By Barbara Safani

I often remind my clients that when they are interviewing for an open position, they are interviewing the employer as much as the employer is interviewing them. By paying attention to the subtle clues in the office environment, job seekers can gain a better perspective on the culture of the company or division. This way candidates can make more informed decisions regarding fit. Here are a few tips to help you size up the work environment of the company you are interviewing with.

1. If possible, schedule your interview early in the morning, late in the day, or during lunchtime. When you arrive look around and see who else is there at that time. If you have an early morning or early evening appointment and the office is packed, chances are that the culture is one that necessitates coming in early or staying late. If you interview during lunch and everyone seems to be eating at their desk, that could be a clue about the culture of the organization. If you are interviewing with a company that has a company parking lot, observe how full the lot is during these hours to determine if late nights or early mornings are part of the culture of the entire organization.

2. Ask to do a walk-through of the office. If you have made it to the second round of interviews, consider asking to see the office space. This allows you to canvas the physical space, but again gives you important clues about the office culture. Is the set up cubicle style, big open spaces, windowed offices, or a lot of closed doors? Does the space appear clean, well maintained and feel like a place where you would feel comfortable and safe?

3. Make small talk with the receptionist. This is important for several reasons. Many hiring authorities ask the receptionist their impressions of candidates that come in to apply for jobs. Make sure their first impression of you is positive. Through your conversation, you may gain valuable tidbits of information or see firsthand what types of people come through the reception area and how they interact with each other.

Note any interruptions during the interview. Again, this could be a sign of what it’s like to work in that particular environment. Did your interview start on time or were you kept waiting? Is the interview conducted in a quiet environment behind closed doors? Does the person interviewing you interrupt the flow of the meeting to take phone calls? Does the interview end abruptly due to some sort of office crisis? While there are some hiring authorities that “stage” interruptions to see how you deal with them, I truly believe that for the most part these are not planned. Instead, this can be indicative of the department’s culture or the hiring manager’s style.

4. Observe preferred communication styles. How were the interview and follow-up meetings arranged? Were they set-up by email, phone, or snail mail? Does the company prefer one-on-one or group interview formats? Did the hiring manager give you any technical tests or assessments as part of the interview process? By observing the different ways companies interview and gather information, job seekers can begin to uncover how information is managed and validated by members of the organization.

Of course, no interview scenario is perfect and I’m not suggesting that you penalize a company or hiring authority if a glitch occurs during the interview. But it is important to observe the rhythm of the office and factor that information into the final decision making process. What have you observed during your interviews and how has that information influenced your feelings about a company or a job?

Barbara Safani, owner of Career Solvers, (, has over twelve years of experience in career management, recruiting, executive coaching, and organizational development.