The one-sided nature of job interviews can derail a career. How many of us have entered an office in our best suits, hoping the interviewer will choose us for the open position? After all, as job seekers, it’s natural to recognize our vulnerabilities. We need income to pay for our rent or mortgage, groceries, student loans, etc… We walk in needing that interviewer to choose us, particularly as we’re starting out in our careers.
Even so, the importance of interviewing the interviewer cannot be overestimated. Accepting a job without knowing some critical information is a dangerous gamble that many a woman in sales has experienced. For some of us, it’s counterintuitive to ask an interviewer in-depth questions and transform the dynamic of the interview from a one-sided conversation to a frank discussion. Yet, you are building your career. You don’t want to waste time with a company that’s a poor fit for you–or a poor fit for women in general. There are many issues that you need to keep in mind–and address–when you’re interviewing with a potential employer or moving through an onboarding process. Consider the following so you can make the best possible decision when it comes time to accept–or decline–a job offer.
Conduct Your Own Research
First, remember that you can learn quite a bit about a company before you walk into an interviewer’s office. Researching a company will not only provide you with readily available information but will often leave you with many questions that you can take with you to that interview. For instance, a company’s website might mention training for employees. What kind of training? Is the training specifically geared for women in sales?
Remember, too, that you won’t find all the information you need to learn about a prospective employer from their website. A business website is that company’s attempt to put its best face forward. You don’t want the propaganda. You need the real-world scoop about what it’s like to work in that company’s offices. You need to know precisely how commissions and bonuses work; as a sales pro, you may have already come across some shady situations regarding how those commissions are calculated–and not in your favor.
Aside from the business website, visit the company’s Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts if they have them. Take an afternoon to read through a year’s worth of social media posts and comments. You can glean a lot of information about the tone of the company’s discourse. You can also learn from the people who comment. Are customers happy with the customer? Are there problems? Does the company have any challenges that you can spot?
You never fully know where this research will take you, but you need to make the exploration. If you spot red flags, jot them in your notebook and remember to address them–ever so diplomatically–in your interview. The interviewer will not likely overlook the fact that you’ve done your homework. Your research will also help you convey to a prospective employer that you’re incredibly interested in the company and the position.
How Female-Friendly Is the Company?
While it would save you time just to come out and ask: “do women like working here,” it’s not so simple to find out about a company’s real sentiments toward women with such direct questioning. Interviewing the interviewer takes great diplomacy, though as a woman in sales, you’re probably used to being diplomatic. But your happiness, financial well-being, and job satisfaction hinge on that question. You need to find out how women feel about working at ABC Company.
So, you’ll need to develop some strategies for finding out what you want to know. It can be helpful to know how many women work at the company you’re seeking a job at and what the overall turnover rate is generally and for women. If you’re interviewing with a human resources manager, this information might be easier to obtain as this person is likely to track such figures. But even if you’re meeting with the sales director or the company’s top management, you’ll want to address this topic.
When you steer the conversation to questions about female roles in the company, or ask questions about the company’s culture, be prepared for ‘all the right answers.’ No one’s going to come out and say that “we really had a tough time keeping women on board here.” Yikes. That might not be a ship you want to board. However, how keen are the interviewers to discuss topics related to women? How interested is the interviewer in answering your questions fully–enthusiastically? It’s not always the answers that convey information. Sometimes, it’s in the facial expressions and tone of the conversation.
Does the Company Offer Training?
Whether you’re new to the field of sales or a veteran, it’s essential to ask about training for employees in general and women specifically. The area of sales is dynamic. How does the company address industry change if it doesn’t engage in training? Does it offer training specific to its onboarding processes? But, rather than asking a yes or no question such as, “does your company offer any training programs,” phrase your questions so that the interviewer is ‘nudged’ into providing a more expansive answer. For instance, you might try wording it in any of these ways:
- Do you recall any training topics geared for women?
- Can you explain the types of training you offer women or employees in general?
- What are your future plans for training programming or workshops?
The more you can get your interviewer to open up about workplace training, the more you can learn about the company’s stance on continuing education–and how willing it is to invest time, energy, and resources into its employees’ success.
What’s the Culture of the Company Like?
Taking a job with a company that features a workplace culture that is non-conducive to your work style can sabotage your career–and, let’s face it–your mental health. Does the company’s culture nurture teamwork, or is it more like Survivor Island? If you’re competitive, you might not mind a more aggressive workplace culture. You might thrive in that setting. On the other hand, many women are born nurturers–born to nurture and support one another. You might not enjoy working in an aggressive climate where the focus is entirely on the numbers you produce rather than the relationships you build with clients.
Of course, this is hard information to come by in your garden-variety job interview, important as it is. You may not come by this information without a bit of stealth. So, show up to the interview a bit early. With any luck, you’ll have the opportunity to observe life in the office. Is it quiet? Is it friendly? Are there conversations going on between staffers? What’s the tone? Sure, this is a mere snapshot, but it’s a starting off point.
Then, don’t be afraid to explain to the interviewer that you are curious about workplace culture. It’s not, after all, that you’re looking to judge whether its culture is good or bad, but whether or not it’s the right fit for you–your work style and personality. Ask them to explain a bit about the culture beyond the policies. Ask them what their experience has been like working for the company. Or, ask for some examples that spotlight the workplace culture from the point of view of the sales team. If the interviewer is proud of the company culture, they’ll want to discuss it. It won’t take long for you to get an idea of why it’s like to work there.
Also, you can try to contact people on LinkedIn who have worked for the company in the past. See if they’ll provide you any information about the culture. You can also explore company review sites. The more you learn about what it’s like to work for the business, the more information you’ll have to govern your decision about accepting the job if it’s offered.
Mentoring programs are different than training programs. While they’re accessible in large companies today, they aren’t offered everywhere. Or, they may be listed on the company website, but aren’t active in the workplace. As a woman in sales, it’s ideal to be mentored by another woman who works at the company. It’s also suitable for mentoring programs to focus on women in the workplace and issues that are specific to them, but that doesn’t always happen. In busy companies, the mentoring piece can get lost in the shuffle.
However, an active mentoring program indicates the company values the experiences that such programs offer and understands that these programs can benefit women, especially in industries where women are woefully under-represented. If the interviewer acknowledges that the company doesn’t employ nearly as many women as men, you can segway to the question of mentoring or ask if there are other ways the company supports women explicitly in the workplace? If they look at you like you sprouted a third eye after asking this, just get up and thank them for their time. Do you really need to learn more at that point?
How High Is that Glass Ceiling?
If you’re thinking about your long-term career prospects, you need to view a company through the lens of your future. Is the position you’re applying for a dead end? Does the company acknowledge any pathways upward? As a woman in sales, you may not be interested in moving into a managerial role. However, you may want the opportunity to expand your territory or to take on a ‘hotter’ sales territory than the one on offer.
To determine if the company has a glass ceiling–barriers to your professional advancement as a woman-you might ask if there are any women in management positions. Of course, you may be able to glean that information from the company website if it lists department heads or its executive team. What about board members? Are there any female board members for the company? If advancing is crucial to you, you need to find out if the company is committed to promoting women–or if it merely says the right things about career growth in its policy manual. Always look for the proofs. If there are no female directors or executives, it’s probably not a company that values women in top-level positions. How can you be sure it appreciates them in lower-level positions in that case, either?
Talk to Potential Colleagues
While it might not always be possible to speak with potential colleagues, many companies do invite prospective employees to meet with the team. This demonstrates that it values the input its team members will provide after meeting you. It also allows you to learn more about what it’s like to work on the sales team. Remember, you don’t want to grill anyone or seem as if you’re trying to dig up dirt. Harvard Review puts it like this:
“Ask, ‘What are you working on at the moment? What are you hoping to achieve? And what gets in the way?’ Their answers will be revealing. ‘Is it market factors? The economy? The CEO? Internal backbiting?'”
Naturally, you’ll be gauging their personalities too. Are they positive? Do they seem cynical? Content? Unhappy? It’s not only the management that can make or break a job. Cynical colleagues can make the workplace hellish. Look for red flags as well as search for the positives.
Salary, Commission, Benefits, Perks
There are different schools of thought when it comes to whether or not you should ask about a job’s pay and benefits. Weird considering these are often what hinges whether or not you take the role in the first place. Still, it’s a matter of etiquette you’ll need to consider. Many employers get straight to it–and that’s a good sign because they know you want to know. They’re not looking to string you along. One way or another, of course, you need to know this essential information either during an initial interview or during the first part of the onboarding process.
If the interviewer is open to a frank discussion about its perks, benefits, and pay, listen carefully, mainly if they discuss how commissions are calculated. That’s often a point of contention for sales professionals. If it sounds convoluted–it’s probably shady. The more confusing the commission process is, the less likely it is to be a benefit to you–and that’s likely a dealbreaker. You can’t force a company to pay out if it’s committed to paying you the least amount possible.
Also, many companies offer some terrific perks to sales pros. What perks does this company offer? Perhaps it doesn’t have the means to provide company cars, but maybe it features flexible scheduling. Some companies offer special hours during the summer or feature half-day Fridays once a month. Is there paid sick leave? Is there medical insurance–and what’s the plan? Who is the provider? Don’t overlook the benefits programs. These are often just as important as the rate of pay.
If you are offered the job and accept it, you’ll be subject to reviews. It’s helpful to understand the company’s performance review process before you take the role. How will you be evaluated? Are there metrics or goals that will influence your evaluation? How upfront during the interview is the employer about your responsibilities and performance markers? You may or may not be comfortable with the answers provided to you. Take time to process what they tell you and follow up with any questions you might have.
Keep It Friendly
While you’re setting out to interview your interviewer, it’s essential to do so in a friendly, curious manner. You don’t want to come across as an investigative journalist, or it could backfire. Toward the end of the interview, make sure you ask the interviewer if there’s any other information you could provide about yourself and work experience. You always want to end the conversation on a positive note. Also, if the interviewer doesn’t volunteer the information, ask what their time frame is for filling the position and what the next steps might be for job candidates.
The last thing you want to do in a job interview is walking out without any information that’s relative to your decision should you get offered the job. Your sales career is a cornerstone of your life. You deserve to have as much knowledge as possible about a prospective job. Would you book a cruise without knowing where it’s going? Are meals included? Accepting a position is a significant life decision. You don’t want to be in a situation where you have to jump ship in a matter of months and start your interviewing process all over again.
Use these tips the next time you are faced with a job interview. You are entitled to learn everything mentioned here. You need to make the right decisions about your career in sales.