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How to interview a company before it interviews you

To find fulfilling work, we need to rethink the job search process, says the cofounder of a startup working to make organizations more transparent.

How to interview a company before it interviews you
[Photo: cottonbro/Pexels]
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The traditional job search process is fundamentally flawed.

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We bend over backwards trying to appease and impress employers by tailoring resumes, tweaking cover letters and scanning websites for talking prompts, often at the expense of asking: Is this what I truly want?

In reality, to find the perfect job we need to turn the process inside out. We need to interview companies before they interview us.

A job is a place you spend a good portion of your life. 

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You dedicate your time and effort to a company’s cause, you socialize with colleagues, you take on responsibilities and you make compromises, so it’s only right you do something you love for a company that aligns with your values, and that you work with people you respect.

After all, a business is much more than what it does, it’s an entire ecosystem of culture, history, services and future plans, one you have to join the orbit of. 

A business is really just a collection of people working together to achieve common goals, and often your success is determined by how well you work together. Therefore, finding out who you will be working with is as important as finding out what you will be doing. 

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What do you really want from work?

Sometimes, desires take second place to immediate needs of security–but with 9.97 million Americans now out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic, that hunt is only going to get harder.

Rather than use the old search process that didn’t fit seekers well to begin with, now is the time to really think about what we want from our work.

The first place to start is analyzing and determining your priorities and goals for your career. Think of some non-negotiables for your next company and write them down. Do you want to prioritize professional development? Team culture? Working under people who impress you? Training and resources? A good work/life balance? Healthcare and holiday perks? A company with good upward mobility? A company that has values which align with your own? 

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Then use those priorities to determine whether a company will work for you. The more a company fits your overall outlook, the more you’re likely to fit into the company and therefore excel in your role.

Researching a company goes beyond determining its services and products, you want to find out about its people, culture, history, strategy, leadership team and future plan. You should be able to get a feel for the history, communications and services from a company website. But there are also a number of other channels that can help you really get a feel for the place and the people inside.

Why transparency is important 

The accessibility of company information indicates the extent to which a company values transparency, and it shows its ability to communicate clearly — both internally and externally.

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When you’re looking into a company, take note of how easy it is to find information about the team. A transparent company should at the least have publicly available information about the executive leadership team, their direct reports and the board members.

Your ability to find out information about a company’s team shows that the company takes accountability in decision-making and attributes its successes to its employees, and values these employees for what they are – the people putting in the time to make the company what it is.

It also allows you as a job seeker to look at who the people are that hold those roles, their career backgrounds, and whether they seem like people you would be excited to work alongside.

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Transparency around culture and values is also critical to determining whether a new company would be a good fit. When you get a new job, certain things such as salary and location may be negotiable, but culture and values certainly aren’t.

Digging into your potential employer

Take note of how easy it is to find the company’s mission statement, core values and expression of its culture. Is this a company you can get behind ethically? Does it fit with your requirements for diversity, social awareness, environmental objectives? Look behind the buzzwords and check for the follow through with fundraising and internal and external policies and practices.

Is the company’s strategy and process easily available? Can you determine how your role might fit into the company’s stated objectives and core values? There are a number of questions to ask, and the company should be able to give you those answers and show you why you want to work there.

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Once you’ve checked the company website, searched for their public org chart and looked for mentions in the media, there are other resources that will give valuable insights where you can find feedback from current and former employees, such as Glassdoor, and reviews and press.

Then, of course, there is social media. Just as companies use social media to check the fit of prospective employees, you should do the same for them. It’s a great way to observe how a company interacts with people and chooses to represent its brand. 

The goal: find a job that suits you

If there’s a company you are passionate about and think is the perfect fit for you, identify connections on org charts and reach out to hiring managers to start building relationships and signaling interest.

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You want to find a job where you can go in expressing yourself honestly—not force yourself to fit a listing that lands you in an unhappy spot.

And the benefits of interviewing a company before applying for a job are multifaceted; you’ll find out whether you’re truly passionate about the job, you’ll learn more about the company, be better prepared for an interview, or conversely, you’ll find out not to bother applying.


Christian Wylonis is cofounder and CEO of The Org, a startup that publishes the public organizational charts of companies, revealing the people power behind major brands.

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