Interviewing the interviewer

It must definitely have occured to you (after you took a job somewhere) to have regretted not having done some more due diligence on the company you were about to go to.

Recently, I had some discussion with friends and colleagues who asked my opinion on how you could actually understand if the employer is a good fit for you, so I thought I’d share my 2-pence here.

Firstly, I think that oftentimes we’re so focused on nailing the interview, on not making a bad impression that we forget that who is going to suffer most from a bad choice is ourselves, not the company hiring us.
Working in IT is tough and sometimes a 24/7 job that infiltrates every part of your life from top to bottom.
If you end up doing all that and not feeling good about it well, that’s a problem.

So, how can you have a better chance of understanding if an employer is a good fit for you?

Here’s my take.

  1. Talk culture first
    Workplaces are communities and as such share (or should share) some kind of culture. Culture for inclusion, collaboration, tolerance, respect and all that.
    Try to tell genuine values and principles from the PR BS. 🙂
  2. Don’t be too hung up with tech, but focus on decision-making
    Unless it’s something dead wrong or outdated, I wouldn’t be too concerned if the technologies that your prospective employer is using to address some problems are different from the ones that you would have used.
    You weren’t there to contribute to those decisions and you perhaps don’t know all the reasons why a specific choice was made, so don’t be judgemental.
    I’d rather ask about how the decision was made, rather than challenge it.
  3. Discuss openness
    One thing that I absolutely consider the “litmus test” for a good company is whether or not they open-source their software.
    Clearly with some caveats…
    But an open company is likely to be open with you, to value transparency and out-of-the-box thinkers.
  4. Marketers and clowns
    Some interviewers have a style that is aimed at making you have a laugh and distract you from asking the questions above.
    Stay vigilant and be serious. Not saying that interviews should be a sad and stressful experience, but there’s time for jokes and time for being serious.
    Be suspicious about who is not well balanced between the two.
  5. The in-depth tech questions
    Now, this is a controversial point. I’m no good when it comes to in-depth tech questions. Not because I don’t know the topics, but because I tend to blur the details off if I’m not using a particular tool or tech for a while.
    There’s two classes of interviewers:

    • the detail obsessed: expects you to know what the IS-IS up/down bit is for. even if you haven’t used IS-IS in 5 years
    • the challenger: asks you about what the IS-IS up/down bit is for and if you don’t know/remember he values your thought process to understand whether you are a fast learner and if your neurons are working well 🙂
      Needless to say, I much prefer the second category (not because I can get away with not remembering every detail) because those will value your ideas way more than the first are more likely to just value your ready-to-use knowledge rather than asking you to continuously learn new things.
  6. The vibe
    Sometimes it’s about the vibe.

 

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