,   |  September 10, 2012

Company Research (for interviews): Part 1

One of the most important steps in the interview preparation process is doing company research.  One important piece of that company research is learning about a company’s history and mission – basically, where did they come from and why?  While it seems like a pain to do so much investigating for a half hour interview,  it is expected that you will have a solid understanding of this.  You will need to in order to come off as a prepared and intelligent candidate.

Why do you need to know this?

People spend the majority of their waking hours at work.  When people love their jobs (and hopefully you’re interviewing at a company where people do) they tend to really consider the company mission and culture an extension of themselves.  That means they know the company like the back of their hand.  Pieces of information (known by those within the company) begin to feel like “common knowledge”.  This is not to say any job seeker will know as much as an internal employee, but it means that you won’t be able to bluff your way through company history, mission, and culture.

How are you supposed to find this information about a company’s history?

Luckily for job seekers everywhere, many companies spend a lot of time and energy branding their sites and positioning themselves exactly as they want to be seen… which means all the info you need is right at your fingertips.

The first thing you want to look for is a “Company Info” or “About Us” page.  Some basic things you will want to take a look at on a page like this include:

  • How long has [company] been around?
    • This can tell you a lot about a company,  Newer companies can have less structure and a more flexible culture.  They can also still be experiencing growing pains.  Without even getting into the nuances, it is good to know roughly how long a company has been in business.
  • What was their “mission” when they got started vs. what it is today?
    • This is probably the most important piece of information while researching company history.  Regardless of what has changed, every company should have an original “mission” – aka: the reason the company was created at all.  It will be a great thing to be able to contrast with where the company is today (something you’ll learn in the next phase of your research).
  • What (originally) were the core aspects of their business? [i.e. how did they make money?]
    • Maybe it was selling shoes from a push cart, maybe it was a blog.  Chances are, it’s probably different today but having a baseline is really important in the learning process.  You also may learn some things that surprise you and it will help you not say the wrong thing or make an incorrect assumption.  Many people may think that Louis Vuitton started making handbags and the line took off from there, when in fact luggage was their original core business before anything else (back in the 1800s).
  • What were major milestones in the company history (i.e. big structural changes in the way they do business)
    • It’s good to know about big milestones that were important in shaping a company.  One major to thing to look our for is any merges or acquisitions. J.P. Morgan Chase for example started as Bank One, then got…. [fill in here].  Especially when companies have blended together over time, it creates the culture in unique way.  Other interesting milestones could be when a company went pubic, when they launched their e-commerce business, when they expanded globally, etc.
  • Who were the original founders/leaders (if well known)?
    • This will be pretty easy to dig up and good to know.  It’s not the most crucial piece of information but is an extension of the company history worth knowing,

If you are having trouble finding this information directly on the company’s website there are many other sites out there that you can leverage.

  • The Company Website – This is the most ideal place to find this information because it is presented exactly as the company wants to.  If this source does a good job of providing a history lesson, there is no need to look further.
  • LinkedIn – On LinkedIn, each company has it’s own page.  In some cases the companies pay for the right to “brand” that page and put a ton of information on it for job seekers.  In other cases, they will just have the ability to include a company overview.  That being said, even the overviews are extremely helpful because you get the big picture in a relatively short blurb.
  • Wikipedia – Don’t laugh, but Wikipedia is actually a decent source of information about companies – just make sure you check the footnotes to see what is confirmed as you definitely don’t want to be  speaking to anything during an interview that is blatantly false.
  • Interviews & news articles – Hearing how the the company leaders describe the history in an interview or article can be really interesting.  A google news search should be able to pull up some interesting facts related to the company’s beginnings.

However, the absolute best thing you can do (if an option for you) is tap into your personal network and find someone you know who actually works at the company you are interviewing for.

Hearing about the company from someone internal is going to get you the best, most organic information… I’ve always been impressed with candidates who have taken this step in addition to the others above.  Feel comfortable with company history?  You’ll also need to know a whole lot about the “company present” (or current state of the company).

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