The Ultimate Guide to Researching a Company Pre-Interview
You know that weird feeling between excitement and dread that accompanies an invitation to interview? It’s especially strong when you know next to nothing about your potential workplace.
But, even if the first time you’ve ever heard of the company you’re interviewing with was the day you sent in your application, you can still walk in like you’ve known about the place for years. Here are several ways to tackle researching the company pre-interview.
1. Know the Company’s Strong Suits
The best way to convince your interviewer that you know the company well is to be able to articulate what makes it special compared to competitors. The good news? Companies will often tell you the answer to this question right on their websites.
One way companies share how they stand out is through their mission or values, which are typically prominently displayed in the “About Us” section. Read closely to learn what might be different about this organization than others. For instance, if you’re interviewing with a marketing agency, “commitment to client service” is probably something that its competitors boast, too, but if one of its other core values is sustainability, that’s good to know.
Review this along with any other “basics” you should be familiar with prior to the interview—like company size, location, and history. You don’t want to be that person who asks a question that can easily be answered by checking out the website.
2. Sniff Out the Financial Health
While you’re on the website, click on the “Investor Relations” tab. For most large companies, you should be able to access and listen to a publicly available quarterly earnings conference call and read an annual report. These calls and reports cover a range of topics (that are often otherwise hard to find), including new products, company risks, and whether revenues are growing or stable. If you’re interviewing with a startup, check out its profile on Crunchbase. Here, you can get caught up on rounds of funding, acquisitions, recent hires, and relevant press coverage.
Once you have this information, it’s up to you to draw your own conclusions. While you don’t necessarily want to spout off stock prices or funding history, being able to speak insightfully about where you think the company will go in the future, backed up with facts, is hugely impressive in an interview.
3. Watch Community Interaction
Somewhere along the application process, someone you’re interviewing with has likely Googled you and scoured your social media accounts. You should return the favor by finding out what the company has been up to lately.
Aside from the news that comes up when you Google the company (which you should also read), corporate blogs are gold mines, especially for younger companies that are growing. Whether it’s a post welcoming new staffers to the sales team or detailing new features of a recent software update, this is the kind of stuff you should know about.
LinkedIn is also a good tool for learning about what kind of news the company communicates—and therefore wants you to know. Check the company page on LinkedIn and see what kind of updates are featured. Is there a promotion for Mother’s Day, or a statement on how the sales team exceeded earning expectations? Either way, this will show you what types of things to bring up in conversation. (Oh, and while you’re on LinkedIn, check out the profiles of the people you’ll be interviewing with. Make sure you have your profile set so that they can see that you’ve viewed their profiles. This might seem counterintuitive, but it actually shows that you care and are doing your due diligence before the interview.)
Lastly, check out the company’s Twitter and Facebook profiles. Is the tone professional or casual? Is it nonstop promotion with zero interaction? Is the team responsive to complaints? Tuck away positive news and examples you encounter during your research to use in the interview.
4. Go Undercover to Learn Company Culture
You may be able to glean a bit about corporate culture through a company’s blog and social media accounts, but to really build on that information, try looking for information from external sources.
For example, head over to the company profiles on The Muse, where you can watch interviews with current employees and hear what makes each workplace so different. Or, see what positive and negative things people have to say about the company you’re interviewing with on Glassdoor. (You can also sniff out sample interview questions—here’s how.) You won’t bring up all this information during the interview, but it will at least help you come up with reasons why the company is special and help you to know what topics to avoid during the interview. (For example, maybe work-life balance is a touchy subject and should be brought up after you get the offer.)
Better yet, try to find a past or current employee you can speak with, and try to build on what you already know. You can ask something like, “I understand the company is working on growing its presence in Asia—can you tell me more about how this initiative is impacting the team?” This will both impress and grow what you know about your potential employer. (For more on acing your informational interview, try these tips.)
5. Read Up on the Field and Competitors
Aside from knowing as much as possible about the place you’re interviewing with, it’s a good idea to be able to talk about the industry as a whole and even more impressive to be able to talk about competitors and how the company fits into the bigger picture.
Look up competitors by going to the LinkedIn company page and scrolling down to the “Other Companies People Viewed” section. There should be a few competitors there. Do the same thing with the competitors you find until you have a pretty good sense of who the big players in the field are. (Or, if the company has a Crunchbase page, you should be able to find a list of competitors on its profile.)
Follow the same research steps you did for the company you’re interviewing for, but focus only on those things that are relevant to your interview. Think big picture, not minute details on specific projects. Is a competitor actively acquiring startups that target a different market? Or maybe new collaborations indicate a possible shift in audience for a big competitor.
After all this research, you’ll probably be wondering, “So, what do I do with all this information?” Remember that your objective is to be convincing when you say, “I want to work at your company.” Back this up by being able to talk about what makes the company unique, and express your enthusiasm by showing off your knowledge. Work in examples of what you know in your interview answers, and watch your interviewers nod in approval. After all, few things are as effective in an interview as knowing exactly what you’re talking about.
About The Author
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.