We all know it’s essential to research a company before an interview don’t we. But do we know why we are doing it? Well, we will be able to answer the “What do you know about us?” question of course, but I think it goes deeper than that. Essentially you need to be able to help the interviewer begin to picture you actually working in the organisation and the clearer you can paint this picture by aligning yourself to what is happening in the business, the more motivated the recruiter will be to hire you.
How do we do this? Well for starters we don’t fall for the oldest trick in the book, which was highlighted by that awful interview process they go through on The Apprentice. One candidate was asked by one of the Rottweilers “So what do you know about Amstrad?” He replied “Alan Sugar started it in 1968…” and proceeded to tell the Amstrad story. The camera panned away to another scene; came back and he was still talking about the colourful history. Panned away; came back and he was still going! Yes he’d done his research, but how useful was it?
My view is that you must be smart about your research. The interviewer really isn’t too interested in that you know the company was founded in 1906 on a market stall….They are hiring you for their future, not their past so let’s feed them the information that leaves them with the feeling that you will fit into that future. This means the information you research has to be current and if there is any indication of what their future plans are, then all the better.
Where Do I find This Information?
Yes, have a brief look at the history for background info but click very quickly (dependant on company size) to the press releases, or investor relations tab where current and future-focused information is housed. Also do have a look at their current product or service range. What’s your opinion of it? Are you getting a sense that they are acquisitive or spreading around the globe? If you are fluent in a language where you can see that they are looking to develop into, this is gold dust which you can share at interview helping paint the picture.
Also have a look and see if they have published values. Always useful to know them to marry against your own, but also if appropriate asking how the values are lived in the business is a great question to ask at the end of an interview.
You may also find the company has their own blog site or a comprehensive careers page with interesting information relating to particular job types.
Company Research Sites
A number exist such as Hoovers.com but are mainly subscription based. Some useful information can be gained such as on Hoovers if you bring up the basic information it tells you who the company’s 3 main competitors are. Useful. Instead of these sites however I would now reference the multitude of information on social media sites – this is where insights are, rather than dry facts.
The most useful in my view are:
- LinkedIn – I’m sure we are all LinkedIn users, if not then please read the blogs on its benefits to candidates, but LinkedIn holds a wealth of information on not only the organisation but obviously the people within it. This opens another door to personal referral listed below, but use your contacts and Companies tab to see how you are able to gain first hand info on the company.
- Facebook – In this world of employer branding, companies of all sizes are likely to have a Facebook page. This is a fantastic way to see how the organisation interacts with its customers and prospective employees. You get a very real sense (warts and all sometimes) about the company’s style, approach and attitude. If this suits you then again referring to this helps to paint the picture.
- Twitter – As with Facebook you’ll see the company actively reaching out to its market. If you follow them the discussions may provide you with real insights as well as the possibility of job postings.
- Glassdoor – A site that has gained real traction over the last few years where people post their experiences of companies onto the site. Take some with a pinch of salt, but if you see a trend appearing utilise the good and question the bad.
- Brave New Talent – A site set up to share knowledge. Companies post small learning videos and through a free account you can again get an insight into the organisation’s thinking or approach to market.
There is still no substitute for talking with someone who works there. Get referred to people who will hopefully share a balanced view of the business and may be able to refer you on further. Do plan for these conversations though – what would you really like to know? Without bragging, if the interviewer realises you already have a small network in the business, that picture is being painted.
I always think it is fascinating to see if the company is advertising for other jobs in the market. How do they phrase the content, what are they saying about the company’s future? Are there loads of jobs in sales for example – what does that mean? Where are most jobs located?
Sounds odd maybe but if you do similar research on the competitors you may pick up vital market comparisons and initiatives that may be intelligence for the recruiting company. “I see that X are developing low emission products. What are your plans in this market?”
Researching a company is an art. The art is to paint the picture of you working in the future organisation, so search for relevant info that you can relate to and draw the interviewer’s attention to this. No research is wasted, so enjoy it and see it as a genuinely interesting fact finding mission – but know what facts you may find useful and add them to your palette. Brush up on the people and culture of the organisation and you’ll be ready to canvass yourself out there in the market place. (OK, OK, even I’m cringing with the puns now, sorry!). Good luck!!
Paul Deeprose runs The Career Gym, helping you get your career into shape.
Please do tweet him @pauldeeprose if you want to give your whole career a workout, or need one-off personal support in career planning, interview practice or CV writing.