By Stephanie Clark
You might be surprised to learn that many recruiters grumble that too many interview candidates spend far too little time preparing for this very important event. Considering that a career move hangs in the balance, you might wonder why this is so. Perhaps applicants feel less-than-confident, and hence that they are wasting time in preparing? But if you’ve received an invite to an interview then you should take this as a vote of confidence: the company has seen something in your qualifications that is of great interest.
After all, few employers interview more than five or so potentials for any given opening. You owe it to yourself to put in more than an hour or two in preparation. One way to prepare is to research the company thoroughly; the other is to know yourself thoroughly. Today let’s chat about researching the company. Visit the company’s website, follow the links to press releases, brochures, client testimonials, and product information. Find out what challenges the company is battling, review the mission statement, absorb the corporate culture, discover who the major competitors are, and so on. If the company has no website, visit your local library to find info in local news. (The business librarian can help if you are at a loss.) You might even choose to continue your research by finding someone who works there. Posting a question on, for example, Facebook, LinkedIn, or another internet networking site is a wonderful resource for this purpose.
Your goal in this research is to find topics which will allow you to meet the interviewers on common ground, issues which will allow you to showcase how your skills would be useful, business links that you may be able to use in choosing impactful references, and mostly to simply show real interest and enthusiasm. (Now, to step back, ideally you should have already researched the companies for which you would enjoy working, aligning your ethics, interests, working style and more to determine that there is a good fit between you and the company. And, having identified a list of employers - the number could be five if you are limited to a small geographic area, or even 50 if your search is nation-wide - you will already have been targeting your job search to these close-to-ideal employers.)
There is a boundary to keep: stick to corporate knowledge and don’t cross the line to personal knowledge. What you do not want to do is feel too familiar with the interviewer. The interview, although best approached as a conversation rather than an inquisition, remains a formal process. Don’t offend your interviewer by behaving in an inappropriately chummy manner, or mentioning personal info that you learned about him or her in your research. You don’t want to come across as overly nosy, or even worse. (There have been chats on career-practitioner sites that alluded to overly resourceful researchers who learned far too personal details, spooking their interviewers!)
Remember, it is the candidate who interviews best that often gets the job offer (and not necessarily the best qualified candidate). This is one of the steps to a great interview. Your main focus in accumulating research information is to leverage what you learn to self-promote, to prove that you are the best candidate. That, after all, is your interview goal.