In a market where the volume of roles far outweighs the candidates looking we are finding the “war on talent” means companies are really selling themselves and making bold statements and promises in order to try and attract the best talent. But how can you tell if these things are genuine or a ruse to try and lure you in at a time when businesses are desperate to secure people?

It can be a tricky landscape to navigate for sure, not least in the PR and comms industry, where by nature of the job, people tend to be gifted and persuasive communicators. My overarching advice always is to believe in your own instincts and follow that gut feeling. Something just doesn’t quite sit right or ring true? There is probably a reason that little alarm bell is going off in the back of your mind. That said there are a few questions that might help uncover if a company could be the right fit for you as well as a few red flags I would always advise people to watch out for.

A really important part of any interview process is the opportunity for you to ask them questions. Use this time to really get under the skin of both the role and the company and see if you think it could be right for you. It can be the most revealing part of an interview. Always be true to yourself and ask questions you want to know the answers to, not just things you feel you “should” ask. That said below are a few things you might want to consider:

“Why do you enjoy working here?” or “What made you join this company?”

For me this question can be so insightful on many levels. One if they laugh or brush it off, or give a very generic answer, it always sets alarm bells ringing. Do they talk about the work or the culture? If you want to know about one more than the other have a follow up question such as “and what about the culture?”

“Do you offer flexible working?”

This is really important to know if how the company works will align with your needs. Even if you don’t need or overly use flexible working I still think it is an important question to ask. Generally those companies that offer flexible or at least hybrid working also reflect a culture of trust and respect to employees. They understand you know how you work best and the trust you to get on and do a great job without dictating you needing to be in the office at all times.

“What makes you proud to work here?”

This may well catch people off guard, the best questions sometimes do, but again can prove so helpful in your decision making process. Personally I always look for answers that relate to staff such as talking about a fantastic commitment to D&I, mental health or employee wellbeing. For you it might be the award winning work they do.

Beyond asking great questions there are a few red flags I would always suggest you watch out for during any hiring process. These include:

  • They won’t tell you about the salary. MASSIVE red flag. No need to say more.
  • They can’t tell you details about the role. If they can’t explain what they need from this person, how are you supposed to know?
  • They don’t have any tangible benefits. This again links to treating staff as their most valuable assets.
  • They can’t tell you about the learning and development of offer or details of any training they offer. We are all always learning and growing and a company that recognises this tends to attract and retain people.
  • They are either aggressive (directly or passively) in the interview or have no idea about you and your background or what they are interviewing for. There is no excuse for someone not to have read your CV or profile before meeting you.
  • They lack diversity on the interview panel (over two stages). If they do, ask them about the diversity of the business.

Ultimately the interview process is very personal to each individual. Only you know what you are truly looking for and can get a feel for if an organisation could offer that. You should come away from any interview feeling excited and energised, with that “I really want to work there” feeling.

Of course, any good recruiter will be on hand to help navigate and guide you through this process so ask your recruiter all these questions as well! We can at the very least ensure you are only talking to companies that align with your values. We can act as your ambassadors and guides through a process so if you find a recruiter you trust that relationship can be invaluable. The rest is up to you and that good old gut feeling!

Kate Clover, Director, Untapped Recruitment