you feel like you have the support and freedom to do your job or are you micromanaged?" says Azzarello.
But remember, Aiken cautions, to take some of this information with a grain of salt. Since the interviewing team will be selecting the folks you'll have access to, you may not be getting the entire, unblemished picture.
"Now, you must remember that management is going to select the people you'll be talking to, and they're going to choose employees they feel will give the most positive view of the company," she says. "So, just remember that there will be a bias," she says.
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