When you go in for a job interview, you’re not just a candidate seeking a job. You’re a potential problem solver and contributor. To play that role effectively, you must be armed with the right kind of information. That’s what pre-interview research is all about.
Break down your research efforts into four broad areas. That’ll make it easier to manage and also ensure you don’t leave anything out.
#1: Get insights into the organization
This is the best place to start your research.
Obviously you should find out about the organization’s products and services, the markets it serves and how long they have been in existence. Plus, you need to know their organization structure, who the top management is, recent trends in growth, profitability and how their stock is performing.
However, to differentiate yourself, you must go beyond these basic facts.
Find out a bit about the organization culture. Learn about what they look for in employees. What areas are they expanding into in the near future?
What are the key challenges facing the company? Are these the same challenges facing the industry as a whole? What unique difficulties do they face?
What do people working there think about the organization? Is there high staff turnover, especially within senior management? What do competitors think of the company?
Based on this information, try to think of what could be done to solve some of their problems. What innovations could help them? What contributions could they value?
#2: Find out about the job
In many cases, you’ll have to wait for the interview to get all the job details. However, you need to do some digging beforehand.
Who will you be reporting to? What is his / her background and reputation?
Find out about the general responsibilities in the job. What are you expected to deliver on a daily basis? What results do you need to achieve every quarter, every year?
Where does your department fit in within the hierarchy? Who held this job before? Why did he leave? How many people have held this job over the past five years? Who are the people you’ll be supervising?
What are the biggest obstacles to performing this job well? What kind of person do they want for this position? What personal qualities are they looking for?
You will need to tap into your network to find answers. Look for leads into the target organization and try to get introductions to people working there. The company’s clients, vendors and bankers are also good sources of information.
#3: Get to know about the interviewer
A key part of job interview success is about building rapport with the interviewer. That’s why it helps to find out something about him.
Learn about his background -- educational qualifications and career progression are good starting points. Get an idea about his reputation within the organization.
Find out details like his professional affiliations, hobbies and family. Try to get a sense of his values and personal style -- what kind of person is he?
See if you have anything in common with him. Whether it’s hobbies, city where you grew up or anything else. If there is, it’s easier to build rapport. Even if there isn’t, the fact-finding you’ve done will allow you to conduct yourself appropriately at the job interview.
#4: Be up-to-date on the industry and profession
This is the big-picture context you must be aware of. Know about trends and developments in the career you’ve chosen.
This is particularly important if you’re changing careers. In that case, your focus will be on your transferable skills. You need to prove that you know what you are getting into and how your existing skills and experience will help you in this new career / profession.
Apart from mainstream news media, trade publications are a great source of information. In addition, seek out someone in your network who can give you the inside scoop on what’s happening.
At the job interview, you should be able to discuss trends, career paths and the skill-set needed to succeed. You are aiming to convey that you have a firm grasp of what the industry and profession is all about and that you are prepared to function effectively.
Learn all pertinent facts about the industry. How profitable has this industry been over time? What are the current growth trends? Is this a mature, slow-growing industry or one of the newer faster-paced ones?
How important is your profession to this industry? Is it a core profession or something that’s peripheral to the industry’s success?
What developments could disrupt growth and profitability? These could be related to technology, distribution, changes in market preferences and much more.
This information will allow you to talk intelligently about your industry and profession.
Research is the base on which good strategy is built. Take the time to do it well and you will have a considerable lead over your competitors.
About the author Mary Brent is an expert on job interviews and careers. Her numerous articles offer valuable interview tips, good answers to questions, effective ways to write interview thank you letters and more.