Everyone knows they need to go into their next interview having done at least a simple Google search and given a cursory glance at the company’s “About Us” page. But that’s where too many job seekers go wrong: They view the research process as a way to get a few key pieces of information about the organization so they can impress the hiring manager during the interview process.
But instead of simply familiarizing yourself with the organization’s stated mission and their latest products, you should be focusing on getting your foot in the door before the interview.
Why? Because companies are made up of people. People do the hiring. People set the objectives. People are who you’re working alongside. And as much as you want to be able to position yourself as the “next perfect hire,” it’s actually more important for you to determine if the company’s people fit you.
For that inside-out view of the company, you’re going to have to go well beyond Google. Here’s how to get the real scoop before your next interview:
1. Reach Out Strategically to Others at the Company
While it’s great to connect with people who you might potentially work alongside, that might not always be possible—and that’s OK. Someone on the periphery to the department or group you’re targeting can be helpful, too. And remember, getting to know more about you helps them, too. This article shows you how to reach out to anyone on LinkedIn.
Take your new contacts to coffee if time allows,or hop on a call. Ask them the deep questions that will show the reality of life inside, such as:
- “How would you describe the culture here?”
- “What should every new employee know about working here?”
- “What do you like best about the company? Least?”
- “What type of people do you think will fit best at the company?”
- “What do you wish you’d known before you first started?”
The goal is to get an inside-out view of the company and its employees, not just the front-facing picture you’ll receive through the hiring process. This isn’t so you can dig up dirt (though you might!). But rather, it’s so you can have a much better sense of the people who work there and how you may or may not fit into the landscape.
One of our clients, Tanya, used this strategy very successfully to enter a new field. She had worked in the entertainment industry for some time and wanted to move into events. She identified Wanderlust as a potential place to work, and in order to confirm that it was a good fit, she reached out to numerous current employees. Through several in-depth conversations—including one with Wanderlust’s co-founder!—her hunch that she and the company would be a great fit was confirmed.
2. Become a Benevolent Stalker
Call it internet-savvy, if you prefer. Piece the org chart together through your one-on-one conversations, or through your background LinkedIn research. Then research some of the decision-makers as well as people you might be working with.
What social media channels are they using? What do they post? What are they passionate about? What events are they participating in? Use Big Brother Zuckerburg and check out their Facebook page where you can find out everything from their finishing time in last summer’s Color Run, to the name of their new Golden Retriever puppy The goal isn't to create a complete dossier, but to dig up a few key pieces of information you can use strategically in your future conversations
You’re not just collecting the goods on them; you’re looking for places where you can genuinely connect. What do you have in common? What interests do you share? Where do your backgrounds or passions overlap?
It’s not the information you discover that makes you stalker-ish; it’s the way you use that information. Showing up at their home uninvited? Not OK. Mentioning that you saw on Facebook that they like they like to waterski? It works!
3. Figure Out if it’s a Match
Many people conduct what I call “one-sided” research; they’re looking for tidbits to drop during the interview to make themselves look more appealing to the hiring manager. But even more important is to use your research to figure out if you even want a job at Company Bigwidget.
You may discover that all the employees you talk with say that the company’s great for creative types, but not so great for those who expect to be spoon-fed and micromanaged. Or that no matter what they tell you, everyone’s expected to work weekends.
Often, it’s going to be what they don’t say as much as what they do that’ll give you the inside scoop on the culture. If you ask what they love and they say, “the breakfast burritos after our all-nighters,” you can read between the lines. Or if they give you a broad answer, dig deep.
If someone says, for instance, “I love the people,” that’s your signal to go further. “What do you love about your co-workers, especially compared to other companies? How does that show up? Was that apparent right away, or did you discover it more over time? Anything else you love besides the people?”
Go a couple of layers in with your questioning. Don’t be afraid to ask for examples, or to ask “Why?”
4. Drop it Like it’s Hot
Once you’ve done your research and you’re fairly confident you’d be happy working alongside your new friends for the next several years, the goal is to use your background information to create connections during the interview process.
If there’s a genuine connection, go ahead and mention it: “Hey, as I was doing my research I saw that you’re a huge Packers fan. I saw them play at XYZ last season. Have you gotten to many games?” Or, “I saw that you were an anthropology major at NYU. How did you make the switch from that to corporate finance?”
When you express legitimate interest in them, a few things will happen. One, they’re going to be flattered and they’re going to want to know more about you. And two, it helps them like and trust you. And once that’s all in place, you’ll be well on your way to a great impression.
A few years back, I was interviewing for a position at a large organization. I did some background investigating on the director that I’d potentially be working for. While he wasn’t super-active on social media, on LinkedIn I saw that he shared articles about leadership, an interest of mine. And via some of his public Facebook posts, I discovered that he and his wife had adopted children—something my wife and I were investigating at the time.
I filed that information away, and was able to incorporate it into our conversation in a natural manner to build a relationship. When I first met him, I said, “Hey, I poked around a little bit and saw that you’ve adopted. My wife and I have been talking about that for years!” It ended up being a great connection point for us, but I issue this with a strong caveat: Tread carefully here. Not everyone is going to be happy you gleaned such personal information from their FB profile.
The biggest takeaway is that doing your homework to convince your interviewer you’re the right fit for the position goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the position’s the right fit for you. And if you want to really make sure you don’t forget anything essential, fill out this night-before-the-interview checklist.
Photo of interview courtesy of Tom Merton/Getty Images.
Scott Anthony Barlow is the Founder and CEO of Happen to Your Career. His team produces two of the Top 5 “Career Change” podcasts on iTunes: What Fits You? and the Happen to Your Career Podcast. He gets way excited about careers, coffee, and Parkour (not necessarily in that order). With over 2000 interviews under his belt as a former HR professional, Scott’s gift is quickly getting to the core of what is holding career-changers back and helping others find their unique Signature Strengths! To figure out what fulfilling work looks like for you, check out his Figure it Out Guide.More from this Author