I have interviewed hundreds of candidates for job openings on my team during my career, and I am constantly surprised by how little interviewees know about the company they are aspiring to work for.
The majority of candidates are reasonably well prepared to answer questions about themselves, but often only have cursory (worse than Wikipedia) knowledge of the company they are interviewing for. Some even admit they only glanced at our website – as if that would excuse them for not knowing what they were interviewing for, or why. Those interviews don’t last long.
The candidates who stood out from the rest (and who eventually got the job) did their homework, and often went above and beyond.
What exactly do I mean by “homework?” Sounds dreadful, I know, but it actually can be broken down into five simple steps. Let me share with you the five things you need to know before rockin’ your interview:
Interviewers want to know that you are applying for a career, not just a job. So focus on why you’d not only be a good fit for the job description, but also for the entire company. You should know enough about the company to determine whether you can see yourself there for a while. That could be because you are passionate about what the company does, or because it’s a field that interests you, or because it’s a field that has a lot of growth potential. Never say “the job sounds interesting” when you could say “your company interests me because….” And if you can’t complete that sentence, then this company (and the job) is probably not right for you and you shouldn’t waste your time or the interviewer’s (trust me, they can tell).
You should have some idea of what the company does, what its revenue sources are, who its customers are, and whether it’s profitable or not. That will help you gain a better sense of how your role, or the department you’ll be in, impacts the company (because you do want to make an impact, right?). You can find this out with a little research into their published financial statements (if they are a public company) or by just searching ”[company name] financials.” If it’s a start-up, check out Crunchbase, which shows how much funding they’ve received and when, and by whom. You can also check out their investors and see where else they’ve invested, which might point you to additional target companies for your job search.
Glassdoor is a great source for finding out how current and past employees rate and review their company. It also tells you a bit about the company’s benefits, and the reviews often point to particular issues (hierarchical decision making, office politics, lack of innovation, lack of promotion opportunities, etc.) that you may want to ask about in your interview to ensure you get a complete picture about the company.
Before any interview you should use LinkedIn to look up all the people you may meet.. Not only will you feel more comfortable on the day of the interview because you know what your interviewer(s) look like, but more importantly you’ll have the information you need to make a personal connection. You’ll be able to say: “I see you’ve been working here for X years, you must really like it here. Tell me more about your experience.” Or you can connect about their prior jobs: “I saw that you worked at X before coming here, what was the biggest challenge when making the change to this company?” Or you can discuss personal passions: “I see you are a member of X organization, I am involved in something similar. Let me tell you about that.” Interviewers primarily will want to determine whether they like you (even if they don’t acknowledge it), and making a personal connection will make you more likeable. It’ll also show them that you took the time to prepare well for the interview, and a bit of flattery is never a bad idea.
You should definitely know if the company has been in the news lately. Have they announced record earnings, or perhaps layoffs? Launched a new product? Are they involved in a scandal? Knowing what’s happening will not only help you decide whether you want to work there, but will also help you come up with questions about the company or your job. All you have to do is look at the News section of Google search results to see the latest articles published. You can also go the company’s website and check out the “News” or ”Blog” sections. Though they’ll probably give you a less objective picture, it will show you what the company is proud of (and will give you ideas for topics to use to create a connection with your interviewer). If you are very interested about a company and are planning ahead, you should set up a Google Alert that sends you a weekly digest of news about the company. That way, when they contact you, you’ve been reading about the company for a while and will feel more comfortable going into your first interview.
Remember: Interviewers will want to see how much you care about the job you are interviewing for, and good preparation is the best indicator of how much you want the job. If the above sounds like too much work, then maybe that’s a signal that you are interviewing for a job you’re not really excited about. In that case, cancel the interview and use that time to research the job you REALLY want.
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