I probably don't have to tell you that you need to research any role or company you’re applying to. With the amount of information available online, it’s absolutely inexcusable for a candidate not to know the basics before an interview.
But how much, exactly, are you supposed to know? And is there such a thing as knowing too much about a potential employer or hiring manager? It might surprise you to learn that, yes, sometimes digging too deep and oversharing what you’ve learned can actually hurt you during the interview process.
Don’t worry, though—all your investigative research won’t go to waste. Follow these guidelines, and you can continue your employer stalking without being a creep.
Do: Research the Company, Not the Details
Depending on how public the information on your potential employer is, the research process can get a little overwhelming. From annual reports and press releases to years of social media postings, you could spend a good year researching and still not know everything there is to know about a company.
But the truth is, you don’t have to. Remember, you’re going to an interview, not trivia night. While it might be key to know a company is rapidly expanding in Asia, you don’t need to memorize how many offices it has in each country.
The key is to spend your research time wisely. Start by reviewing the company’s website. If available, a great shortcut is to check out the media room. There, you can read recent press headlines and download the company’s media fact sheet to get a top-line overview of the mission, key products, initiatives, and offerings. Don’t waste time memorizing financial documents or going back in the archives.
Similarly, look at the LinkedIn or BranchOut profiles of the people who will be interviewing you. See if they mention specific projects they are currently working on and what their career trajectory was like to help spur potential questions to ask during the interview. Don’t worry about remembering dates or specific companies. At the end of the day, being able to speak intelligently about the company’s big-picture mission and the hiring manager’s current initiatives is much more important (and much less creepy) than knowing the stock price history since 1998.
Don’t: Get (Too) Personal
Of course, one side effect of stalking your potential employers is that you’ll probably find out some information you don’t really need to know, especially when it comes to the hiring manager’s personal life.
Here, it’s important to keep in mind that you don’t have to share everything you’ve learned about your future employer in the interview. In fact, please don’t. Just because you stumbled across your future boss’ vacation photos from Bermuda (hello, Facebook privacy settings), doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for you to mention them. Because, well, even in a world where pretty much anything can be found online, that will undoubtedly come off just a little bit creepy.
Instead, if you come across personal information about the hiring manager, try to find ways to use that information to your benefit. If those Bermuda photos, for example, include loads of surfing shots, and you love the ocean, too, try to weave your last sailing trip into the conversation. If you went to the same college and graduated with the same major, make sure to mention your alma mater. Again, you don’t want to go overboard, so let your interviewer guide the discussion. If he or she doesn’t bite, move on to another topic.
Do: Read Between the Lines
One massive benefit of stalking an employer long before an interview is that you have time to dig a little deeper. Say, for example, one of an employer’s core values listed on the website is “work hard, play hard,” and online reviews at Glassdoor suggest it’s a “high-intensity workplace with long hours.” It can be hard to ask about this the right way in an interview while still sounding excited about the job (“So, are the hours as bad as everyone says?” won’t get you very far.) Not to mention, you may not get the real dirt.
So, hop over to LinkedIn or Facebook and see who you know—you may find you’re only a few degrees of separation from someone who works there, or has in the past. Use those resources to really get the scoop on what the company is like and whether or not it may be a good fit for you. Then, take that intel with you to the interview, and you’ll be prepared to ask more targeted questions when topics like company culture come up.
Don’t: Kiss and Tell
As a final note, with enough digging, especially offline, you’re bound to find some dirt. And, as tempting as it may be, it’s probably best not to share the gossip with your friends (or worse, Twitter followers). Even if you end up deciding an employer isn’t a great fit for you, you never know when you’ll cross paths with the hiring manager, and he or she is much more likely to remember you favorably if you don’t air the dirty laundry. By keeping your hard-earned discoveries to yourself, you’re showing a level of maturity and respect anyone can appreciate.
Stalking a potential employer should be carried out as a covert operation. Think of it as a fact-finding mission for you, and you alone. While you can (and should!) show your knowledge of the company and use any information you learn to your advantage, there’s no need to tip your hand that you’ve been spending night and day cruising the web for insider info. Before long, you’ll find your detective skills—and discretion—will help you find the perfect fit with your new employer.