Now this is a question I've been puzzling over for a while, yet still don't feel like I've fully reached a solution.
I don't care about prestige (I've said this a few times to friends). I don't particularly want to claw my way into a design firm with a lot of street cred, or head down to London to work someplace fancy; that's not what I want so it would feel like a whole wasted endeavour to chase that. I'm interested in a job where I get work with enthused, talented people where I can learn a lot and share what I know whilst maintaining a decent work/life balance.
I see myself as someone with a varied skill set that is essentially founded on deep thought and strong design values. However, ultimately I don't think it's the job itself that is what matters most; its the people and culture and a lot of things that sit outside the 'job' itself.
What do I really want to know about my next job?
What is staff turnover like? No, it's much deeper than that. I want to know if anybody left the company frustrated and annoyed; somebody who felt they had escaped rather than moved on. I want to know if people left because they felt unchallenged or unappreciated instead of due to the direction of their personal life. I want to know that people left and it wasn't treated like a secret, but instead it was openly discussed and the company was thankful and everybody was excited for what was in store for that person.
Do people love what they do? I don't think this answer can ever be 'Yes', you need to elaborate. A lot of people have big things going on in their lives that their job is just that. Nothing wrong with that in my opinion. For me, finding avenues for my creativity is a daily challenge and its really important to find a few people who share that enthusiasm and drive. I want to find a person working there who makes me sit up and pay attention to what they do and why. Are there people who enthuse everyone and make people laugh. Are there people who are always sharing their extra curricular stuff, because I'm looking for that energy.
Does this team actually enjoy each others company? Do you hang out. Do people spend lunch together. Aside from an annual Christmas party do people try and organise creative events or any event. What is inter-department interaction like? Do people celebrate birthdays or are they too tired?
What are the basic company perks? Do people get to enjoy a hour lunch. Can the team enjoy lunch together or are their requirements for it to be staggered. Do people genuinely benefit from company perks, like leaving early in summer? There's no point having fancy perks if they can never be used. Is a great pension so great if you feel like you struggle enjoy large parts of your day?
What changes and what remains the same? Do practices and processes shift over time (for example, do you introduce a morning huddle and then experiment with its length and timing)? When things change (like seating and team placement) do people get a chance to feedback and feel safe to do? Is their a forum to discuss changes that's easy going and not dictated by seniority? I guess I'm looking for a place where people feel comfortable to take an active role in the growth of the their team/company.
What are the best parts of the team? Do people feel comfortable to voice issues and suggest improvements? Does everybody work hard to remain connected to teams in other locations? Do people support each other and balance workloads without really needing prompting?
What are you not satisfied with in terms of how the team works? Could people share better? Is their unhealthy competition? Do people feel reluctant to offer opinions in meetings? I think honesty on these points is always welcomed, because it means you can begin thinking of ways to help.
Mentoring? How to you grow what you've got? Is there encouragement, room and time for people to share the knowledge they currently have? Are there opportunities for training?
Am I looking for a unicorn?
I hope not! I'm not looking for perfect but I'm interested to know what to expect.
Figuring even how to phrase these questions may be tough. I don't want to launch into an interrogation of the interviewer, but my recent years spent working has made the people I work with so much more important than the job itself. As you can see there are a lot of questions and these are all focused on the health and lifestyle of a company. They're questions I've never really asked (at least never so in depth) but I think its fair to know exactly what the environment is like and especially what the team is like. Before I've been too hung up talking about the job and asking about the company that I neglected to ask interviewers how the teams worked and what their people were like.
So for the end of this summer I'll be putting those questions to the test as I begin to seek out my next role. Good work with some great people and I think I'll be happy!