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When going to interviews, I often want to take a peek at how the company works on the inside, but they may not show you everything or want to "keep up appearances" to make them more inviting. Obviously the latter is expected when management wants to really sell the job to you, especially if the company is a well-talked about brand.

But then there have been those times where I take a job and some nasty skeletons come out of the closet.

An actual experience follows: An owner of company A interviewed me and mis-represented his company by showing a large work environment, when in fact all that space belonged to a different company B. He told me A and B are in a partnership so I assumed the space was shared. It was not until a month later I found out that A's owner works for B and subleased a small space from B to run company A on the side. So A's own employees don't represent B, work in a cramped area and receive no company benefits from either A or B, as A is too small of a company to afford fancy things like that.

There wasn't much info about his company online, so it was hard to do research on. How to I look for warning signs like this in the future, before I take the plunge and find out when it's too late?

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    When you get the contract, look at who exactly you are signing it with and look up that legal entity online. That would give you an idea... – Oded Aug 21 '12 at 17:54
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    to extend on what @Oded said, never sign there. Always take the contract home and read it carefully first. Most places will be willing to give you a day or two to look things over. During this time, conduct your research about the particular company named. – acolyte Aug 21 '12 at 18:55
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    There wasn't much info about his company online that was your first clue. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 21 '12 at 20:33
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    @maple_shaft I didn't get any of what you are saying from the OP. Company A is a side project of an employee of Company B, and yet the hiring manager for Company A (probably A's owner, B's employee) is representing facilities and perks of Company B as available to and part of Company A. That's not fraud per se, but it's not ethical in the slightest, and yet you somehow expected Chris C to figure this out on his first, escorted visit to the office? – KeithS Aug 29 '12 at 0:00
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I have found two things to be extremely helpful:

  1. Go to lunch with one or two people form the team you are trying to get hired on. Ask them as many questions as you can and try to get adequate information on what it would be like to work in that group. Preferably, this should happen on a separate day from the interview.

  2. Ask everyone you meet to list one good thing and one bad thing about working at the company.

On (2) if they can't give you some sort of substantive answer for both pieces, then that should be an instant red flag. No company is perfect, but the ones trying to improve will be open about their shortcomings and will be able to tell you what they are trying to do to overcome them.

I don't know what your profession is, but adapting your own Joel Test during an interview can be extremely helpful as well. You should have a set list of questions about how the company operates on a day-to-day basis in order to help you make a more informed decision.

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    This assumes you have met more than one person... – Oded Aug 21 '12 at 18:04
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    @Oded definitely... but I would argue that you shouldn't accept a job after talking to just one person – Robert Greiner Aug 21 '12 at 18:04
  • Absolutely, but if you read the anecdote from the OP, I get the impression they only ever spoke to one person... – Oded Aug 21 '12 at 18:05
  • @Oded I got the same impression, at that point, it's pretty much a gamble whether you will be happy there or not – Robert Greiner Aug 21 '12 at 18:08
  • @RobertGreiner - I would say that it is a clue that the company is not well managed if the management is not willing to let you meet anyone else but wants to hire you. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 23 '12 at 15:07
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I always ask the interviewer a question that will send up red flags if there are any:

If you could change one thing about the company with no possibility of veto, what would it be?

This will usually (>95%) stump the interviewer, and make them think for a minute. I have interviewed a lot in my life, and interview for fun sometimes, and this almost always takes them by surprise. This is useful because most people answering questions on the spot tend towards honesty. Second, this question will almost always elicit what someone considers a negative thing about the company, even though you didn't specifically say "what negative thing" they would change. You will almost always get red flag answers if there are any big ones. For example, I've heard everything from "team communication really needs improvement" to "the CEO has a temper" to "we spend too much time in meetings". You will get red flags before the interviewer even realizes what you're doing. I've even heard some things that would probably be considered against the law. For what it's worth, I interviewed at the Googleplex and six out of my seven interviewers said some variation of "I wish I could work on things that challenge me", with one guy summarizing perfectly by saying "all the low-hanging fruit has been solved and only star engineers get to work on the really hard problems". I would attribute this question as the main reason I didn't accept their offer.

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"receive no company benefits from either A or B, as A is too small of a company to afford fancy things like that" - that shouldn't have been a surprise that you learned after you started work. Every job offer I have ever seen for professional position included a description of benefits: vacation, sick , holidays, health insurance, life insurance, education benefits, pension, 401K. Even if they don't provide all the options they do discuss the ones they have.

You need to know things like the number of locations, where the employees work, where is the company HQ. It is OK to work at a customer site, but they should let you know where the rest of the company works. They will be handling HR, purchasing, management...

The actual working conditions will depend on the work location. The customer site may control hardware, software, and office space. The customer site may be more or less impressive then the company site.

You also need to know the other contracts they have to judge their ability to provide a follow on contract if the current contract ends. A small number of contracts, with growth but an inability to keep current employees is a warning flag.

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It's really hard, you have to do some scratching yourself, ask specific questions, examine their website and previous work (to see the quality of their work). Just don't expect anything until you have worked for them for a while. I went through a similar experience. I guess we both learned our lesson.

But in general, they way you are being dealt with during the interview phase should give you an idea of how you will be treated later. In my case, I was asked to start "like, next week". That was the beginning of general disrespect trend, such as receiving an SMS on Friday night asking me to show up for work the next morning (Saturday was normally off). In your case the company (supposedly a big company) not having a website might have been a clue.

  • I agree with the SMS message being an issue but what's wrong with being asked if you can start next week? Trying to figure out how soon employees can start and getting them into place as quickly as possible is fairly standard I would say. – Rob Moir Aug 17 '14 at 10:05
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First off, I'm assuming you have no friends or acquaintances that work there, and must expand your network.

From your post, I'm assuming this company's office is small, and they share the building with several other companies. If this is the case, look for events happening in/near the building, professional events being best.

Start asking at those events about this company. Even if you do not meet someone who works there, someone will likely know people who do. You can ask them about the company.

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