Would I be happy working here?

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Of the thoughts you might have on interview day, that one’s bound to crop up. You’d like to ask, of course, yet you’re not sure when or how. Plus, you’ll have more pressing thoughts jostling for the top of your mind. What if I’m asked something I haven’t prepared for? How will I navigate the dreaded ‘What are your weaknesses?’ Or, where do you see yourself in five years?

Work is such a big part of life that you owe it to yourself to be happy in what you do. Nic Marks, CEO of Happiness Works, which tracks employee experience, sums up happiness as whether you feel good and are doing well at work. But it involves much more, according to Dr Christine Carter, author of The sweet spot: how to find your groove at home and work. Meaning and fulfilment lead to happiness, she says.

Along with Happiness Works, we surveyed 24,000 working professionals, including 2,000 in the UK. Our study identifies six factors of job satisfaction. Knowing these ingredients, if you like, helps. It means when you get to the ‘Do you have any questions for us?’ part of your interview, you can probe the company’s views in these areas. Use the answers to help decide whether you’d be happy working there.

Right fit for the job and company

Remember, the interview is your chance as much as the interviewers’ to work out whether you’re the right fit for the job and company.

That’s the first ingredient, in fact. If your skills fill a gap and your personality blends in, you’re part way there. Think about what you’d like to achieve, how you like to work and how the role would support your career goals. Questions like which of my skills would be most in demand? How do you make sure the work has variety to support my professional development? How will what I bring add to the success of the company? And what’s the atmosphere like in the office? They’ll help you gauge whether you and the company are right for each other.

A sense of empowerment

Most people like a say in their job. It keeps them engaged in their career, and having an influence shows they’re valued. Try to get a feel for how much autonomy you’ll have over your day to day. What types of approval processes will be involved with my work and projects? How open is the company to new ideas? What level of input do team members have in decision-making? These will give you a feel for whether you and the company are on the same wavelength.

Feeling appreciated

Research shows people do their best when they feel their manager and colleagues appreciate what they do. So you’d imagine employers have taken steps to get this right. To find out, ask what they do as a team to celebrate their successes and what types of reward and recognition programmes they have. It’s natural to want to know whether your hard work is paying off and to get acknowledged when it is.

Interesting and meaningful work

A sense of pride and accomplishment drive happiness, according to our research. You feel this most when you are so absorbed in a project that you lose track of time, for example. Getting that time takes good planning. Ask whether deadlines are realistic or whether there’s a lot of firefighting – jumping from one project to the next. The latter may spell non-stop pressure, which, depending on the job, may make it hard to feel like you’re doing well. Ask about how your work plays a part in the company’s wider objectives, too.

 

A sense of fairness

Fairness and respect were the second highest drivers of happiness among the 18- to 34-year-olds we surveyed. A company that makes clear what you have to do to earn more or move up fosters fairness. Industry salary guides will help, as will questions like is there a structure in place for moving up through the company? What’s the work–life balance like? What markers are in place to guide me on how well I’m doing? And how often would I be expected to work late?

Positive workplace relationships

As well as fulfilling work and fun colleagues, think about whether you enjoy a work life outside the office. Does the team get together outside work? What sorts of events or activities do you have that bring together people from different parts of the company? Which other teams would I work closely with? Answers to these will suggest whether you’d be working in a silo. And ask if you can meet the team before you decide whether to accept an offer. Use this to get a sense of whether you’d get on with each other.

 

For more on our survey, download The secrets of the happiest companies and employees.

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