As a hiring manager, I was part of a collaborative interview process that usually involved a variety of team members. When we evaluated candidates after a round of interviews, the main question we asked was, “Do they really want this job?”
What was interesting, but maybe not that surprising, was that how well a candidate did was predicated upon how well she had prepared for the interview. In fact, one person on my team immediately eliminated any prospective person who asked a question that could be found with very little effort on the company’s site, lamenting, “He didn’t even do any research before he came in!”
If you want to be on the short list, you need to make it clear that you took the time to learn about the company—beyond what you can find out via a quick Google search. Of course, you’ll want to be equipped with the basics: how many employees the company has (if this can be found online), industry rank (depending on the industry), and the latest annual revenue numbers (which may take some digging but probably not an extensive amount).
But you’ll stand out even more if you can further demonstrate your knowledge about the organization. Being armed with beyond-the-basics information really will give you a competitive advantage.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. What and Who the Company Is
You certainly want to be clear on who makes up the organization and what its place in the market is. Know major products, company leaders, and competitors (and how to pronounce their names). Know where the company is based, and, if applicable, the number of locations it has in the region, country, or world.
As you discuss your potential role in the organization, you’ll be able to ask questions about how, or if, you’ll get to work with teams in other locations. Hopefully, you’ll also have an opportunity to discuss how inter-departmental information would impact your team in terms of both challenges and opportunities.
2. What’s Happening in the Industry
There’s so much information to be gleaned from an employer’s website, and you definitely don’t want to overlook that wealth of material, but you also don’t want to stop there. Be prepared with knowledge and an awareness of what’s happening in the industry at large.
A simple Google search on “trends in [name of field]” will give you an indication of ongoing, relevant ideas concerning the industry.
Imagine how informed you’ll sound when you drop a question about how the growth of cloud computing and the emergence of SaaS-based solutions is affecting the employer’s hardware business. Try to come up with a few such thoughts that show you know your stuff.
3. The Business Strategy
An employer will hire you because you have the ability to help the company win in the marketplace. To that end, you’ll want to go into the interview with a clear idea of the business strategy—or, at least, as clear an idea as you can obtain as an outsider. During the interview, you can try to make connections that show you have a grasp of the overall plan.
A simple way to discover what’s happening in a company’s strategy is to do a search for freshly posted articles from industry sources. For example, if you Google “Nike 2016 strategy” you’ll get a rich assortment of articles that talk about what Nike’s doing differently in 2016.
One big initiative is ramping up its digital strategy. In a single, concise article I learned what that digital strategy is about, how it differentiates Nike from competitors, and how that strategy will support big revenue growth goals in 2016 and beyond.
Voila! You now have strategy information to ask about and comment on, as it relates to the role you’re discussing.
4. The Company Culture
Since being experienced and skilled are only a couple of things employers are looking for, you’ll want to go beyond demonstrating the fact that you check off those boxes. If you’re interviewing at a place that ranks its culture as a top priority, making sure you’re a good fit can be pretty essential.
A description of the company’s values and culture are typically found on its site, so take time to study it. Then, address the way that you and your personality—not just your skills—are a match.
Again, if the company cares about fostering a certain kind of culture, don’t be surprised if you get asked questions about how you'd fit in and if your work style is a match. Perhaps you’re interviewing with a company that has a strong culture around customer satisfaction. If you get a question about how you’ve gone above and beyond to make a customer happy, you’ll be able to demonstrate in your response (via a hopefully delighted customer service story) why you’re a perfect fit.
Or, maybe an employer asks what kind of work environment helps you be most productive and satisfied at work. Ideally you’ll know that their offices, designed to foster a culture of collaborative work, will be a great fit for your team-oriented style. Moreover, you’ll know that the environment and your knowledge of company values sits well with you.
5. Who the Competition Is
I had a college-student client who interviewed for an internship with a major footwear brand. In the interview, he was asked whom he saw as its three biggest competitors, and how the potential employer’s brand was better. That’s a pretty meaty interview question—but one that you can be prepared to answer!
A quick search for “biggest footwear brands,” for example, quickly results in the top brands, the home base, and the annual revenue. Since winning in the marketplace is an outcome you’ll be signing up for, being able to speak to the competitive landscape can help up your game.
6. The Reputation
Check the organization’s social media feeds for late breaking updates, and see how it responds to comments or consumers if applicable. What do you notice? Are they accommodating and responsive? Or is there a litany of complaints?
Find out what “best employer” lists a company is on. Check out reviews on Glassdoor for comments on the company and the leadership, and look for testimonials from employees, customers, business partners, and so on.
All of this information helps you get an informed sense of what the organization is like. Additionally, it gives you insight about what kudos you can offer and what clarity you might need. Citing negative social media comments can be leveraged in a positive way to highlight issues you might be able to help the employer address. If it’s a story that’s in the news cycle right now, you can also broach the topic, testing to see how much weight the online stories hold and how the organization’s responding.
One of the most powerful ways you can stand out is by being prepared with information, statistics, and insights. Being able to speak intelligently about opportunities and challenges enables you to demonstrate how you’ll help the company succeed. Trust me: It’s delightful for a hiring manager to see someone who’s really done his or her homework. Because when you do your homework, and can cite a deep knowledge of the employer’s profile, you prove yourself to be a candidate worthy of moving forward.