Photo by Bob Jagendorf.

There is a lot of advice out there on how to interview for a job. It’s a lot of stuff you already know. Get there early. Stay calm. Do your research on the company. Show what you know. Follow up. Etc. (We even wrote some Rails-specific interview advice.) But what about how to interview the company you’re interviewing with.

While there is no need to be overly picky in your job search, you do want to make sure that as much as the company finds the right fit in you, you also find the company to be the right fit for you.

Here are some things to consider:

  • The people. This one’s obvious but extremely important. Who will you be working with day-to-day? Who will you be reporting to? Do you think you will get along with your potential coworkers? Of course you are not looking for your next group of best friends, but you likely want to work with people who make you comfortable to be yourself and to contribute and grow professionally. What about your boss? Again, you’re not looking for a best friend but someone that you respect. Remember that oftentimes people don’t quit their job, they quit their boss— meaning that the people you work with can oftentimes matter as much (or more) than the actual work you do in determining your overall job satisfaction.
  • Expectations. A good strategy to employ in interviewing a company (after and/or while they are interviewing you) is to ask many of the same questions they asked of you. Many companies ask a question similar to: “Describe your ideal position/job and why might this be it?” When it’s your turn, ask them the same question: “Describe your ideal candidate and how I might fit into that mold.” The answer to this question tends to get to the heart of what your role in the company will be. It forces them to look at the big picture and describe how you would fit into it, specifically. This will give you fantastic insight into your position and allow you to see if their “ideal candidate” aligns with your goals and needs.
  • Operations. This one doesn’t require any questions, just observations. Look back on your experience interviewing with the company. Was it a smooth process? Did they take forever to get back to you? Was there confusion on next steps after an interview? If the company is super slow getting you through the interview process, they may be slow getting you your first paycheck. That may be something you’re willing to deal with, or not. The point is that how a company handles itself in the interview process can be indicative of what your experience will be like once you’re a full-time employee.
  • The future. If this is a startup, what does the runway look like with current funding? Is the company generating revenue yet? If not, what does the timeline look like for becoming cash positive? While you can certainly ask some of these questions (and they will likely offer up some of this information as well), you can also get a good sense of things by being observant. Is this a Series A funded company investing way too much in expensive chairs and cool office space that isn’t central to the business plan? Red flag. Although many Bay Area startups try to lure employees with cool perks like catered lunches and 24-hour access to Wii Bowling, that’s not, ultimately, what your job will be all about. And, if a company is spending frivolously on luxury items it likely can’t afford yet, that may raise some concerns about their long-term viability.
  • The technology. When looking for the right fit as a developer, you want to make sure that you’ll be working with the tools, languages, and frameworks you love. Does the company use Ruby on Rails (we hope so!)? Are they committed to it? Did they start with it or are they in the process of migrating legacy code over to Ruby/Rails? (If the later, be prepared to deal with a bunch of non-Ruby language before the transition is complete.) Do they practice agile software development? TDD? BDD? Pair-programming? There is no correct answer to these questions in general— what matters is figuring out which of these things is most important to you. Remember that if you take this gig, you’ll be living and breathing their technologies of choice. While some choices may change over time, current technologies are the best indication of the company’s future technology direction.
  • The offer itself. Once you are made an offer, the details of the offer will obviously be a big factor in evaluating the opportunity as a whole. We wrote an entire post on how to accept, reject or make a counter offer. (Also stay tuned for an upcoming post focused on how to evaluate equity in an offer.) In considering some of the subjective criteria above, you will also need the company’s offer details to reflect your needs and goals.

Bottom line: Candidates aren’t one-size-fits-all and neither are companies. Before you commit to working for a company, make sure it has the characteristics most important to you. Maybe you don’t care about things running slowly as long as the people are awesome and the technology is cutting-edge. Maybe you need to feel more comfortable with the company’s operations and future vs. the specific technology practices they currently employ. Good companies are thorough in their job search and interview process; if you’re a good candidate, you will be equally as thorough in determining if the company is a good fit for your personal and professional goals.