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When I started working for my former employer, my managers told me what a bad company we were working for. Other people told me that we use very poor tools to do our job and that the company doesn't really care about us. At the very least I found this demoralizing.

A friend recommended to ask during an interview "do people like their job?" and I think this could weed out some bad environments. However, I'm not sure how I can word this better so that I get the results I'm looking for, which is to screen out the bad work environments. How can I find out if people enjoy working for the company from the interview experience?

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    Do you really expect them to say no? Perhaps a more illuminating question might be What do people generally love most about working here?. This will give you a good basis for determining if the environment is toxic or if the interviewer has no clue about the pulse of the company. – Joel Etherton Nov 3 '13 at 3:07
  • @Arnakester I changed the title and first line to better reflect what I think you're really asking. Please revert or edit again if you disagree. – explunit Nov 3 '13 at 3:35
  • I edited too, to add in a paragraph and focus more on the question. As @explunit suggests, please build on our edits if there's more you can add. Hope this helps! :) – jmort253 Nov 3 '13 at 3:37
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    A slightly-related question: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/14643/… – explunit Nov 3 '13 at 3:39
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    @Arnakester: They'll not ever say no. They'll always say yes, and that particular question will not leave enough room to determine if it's a load of crap or not. – Joel Etherton Nov 3 '13 at 13:23
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This answer to a related question has a lot of points which apply here as the approach is the same.

How can I find out if people enjoy working for the company from the interview experience?

You don't have to directly ask this question during an interview as others have said. You can, however:

  • Ask what favorite/least favorite things about their job are. People who have to really think about what their favorite parts are but jump immediately to least favorite items can be telling. You can also ask deeper questions about each answer for follow-up which should be natural, give you your answer, and get honest feedback. Make sure to ask both together - this means you are much more likely get honest negative feedback. If you just ask "what do you dislike about your job" it comes across much differently.
  • Probe deeper with non-managers. People you will be working with will be more likely to give you the honest truth. Even moreso in casual environments, so if you are walking around on a tour or transitioning between interviews, use this time to ask these questions as people tend to be less aware of "gotta sell my company!" in informal environments during an interview.
  • Ask about things which the answers naturally give you insight on this. Questions like, "what sort of things does X do to facilitate employee engagement?" are perfect. People will answer in such a way which helps you realize if people enjoy working. There are a lot of questions you can ask like this, some in the link above about work/life balance will help here too.
    • "We don't really do anything, but honestly it's a great company to work for and I enjoy it". "Yeah? So you like your job then?"
    • "We do all sorts of those I guess." "hmm... so you must like working for X then?"
  • Write out questions in advance. This seems like a no-brainer but most don't seem to do this. If you want to comprehensively determine information about the company you are interviewing with having a list of questions is really beneficial.
  • Ask about collaboration/teamwork. Simple questions like, "what are some challenges your teams face?" can go a long way to opening people up. People like to complain about coworkers and phrasing a question like this can have some really revealing answers. As with before, just make sure to followup on whatever answer you get. Even asking a question like, "do your teams ever do events outside work for fun?" will give you great insight, even if you ultimately don't care about the answer either way, because it's nearly impossible to answer a question like that without having some conversation about how well everyone enjoys working together.
  • Pay attention to overall mood/atmosphere. You can use this to either frame interesting questions or just be aware of it.
  • Ask, "you've been spending time trying to convince me to work here. But if you had to convince me not to work here, what would you say?". If you feel comfortable with your interviewers, this can definitely be an interesting question.
  • Glassdoor/LinkedIN. Both are easy to get some insight, be careful putting too much trust in them though. People are much more likely to say, "X sucks!" than "X is a wonderfully normal place to work, everyone generally enjoys their jobs and have no significant complaints." Look for trends here, not so much individual data points.

Basically, with some pre-determined questions intending to ask about the issue indirectly and a few follow-up questions, you can get someone in a place where they are talking quite candidly and openly about how well they enjoy working for the company.

  • RE Glassdoor/LinkedIN. Wouldn't this be a problem if the company is very large? For example IBM generally has poor reviews but it's so large the particular office in a given city may not have those problems. – Arnakester Nov 5 '13 at 1:39
  • @Arnakester there's a reason it's at the bottom of the list and includes a disclaimer. It's definitely something you should avoid putting too much trust into, like I say. – enderland Nov 5 '13 at 19:01
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How can I find out if people enjoy working for the company from the interview experience?

Whenever I interview, I always try to talk with as many different levels as possible.

Of course, I expect to talk with my potential boss. But I also try to talk with at least some of my potential peers and (when I'm interviewing for a management position), as many of my potential direct reports as I can. I've even asked to speak with someone from another department, when I felt that success in the role I was applying for was highly dependent on that other department.

Rather than asking "do people like their job?" (which I would assume the respondents would just finesse anyway), I like to ask questions along the lines of:

  • What do you like most about working here?
  • What do you least about working here?
  • (When I'm talking to potential peers) What's it like working for [potential boss]?
  • (When I'm talking to potential direct reports) What do you want most out of the person who fills the role for which I'm applying?
  • (When I talking with other departments) How do you and the company view the department for which I'm applying? What does the company need from them?

In addition, as I'm walking to/from the interview room(s), I look for other telling signs: What do the conference rooms look like, what do the cubicles (if any) look like? Are people talking to each other? Are they smiling? Are there signs that people care about the company?

This way, I seem to get real insight into what it might be like to work there.

I find that in general people like to talk, and will respond well to these sorts of open-ended questions. Rather than asking yes/no questions, I ask them what they think, then I sit quietly and let them talk.

Occasionally, I might hear something that needs further discussion ("He [potential boss] is hard to work for."). I ask follow-up questions, until I hear what I need to hear.

Remember, at an interview your primary goal is to convince the company to make you an offer. But the secondary goal (almost as important) is to learn enough about the company to determine if it's a place where you want to work. Let that guide your questions.

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If you ask them if they like their job, this may put them on the spot and make things awkward. But it also may actually only be awkward if they hate their job. If they love their job, they'll likely burst right into a story of why it's so great and tell you some stories that also gets you excited about the role. If it gets awkward, that may be a red flag, and it may be a sign you'll want to look for other forms of discontent in the organization.

But you should go deeper than just this one question. As Joel Etherton suggests, you could start by asking what the interviewer likes most about his or her job. Taking this to a deeper level, you could ask what it was like for them when they first started the job. Ask how easy it was to learn the ropes and get information to be effective in that person's new role. Ask what the company did to make that person feel welcome when they first came on board.

What you're looking for is to gauge the interviewers reaction to these questions. If they seem hesitant, or pause, or look like their head is hurting when trying to answer the question, this may mean there's a problem that this person doesn't want to expose. It may not mean it's a bad place to work, but if you get that same "I have an excedrin migraine" look from enough people, it may indicate there is something majorly wrong in the corporate culture.

If you ask questions about someone's experience, like "How well do people in the office get along with each other?" and the interviewer lights up and tells stories that reaffirm this statement or even tells stories of conflicts that end with those same people going to get lunch together afterwards, then this is a good sign. It's a sign the organization is more likely to be built on mutual respect and be filled with problem solvers.

I'm not going to list every possible question you could ask, as that isn't what our site is about, but use the interview as a possibility to ask genuine questions about the work and culture, and then look for cues that there's a feeling of helplessness in the organization or hesitation to answer questions.

Aside from the interview, if you don't get interviewed by the team, consider trying to contact an employee to ask them some basic questions. When I interviewed for my current job, I called the sales and customer service lines and talked to the people who answered the phones. I told them who I was and what I was doing, and they happily answered my questions. They were very positive people, and assuming this represented the typical person at the company, I felt confident that accepting the offer would be a good decision.

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How can I find out if people enjoy working for the company from the interview experience?

You can't?

In my experience, it's very hard to impossible to tell. People will sell their job and their company, since that is what they're supposed to do in an interview. Even if they're not selling it, anyone who is really dissatisfied with the company has already left... so you won't be interviewing with them.

Instead:

  1. Check with friends. If a trusted friend recommends the job, that's a good sign. If a friend knows someone who works there, they can ask indirectly and usually get you accurate info.

  2. Check glassdoor. Anonymous employee feedback sites like glassdoor.com are great to see how companies really are. Granted, you'll see the absolute worst about a company there, but if you see recurring themes - "upper management is clueless", "we have crappy old computers", "underpaid!" then that's probably a good sign that it's not just some disgruntled nutball's opinion.

  3. Check Job Sites. Hopefully you've been keeping an eye on job boards before you look for a job. If a company always is looking for new people, but not opening new offices... they're probably always replacing people who quit. There's probably a reason that they suffer such high turnover. (caveat: a few places I know of just always advertise open positions, because they want to hire great talent whenever they can get it rather than fill slots. Use your best judgement.)

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    Especially if you have seen the exact job opening before, 6 or 9 months ago--don't even interview! – Amy Blankenship Nov 3 '13 at 13:14

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