Brainstorm: Creative ideas to ACTUALLY get to know the team when interviewing

We've all heard that in the job hunt, we as candidates are also interviewing the company. But are we really? How do we actually get to know potential colleagues with only 5 mins of our own questions in a 30-45 min interviews? Glassdoor reviews and follow up casual phone calls with the hiring manager can only do so much. I've been on both sides of a hiring process, and frankly some red flags don't show up until we've gone to bed with them once the job actually starts.

Does anyone have experience or ideas on how we can get a better feel for the people we're working for/with in the process? I realize we can't change an entirely broken system over night, but I'd love to start the discourse around this. Why can't I actually speak with to 5 happy people that work there?

I've experienced various "coffee with an employee" types of interviews. Frankly, I don't believe this is inclusive and it feeds into women needing to be likeable enough "to have a beer with." *groan*

I'd love to see a world where contract-to-hire roles were more popular, which can usually benefit both parties. More often than not, companies don't offer this option. They usually have more leverage and can easily be turned off by a candidate who doesn't want to jump in head-first, agreeing to invest every bit of faith and time with a company that we don't actually know, but a company that will happily fire or replace us at the drop of a hat.

Let's discuss!!

I seem to come across a lot of contract to hire roles, but I feel that's limited to technical, per-project roles. I agree with it as a concept though.> Why can't I actually speak with to 5 happy people that work there? They're paranoid that the people aren't actually happy and will tell you things that "help you make an informed decision" not to work there. But since they don't ask employees, they don't know what to fix.- Let me shadow someone virtually for the day; or at least get temp access to their Slack/Teams space to see the virtual vibes. Optionally but ideally, no one knows I'm there except one person.
Thank you for posting! I'm now seeing more and more contract roles partly to try out (for both companies and candidates) and for the company to give itself the option to have someone help on a particular project without the need to hire full time (perhaps there's not enough work to justify a FT hire) A number of companies also have a 3 months trial period, which I think is a good trade off to see if things will work out!As far as how to assess a company/team during interviews, it's definitely hard to do especially if you aren't naturally someone who can make decisions/take conclusions based on your gut feeling/sixth sense (however one calls that) A few things that could work is to do your own back-channelling by talking to people who have left the firm to understand their experience/perspective, because a lot of selection bias happens in interviewing (you're being introduced to people who will spin things positively, the same as you only give recommenders who will rave about you as a person/candidate). And then of course i'd have a series of very specific questions for the people you'll be meeting! Ideally they give you the name of the folks you'll meet, so I'll prepare a questionnaire for each of them!
This is where I feel that remote interviews let me down, on both sides of the hiring table. As an interviewee, when I've been in on-site interviews, I get to chit chat with people while we're waiting for everyone to come into the interview, or while I'm waiting to be let into the office, and at lunch or coffee breaks, or even in the elevator and bathroom. I get to overhear conversations, I get to see how people interact with each other. On Zoom, I get none of that, and people turn their mikes and cameras off while we're waiting for everyone to log into the meeting. Same from the other side. On Zoom, I don't get to see how the person I'm interviewing with interacts with people. It's harder to get a sense of personality.As a candidate, I have point blank asked "Are the people here very tech-bro-y?" and "Would you say there are any difficult personalities on the team?" Of course the answer will be "No, of course not!" but I just listen very closely to everything they say after that. Do they sound like they're making excuses? Are they very flustered? You probably can't ask to randomly pick 5 people from their employee list to talk to, so the back channel efforts mentioned upthread is probably the best way. You can also stalk the hiring manager and high level people on LinkedIn. Sometimes I read very sketchy things posted (publicly! on a professional board!) from C-suite people and I just nope right out. If it's rotten at the top, it's bad all the way down.
As a graphic designer, I see a lot of contract positions, and some contract to hire potential ones as well. I’m not sure how great a solution it is to figuring out company culture before working there. You’re doing the work with few or no benefits & if it’s full time, it’s just like taking a “permanent” job. It won’t leave you any more time to be looking elsewhere while working. Of course, it’s great if you aim to freelance full-time, but I don’t see much benefit other than that. Also, as someone who has worked primarily at small companies, there aren’t a whole lot of online resources to look up previous employees. Many don’t bother with sites such as glass door or linkedin. What would be nice would be turning that “5 happy people” into *company* provided references as a standard practice, the same way they ask for a potential hire’s references. If they aren’t able to provide that, potential red flag?