Rock the boat in job interviews

It was my first day on the job as the director of publishing for a small family-run business.

I was greeted enthusiastically by the team, except for one curious member.

She was quiet … her smile quickly replaced with concern.

A few hours later, she approached me privately. Speaking in barely more than a whisper, she said “I’m really sorry you took this job. You seem so nice. Watch your back.”

I soon understood. The higher-ups were bullies. Their business was failing. My supervisor routinely screamed, cursed, micromanaged, criticized, and threw objects around the room.

Tough Talks D

I was inexperienced back then and had never seen such behavior in the workplace. Their office felt more like a boat taking on water at a furious rate, and I was desperate to head back to shore. After I finally gave notice, four more employees quit.

That happened to be the same week a new executive director came on board, after a cross-country move with his family.

His first day at work felt oddly familiar. I thought … “He seems so nice. I wish he hadn’t taken the job.”

He was saddened by so many of us leaving at once. We kept in touch.

Months later, there was his e-mail. “Lights out” read the subject line. The business had folded.

That experience taught me to research companies more carefully before accepting a job offer, in order to ensure they’ll be a good fit. Remember, interviews should benefit the entire crew.

Be your own anchor and ask questions so you don’t end up working for a sinking ship. Here are some of my key takeaways:

  • Are you walking into any public perception issues? Review the company’s website, social media channels (observing what they post as well as how they engage with others) and articles (both those which they’ve published and have been written about them). This will help verify their reputation.
  • Do you know anyone who works there? Reach out to others for more information. On LinkedIn, for example, you can connect with alumni from your university to get a better understanding of the company.
  • Are people jumping overboard? A high turnover hints at internal issues you’re best off avoiding. Inquire about their rate. If applying to a nonprofit, comparing their last two years of Form 990s will also reveal how the number of employees has changed.
  • Spot any communication red flags? Pay attention to nonverbal cues. Does the interviewer seem annoyed by your questions or appear stressed while attempting to answer them?

What questions do you ask a company before taking a new job? What are your red flags? Share your comments below so we can all learn more.


Michelle Peña is the senior editor of Office Technology Today and Small Business Tax Strategies. You can also follow her on Instagram @michymashup and LinkedIn @michymash.