(MoneyWatch) A job interview can feel an awful lot like a dramatic audition. You have a small window of time to give a song and dance and sell the director (aka the job interviewer) on your talents. But this meeting is also an opportunity for you to vet your potential employer -- to see what kind of man or woman you might be dealing with if you sign on. If you have a job and you're not sure you're ready to jump ship, it's crucial you go into the job interview watching for signs that might impact your decision. Here are nine to look for.
You feel like their priority.
You want to be the center of attention during a job interview, just like you do at any meeting with your boss. "Note how closely they listen to you. Are they easily distracted by interruptions, such as knocking on the door from others, phone ringing, etc. Are they looking frequently at their watch? Do they answer the door or the phone?" says Meg Montford, executive career coach, and president of Abilities Enhanced. If someone can't even give you their undivided attention when they're determining whether to hire you or not, why would they give you it once you're on staff?
The interview process is logical.
You don't want to work for a disorganized person or someone who can't make a decision. If the steps you're being asked to take make no sense, you could be dealing with someone who can't easily make choices. "If, for example, they tell you that you have to take an aptitude test, or give a writing sample for a graphologist to analyze, run like your life depends on it! Those are dead giveaways that the interviewer does not trust her own judgment," says Bruce Hurwitz, CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing. This decision-making ineptitude is unlikely to be limited to the interview process.
They're open about your predecessor.
Why did the person before you leave? This is a window into many potential problems, from why the other person didn't work out (and why that may or may not happen with you) to a downright toxic work environment. "If you have been told that the job is brand new, that may not be entirely correct. It may be that a position has been eliminated -- one that is almost identical -- and you are now interviewing for a job where there has been repeated turnover. Technically, it is a different job but it is the same dysfunctional boss," says Roy Cohen, author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide."
They're calm, smiling and in control.
You want to work for someone who tries to put you at ease -- someone, in other words, who is easy to be around. "Conversely, if they're frazzled easily and throw rapid-fire questions at you or interrupt repeatedly, you might think twice. A good litmus test is to offer some lightheartedness yourself when the timing feels right, and see if your interviewer responds in kind," says Lynn Taylor, author of "Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant."
You're being listened to.
Good bosses will stop talking and look you in the eye when you speak. "They won't spend the time talking about themselves or getting on tangents or on a soapbox about unrelated matters. They'll ask a lot of questions and listen intently. They will ideally take notes," says Taylor.
You're treated courteously throughout the interview process.
Are you kept waiting in the lobby for an eternity? Did your interviewer get up to shake your hand, and walk you out, sealing your interaction with a firm handshake? These kind subtleties can show a great deal about the office culture, says Taylor.
Your potential co-workers are spoken of highly.
If the interview is dismissive or critical of your potential office-mates, that's a red flag. "When your boss expresses disdain for virtually everyone, you will not be treated any differently. On the other hand, is he inclusive and does he compliment the work of others? Does he share credit or suggest that the success that has been achieved is a byproduct of the team's efforts?" notes Cohen. The latter is a strong sign you should join their happy ranks.
They want to know your long-term goals.
Sometimes, a five-year plan question can seem like a tough one to answer, but if it's genuine, they may actually be interested in thinking of your long-term growth at the company. "They'll want to know about your past, e.g., your past favorite projects and earlier achievements. But they'll spend more time on your future, e.g., where you're headed, what your ideal projects are, and test your reaction to the kind of work you'd be doing," says Taylor.
Your potential co-workers are smiling.
Keep your head up and take note of the office environment as you're shown to the interviewer's office. If you're introduced to others, take note of their demeanor. "Do your future peers cower or speak as if they are on automatic pilot?" notes Cohen. If you have one-on-one time with employees, ask about the office culture or what their boss is like to work for. Even if you don't get a completely honest answer, you might get some insight into the environment.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user ThisIsRobsLife.