Yesterday’s post, on researching the company’s past (aka: knowing where a company has come from and their history) is important and worth reading while you’re preparing for an interview. Today I want to cover how to do company research on the “present” or current state.
Companies change drastically over the course of their timeline and depending on the industry and other factors, they may look completely different every few months. There are a few pieces of information every job seeker should target while doing this type of research.
When looking into this your research will be very different for a public versus a private company? A public company will have a lot more information available to you (because they have to). You will be able to learn about the size of their business(es), their financials, and much more. This makes research a lot easier. A private company is a bit trickier. They are not obligated to publish much of that data and sometimes it can be hard to find. Learn what you can about their “core businesses” (i.e. how they make their money) and perhaps some high level financial information from a google search (but don’t expect to find specifics). If you are researching a younger company or start up, you may want to know what their funding situation looks like and also if they have achieved profitability.
Company Structure – the basics:
You’ll want to learn a little bit about the company basics. Some really good things to know are, how many employees the company has, where the company has offices/does business, and some of the major departments within the company. Most companies will the standard “support functions” such as finance, HR, office services, IT etc. Other departments can be industry specific (a fashion company will have a design department, an advertising company will have a “creative” department, a bank might have a “client services” department, etc.) It’s good to know some of the most major departments and where the role you are interviewing for fits in to the big picture.
The people who are interviewing you may chat with you about the company’s leaders like they are household names. Better to not return that topic with a blank stare so at least get familiar with the CEO, founder, etc. If the company has anyone on the leadership team that tends to be in the news a lot or is more “well known” (think Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook) you may want to take a look at recent interviews they’ve done and any media you can find to hear their point of view on the company directly.
Google news is an easy way to dig up recent press. Hit up news.google.com and search for the company name. Read any recent big news on the company so you know what’s been going on. The person that you are interviewing with may mention recent events and being able to actively engage in that conversation vs. just nodding definitely comes across as impressive. If you have a longer term aspiration of working somewhere, it’s good to follow the company and their leaders on an ongoing basis (even if there isn’t a job open). We love Newsle for this. The site will also help you track press on your facebook friends & LinkedIn connections.
Most companies now have a pretty significant social media presence whether through facebook, twitter, or other avenues. If you have a week between getting the interview and actually going in for it, subscribe on all fronts. It will give you a really good idea of the “tone” and how the company wants to come across. You’ll also gain some interesting tidbits of information (that probably won’t make headline news but is important to the company). It is very unlikely that anyone will ask you directly about something the company tweeted (for example) but it’s definitely a great thing to weave into your questions at the end of the interview by saying “I saw on xxx that [company x] is doing [x thing]. [insert thoughtful question here re: the topic]?”
I fully realize that this level of research can seem cumbersome but coming from someone who has sat in hundreds of interviews, there is a giant difference between an informed and uninformed candidate. Coming across as uninformed can make it seem that you are just “applying blindly” to different jobs without much thought. If knowing the above was the “make or break” in getting the job and the thing that differentiates you from other candidates in the process, isn’t it 30-45 minutes well spent? We think so.