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Introduction

I'm waiting for an offer from a company I'm currently interviewing with.

The job is a Software Engineering Team Lead at a company with 300 employees.

My Interpretations

During the technical interviews, I did not feel comfortable. I interpreted the:

  • Group Leader as a stressed person.
  • CTO (Co-Founder) as professional, direct, and stressed as well but also as an intimidating person and with forceful opinions.
  • VP R&D (Co-Founder) as professional, cold, and direct.

Concerns

  1. As a team lead, what work will I have with the CTO?
  2. How will the work life balance be?
  3. How stressed are my managers?
  4. What is the technical quality of the product I will work on?
  5. Will the employees I will manage have this kind of stress?

Online Concerns

I found 2 negative reviews from inside the R&D in the last 6 months:

  • No work life balance.
  • The technical quality of the product is low.
  • Toxic environment.
  • Managers has a constant mood, angry and controlling.
  • Management is untouchable.
  • Unpleasant employees (can't tell if the comment is about the managers).

Questions

  1. What questions can I ask the HR representative or my future Group leader to better understand the work environment?
  2. Can I request a response to the online reviews I mentioned?
  3. How can I maximize my offer based on my concerns? Sounds like I'm taking a big risk.
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  • 55
    Remember: the interviews go both ways. While you're trying to sell them on your services, they should be trying to sell you on their company/environment. If they fail, then you either need to move on or be prepared to lower your standards. Aug 30, 2023 at 3:36
  • 12
    "How can I maximize my offer based on my concerns?" Are you essentially asking if you can leverage the bad impression they gave you in a salary negotiation?
    – Lilienthal
    Aug 31, 2023 at 7:16

8 Answers 8

59

I'm not really sure why you are considering working here, it sounds like your interview process revealed some ugly dynamics that were confirmed by employee reviews and this would be a miserable experience. But if you have reasons to push forward, then I would say:

  1. I'm not too sure on this one. You could ask the group lead how many hours they worked last week, or what about the company really excites them. Those could give some insight into your worries, but it sounds like there's a good chance any questions you ask won't be necessarily answered honestly.
  2. Sure, you can. Just be ready for them to either dismiss those reviews entirely or for it to hurt your job offer prospects by bringing it up (I would hope it wouldn't, but this company sounds very toxic).
  3. The only valid concern that compensation could reflect here is how many hours you may have to work, which will only help you argue for more if they are forthcoming about it now. You can bring up all your other points but I don't see why they would help you with compensation - rather, it would probably show the company that you're already one foot out the door before you've started.

My best advice would be to try to find former employees who will honestly answer you about their experiences at this company, maybe even talk to a current employee and see how their answers match up. This will help with questions 1 and 2, and then you can decide what your price is to work at such a place and ask for that - there's question 3.

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  • 1
    Thanks, my interpretations can be also wrong and the online reviews belongs to only 2 engineers. Every company has it's internal problems. and maybe some of these problems will not affect me if those people are not in touch with me.
    – hyjntyhd
    Aug 29, 2023 at 15:01
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    What questions can I ask employees in the company to understand more but not raise any suspicious?
    – hyjntyhd
    Aug 29, 2023 at 15:01
  • 3
    Honestly just ask the questions that you list in your Concerns section of this post - minus the one about the CTO.
    – InBedded16
    Aug 29, 2023 at 15:09
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    I always ask a question about the team dynamics outside of work, particularly the team's communal social life. However innocuous it might sound I'm testing whether the team actually like each other or only get on for the sake of work. I also pay a lot of attention to whether management join them. You'll have to draw your own conclusions from the answers.
    – MD-Tech
    Aug 30, 2023 at 15:21
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What questions can I ask the HR or my future Group leader to better understand the work environment?

It sounds like you already understand the work environment quite well. If you want more evidence: a good set of question to ask is "What are the three things you like best and least about working here?" The "best" is a decoy, listen closely to the "least" part.

Can I request a response about the online reviews I mentioned?

You certainly can but it's not going to help. It's an aggressive move so it's unlikely that you get an open or honest answer. It will also reduce your chances of getting an offer.

How can I maximize my offer based on my concerns? Sounds like I'm taking a big risk.

Why? Why? Why? That sounds like your negotiation strategy here is "This is a crappy job so I want hazard pay to deal with it". Why not keep looking for something that sounds better? Companies turn down candidates all the time. Candidates turns down companies all the time. That's a healthy (and often the best) outcome of the interview process

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When you are the interviewee who is looking for a job, or interviewing a possible candidate for one, consider this:

They are doing their best to present themselves in the best way they possibly can.

In my (quite painful) personal experience, if you ignore a red flag at this stage, you will regret it later.

If they can't hide their stress levels/arrogance/whatever for an hour for your interview, it's very likely to be a an indication of a much bigger problem.

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  • 6
    1000% this. Don’t ignore red flags in interviews.
    – bob
    Aug 31, 2023 at 2:58
11

What questions can I ask the HR or my future Group leader to better understand the work environment?

Whenever I interview, I talk with my future boss. I also ask to talk to some peers, and to some folks who would be on my team.

In these conversations, I ask questions like:

  • "What do you like about working here? What do you dislike?"
  • "What is it like working for [future boss]"
  • anything else that concerns me and that I think this individual could provide insight about

Can I request a response about the online reviews I mentioned?

You can. But tread carefully, as some folks might not like to discuss random internet online rumors.

If you sense defensiveness, back off.

How can I maximize my offer based on my concerns? Sounds like I'm taking a big risk.

You can't. Either decide this is an offer you are willing to accept, or reject the offer.

Something like "Well, I want more because I have concerns and I'm taking a big risk" is unlikely to go over well. I know as hiring manager, I wouldn't hire someone who expressed those feelings, yet asked for a better offer.

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  • 1
    Thank you! Does raising behavioral concerns (without providing facts like online reviews) may hurt my job offer prospects by bringing concerns up?
    – hyjntyhd
    Aug 29, 2023 at 16:17
  • 4
    Instead of worrying so much about getting this job why not spend that time looking for a working environment without those red flags?
    – bob
    Aug 31, 2023 at 2:57
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What questions can I ask the HR representative or my future Group leader to better understand the work environment?

Those are two very different people.

You may or may not get any useful information out a discussion with the group Leader. It is quite possible that the Group Leader will be open about the issues and indicate a willingness to work with the Team, including you, to solve the problems. Or the Group Leader may pretend the problems don't exist.

But HR is an entirely different story. HR's jobs are to (a) protect the company (first and foremost), (b) to deal with mechanical issues - depending on the company, that may include fixing mistakes on paychecks, making sure vacation time is credited properly as accumulated and used, acting as the first step with any complaint regarding company policies, etc. HR is not there to help you with work-life balance or tell you how to get along with your manager or anything of that sort. Those are issues which your manager may be able to help with. But not HR.

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    That's true but for many companies the recruitment process takes place through HR, so that is who you discuss questions you have about the company (even if they have to forward them on to someone else, ultimately) Aug 30, 2023 at 18:20
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What questions can I ask the HR representative or my future Group leader to better understand the work environment?

"Can you describe a typical work day in this position?" is my go-to. There are plenty of examples on the Internet of good interviewee questions.

If they left no room for questions during the interview then that's a red flag. You can contact them and see if they have time for some follow-up questions.

Can I request a response to the online reviews I mentioned?

No. Who are you, their auditor or parole officer? It would be quite offensive to request such a thing. Either take the review at face value and compare against your impressions or ignore them.

How can I maximize my offer based on my concerns? Sounds like I'm taking a big risk.

Say adult things like "I sincerely appreciate the offer to work at your company but after careful consideration it would take $XYZ for me to make the switch to your company. I do look forward to the challenges that this position would entail and hope to hear from you soon."


Everything you've observed and considered asking is basically bad-mouthing an employer before you've even started working for them, that's impressive and not in a good way.

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  • "It would take $XYZ to make me switch to your company" is a good way to never get hired. If you have a number, then "Sorry, at this time I am only considering offers above XYZ" or "Sorry, at this time I'm expecting around (XYZ + ~5% or some fixed number. XYZ + 1000 or something)" Making it personal ("your company") just shows that you aren't interested in their company.
    – Mars
    Sep 1, 2023 at 5:17
  • That said, that part also comes from a position of already receiving an offer, which probably makes it too late to leverage the situation.
    – Mars
    Sep 1, 2023 at 5:20
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The real answer is that you've already seen enough red flags and should run.
BUT since you asked, let's answer the questions earnestly:

  1. a. Don't trust HR for an answer here. There is a small chance they'll answer truthfully, but there is a chance that they'll lie or that they legitimately don't know the reality for your future team
    b. I'd ask the group leader as naturally as possible. "You seem stressed--is this a high stress position? (The answer is almost definitely going to be somewhere between "no, this project is an exception" and "sometimes projects can be stressful"). Pry more here.
    i. Why are projects stressful?
    ii. What kind of management style is used?
    iii. What steps have been taken to remedy this?
    If the answers don't satisfy you, then you should probably give up.

  2. Do it from the standpoint of your role!

I want to get a better idea of what will be expected of me. I noticed that your upper management all seems stressed and you have a few recent, negative reviews on ____. What steps are you already taking to combat this, and how can I help?

  1. There are only situations where you can leverage this--if they are desperate for YOU, then you can play hesitant. "I dunno.... I really like this company, but given the current situation, I would expect more than normal..."
    The other situation is where you can solve their problems. In that case, you maximize your offer by maximizing your perceived value--offer solutions. If you have experience fixing some of their issues, then bring that up when you are asking what their problems are.

Ex:

I see, you've had issues with poorly estimated client projects and not keeping up with changes in specifications, which is leading to stressful projects and overtime. Luckily, I'm PMP certified and used that knowledge at my last position to standardize the project estimation process and documents. By standardizing the release process and training my division, we were able to reduce project extensions by X% at my last company. The current situation sounds harder than with other companies, but it sounds like my skills fill in a lot of your current gaps.


Personal comments:

  • Probably not worth the stress unless you're a workaholic or the pay is exceptional
  • Definitely not a position/company to consider if you do not have significant lead engineering experience
  • If you are entering with the expectation that you are going to fix things, then don't be shy/reserved. Don't worry about stepping on toes--your job is literally to break people out of their current failing system
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If you have laid stock and research to find that this will be a challenging work environment and you are on the fence then the easiest things to do are:

  1. Let them know nicely of your assessment.
  2. Let them know that because of the environment you will require more money and strict work schedule.
  3. Let them know you are worth it and if they don't like your assessment or the money/time ask then they can part ways with a potential great employee.

Sounds harsh but hitting this with an honesty stick day one puts you on a higher plane to start. If they don't like it then it then there were 90%+ odds you were going to hate working there and no use investing that much into a high risk bad situation.

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