11 Mar Hone your pre-interview skills or you may lose that tech job
We interviewed a sharp young man at our office just recently and we didn’t hire him.
It was a shame. Though we liked him a lot, he failed a big test when he came to the interview: “Tell us what you know about our organization,” we said. He said: “Though I don’t know too much just now, I am excited to learn more.” A big, silent gong sounded.
It’s simply too easy for any job seeker to research a prospective employer for anyone to fail to do so. Midwest technology types have at least a dozen research methods at their fingertips. If you get a call for a job interview, that’s your signal to start (if you haven’t already).
Learn everything you can about the company! A key fact that you mention during the interview, the way you’ll answer questions with a solid understanding of the company’s business and your general familiarity with its products and services could get you the job.
How do you begin your research efforts? First off, sit down at your PC. Start a file to collect company information and then jump in.
Check out their (DUH) own (DUH) Web site (DUH).
Sorry! I don’t know how those extra DUHs got in there. Seriously though, the company’s own Web site is a great place to start your research project. Pay close attention to their mission, their ownership structure (publicly traded, private, funded by the military, etc.) and their lines of business and products or services.
Look for a client list or case studies. Look at the press releases and news stories about the company. You can fill a notebook with facts that you’ll uncover. Spend 30 minutes on the management biography page. Look at who’s doing what job, where these folks worked before and what kinds of background the company likes in its senior-level hires.
Are they all people from one industry or a few companies? Are they all Stanford grads? Write down the names of the senior leadership team for use in step three.
Use Google to check out the company on the Web and in the news (choose Google News for that). You’ll see their customers and vendors. You’ll see their executives speaking at conferences (write down these names and titles, too, as you’ll soon be able to put together a reasonably good organization chart with a number of spots filled in).
You’ll learn about any new product launches, recalls, major marketing initiatives or joint ventures. You could spend hours on Google, and if the job is important to you, it’s worth it. Having a solid knowledge of the company not only improves your interview answers but your confidence level as well. That’s priceless.
Before you leave Google, set up a Google News Alert using the company’s name so you’ll receive an e-mail alert whenever the company name is in the news. How cool will it be to walk into the interview saying “congratulations on the acquisition!” when the news was announced 50 minutes before your meeting?
Triangulate them on LinkedIn.
Go to LinkedIn, join up if you’re not a member and search on the company’s name to find any employees or former employees who are using the LinkedIn site. If you can connect with these folks through your LinkedIn network, do so. Ask them to spend a few minutes on e-mail or on the phone with you.
Having a friendly chat with a current or former employee of your target company is incredibly helpful. What’s the culture like? What personality traits are valued there? What are some of the stories and the folklore that define the company? What’s the CEO like?
Check out Hoovers.
Hoovers is the granddaddy of company-information sites. You can learn a ton about the company at which you’ll be interviewing (especially financial and governance information). Sure, it’s not as sleuthy as some of the other search methods, but it’s essential.
Troll the groups.
Check out the Yahoo! Message Boards, the discussion groups at Topica.com and Yahoo! Groups. There may be no mention of the company you’re interviewing with or there could be tons. That depends on its size, how long it has been around and other factors.
You could learn that all former employees despise the place and are preparing a class-action lawsuit or that its alums have formed a corporate alumni group and have friendly feelings toward the organization even after being downsized. You never know.
Search the archives.
Search the ePrairie and May Report archives to see when and in what context the company has been mentioned. Whether journalistic or gossipy, you’re not fussy. You just want to know what’s up. The more information, the better.
Ask the ladies.
Join your local WorldWIT discussion group (ChicWIT in Chicago, ArchWIT in St. Louis, PrairieWIT in central Illinois, IndyWIT in Indiana or Milw-WIT in Milwaukee) to ask the members directly about your prospective employer. It’s free to join (I helped start the group) and a great source for trusted and off-the-record information. Most of the members are women, but men are welcome, too.
Check the vault.
Go to your local daily newspaper or business publication and check the archives. It’s worth a few bucks to find out what has been said about the company in the press.
If you can get connected to a business reporter, ask him or her for 10 minutes of phone time to fill you in on the company’s rep. By this time, you will feel like a business reporter yourself. That’s good. If you still like the company well enough to go on that interview, you’ll be well prepared.
Ask the Search Men.
Since headhunters are the true keepers of the corporate scuttlebutt, don’t dream of going on that interview before talking to one or two Midwest tech recruiters. These folks place people into (and pull people out of) employers all the time. They tend to hear everything that’s relevant to employment in any company that has ever hired an employee.
You can ask them about pay levels in your prospective employer, burnout, the quality of management and (if they know you) whether they think you’d be a good fit. If you get the job, you can put in a good word for your search friend and repay the favor.
Construct killer questions.
Now you know enough to be dangerous (if not downright cocky). Armed with your information, sit down and write up some terrifically on-point questions. Those will be questions that inquire about the most current company events, its opportunities and challenges and how your role will fit into larger initiatives.
These should be great and pithy questions that will demonstrate the breadth of your company-specific knowledge. Don’t show off by asking your interviewer: “What do you think accounts for the company’s three-sixteenths slide after the opening bell this morning?” That does not make you appear knowledgeable and has zip to do with the job opening.
Ask relevant questions about the management team (“Why are there so many former Pets.com folks?”), a recent acquisition or the company’s recent diversification as these questions could easily set you apart from more complacent candidates.
Make sure to even use your new knowledge in your follow-up thank-you letter to the interviewer.
Remind him or her how your background and skills could help the company not just in general but in its specific aims for this year or quarter. If you don’t get the job, there’s a consolation prize: You can prepare a full report on your findings and sell it to other job seekers on EBay.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.