Job hunting is hard, and being discerning during a job hunt isn’t easy. Companies will put innocent sounding phrases in their job descriptions that can turn out to be red flags. Is it “a fast paced job environment,” or is it a workplace where there’s tons of project crunch and unpaid overtime expected? Do they want a candidate that is “passionate about the work” so they have a dedicated team, or do they want to hire people who are willing to be paid much less to do something they’re interested in? (Especially if they know they can target freshly graduated high school or college students.)
As much as I hate to admit it sometimes, we do live in a system where if you don’t know all the lingo and jargon, companies will talk you in circles making you think you’re getting a good deal when you take their job. There’s a lot of stuff the school system didn’t teach me about job compensation and what it all means, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have mentors help me along the way. I’m not an expert, but in this series I’m going to do my best to walk you through what you might want to ask during your interview or what you should expect to see in your hiring packet if you are offered a position.
During the Interview
During the interview process, you’ll likely have one or two meetings with an HR representative where you’re able to ask some questions about the position you’re applying for. As always, come prepared with questions that are specific to the job title, but here are some basic topics to get you started:
How would you describe the Company Culture?
Finding a company that fits your “vibe” can sometimes mean the difference between a job you love and a job you hate. Tech (and especially cybersecurity) is heavily dominated by straight, white, cisgendered men. If you’re part of the Alphabet Mafia (LGBTQIA+), a person of color, or identify as a woman: you may have more hurdles finding a workplace where you feel comfortable. Asking about company culture and the folks you would be working with can be your first piece of insight into what management prioritizes and how well people get along.
What is the average Employee Tenure?
This is the nicely phrased way of asking about employee turnover. If the company you’re applying to has a hard time holding on to employees, that probably means that there’s something wrong with the workplace. Is it the pay, the job itself, or the office environment? I don’t know, but you’ll have to decide for yourself whether or not you want to find out.
What is your Onboarding Process?
Onboarding can vary from company to company and can be an indicator of how they prioritize their employees. To pluck some ideas from this article, a company should be getting you up to speed with the day-to-day operations of your position via training, providing whatever tools and equipment you need, introducing and integrating you with other employees, and giving you goals to work towards in your first few days. If they’re not providing you with at least some of these tools at the outset, odds are the company is disorganized and does not prioritize employee success.
How would you say the job handles Work/Life Balance?
Even if you’re just coming out of college and don’t have other responsibilities on your plate, having some semblance of work/life balance is still important. (If you’re asking yourself what that looks like, please take a look at our Self-Care tag.) When you ask this, make sure the response your contact gives answers these few questions:
- What hours am I expected to be working/on-call?
- How many hours will I be working a week? (Situational: Does this vary from project to project or throughout the year?)
- Is overtime (paid or unpaid) expected? How frequently?
- (Optional) Are requests for time off approved all/most/some of the time?
How much will I be traveling?
In the DC era (During COVID) this probably won’t come up very much. Once the vaccine is more widely available and certain business picks back up again, traveling for work will become more likely. Of course, if you’re getting a job right out of college you probably won’t be doing a whole lot of travel unless you’re applying for a sales or management position. However, if you have strong feeling about travel either way, this would be good to know upfront.
You should always do your research on a company before applying to work for them. Looking at Glassdoor or Indeed can get you easy access to company reviews and other pertinent information, like average salary for your position.
As an additional example, knowing where the company is headquartered can determine if the company is governed by “right to work” labor laws.
“Right-to-work laws do not aim to provide general guarantee of employment to people seeking work, but rather are a government ban on contractual agreements between employers and union employees requiring workers to pay for the costs of union representation.”Baird, Charles W. “Right to work before and after 14 (b).” Journal of Labor Research 19.3 (1998): 471-493.
If you’re a union member but accept a job from a company headquartered in any of the 27 states with these laws, you basically lose all protections the union can provide when negotiating fair pay for your role before you sign the contract. Certainly an interesting outcome for a law espousing “the right to work.”