Consider the following executive interview disaster scenario:
Jack submitted his carefully crafted executive resume as a candidate for his dream position and, to his delight, won an interview.
Sitting in the hiring executive’s office, he is congratulating himself that this job interview has been going really well, and observes to the hiring manager on the other side of the desk: “I don’t know what products your company makes or what markets it serves, but with my 15 years of award-winning sales and marketing management performance I’m positive that I can dramatically boost your revenues and profit margin.”
Suddenly the air in the room seems to chill and Jack is baffled. From here on things go downhill. Jack is soon dismissed with a rather perfunctory “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
What went wrong here?
Jack has made a cardinal job search mistake. He did not prepare for the interview by learning everything he reasonably could about the company, its industry, vision, products, markets, customers, issues and challenges, financial health, etc. Displaying this lack of knowledge to the interviewer, he was immediately eliminated from consideration. “After all,” the interviewer thinks, “If he has that little interest in us, why should we be interested in him?”
Jack has committed a major faux pas and offended the potential employer. He has also put himself at a disadvantage in terms of his ability to sell his skills and the bottom line benefit he might bring to the company. He was totally unequipped to paint a picture of how what he has to offer is specifically matched to that company’s needs.
Looking at this from another angle, why would Jack have interviewed with a company that he knew almost nothing about in the first place? None of us would make a major consumer purchase without researching different brands and their features and benefits. Choosing an employer is much more important than buying a car or refrigerator! The employer/employee relationship is a critical one in Jack’s life: His current livelihood and future earnings, success, personal satisfaction, and ultimate career path will be greatly affected by the job choices he makes along the way. How does he know that this company is right for him if he hasn’t taken the time to learn all he can about it?
How to Avoid the Disappointment Jack Experienced
We all shudder at what happened to Jack . It vividly illustrates the importance of gathering considerable knowledge about companies before interviewing with them. Yet one might wonder, “How can I best gather this information and avoid a scenario like the one above?”
The short answer is: Do your homework. Below you will find a sampling of the easiest and fastest ways to find the information needed to both evaluate a company’s fit with your career needs and prepare yourself to ace that interview.
Leverage the Power of Search Engines
With the power of today’s Internet search engines you have literally at your fingertips just about everything you could possibly want to know about any company you are considering.
Submit queries about the company to all three major search engines-Google, MSN, and Yahoo. Each will come up with different results to help you round out your picture. Though I would not categorize it strictly as a search engine, About.com can also be a great primary resource for research sites. Type in the phrase “Company Research” in the search box and you’ll get over 9,600 results. “Company Information” brings up over 31,000.
A primary resource you will be looking for is of course the company’s own commercial website. Plan to spend significant time reviewing it thoroughly, but don’t stop there. Look at articles where the company has been mentioned and blog entries where it is discussed. (This is often a good way to learn less favorable facts about the company’s dealings with its employees and also to gain insights into its corporate culture.) Review summaries about the company contained on the websites of Wall Street analysts, business periodicals, etc. Read analyses of their industries and markets to gain a perspective of the company’s current and emerging challenges and opportunities.
* Access Web-Based Clearinghouses of Company Information
There are quite a variety of these sites, some free, some at fairly nominal cost, and others involving a hefty fee. You will find many by querying any search engine with phrases like “company information,” “company profiles,” etc. Here are a few of my favorites:
Hoovers has long been known as an excellent source for extensive company information, but be aware that a very limited portion of the information there is free.
Corporate Information provides free snapshot reports on all companies, and expanded information for a fee.
Vault provides basic company information for free, and expanded information with membership. The site also spotlights employers, features employee surveys, and provides ranking lists.
Forbes provides a variety of lists such as the 400 Best Big Companies, 200 Best Small Companies, Fastest-Growing Techs, Largest Private Companies, Global High Performers, and others.
Fortune/CNN similarly provides lists of the Fortune 500, Global 500, Best Companies to Work For, etc., with reports on them as well a s links to News, Analyses, Blogs, and Press Releases about them.
The Inc. 500 lists and briefly describes the nation’s fastest-growing privately held companies.
Wetfeet supplies basic company profiles covering company history, business, profitability, and jobs, and offers expanded profiles with a subscription.
AnnualReports offers free and easy access to companies’ annual reports.
* Use Your Library Card
Nowadays many larger library systems allow card holders remote access via the Internet, or you can find information the old -fashioned way by visiting the library in person and enlisting the assistance of the usually amazingly helpf ul research librarian.
Valuable resources to be found in the library include databases of periodical articles such as Onefile and Proquest, Standard and Poor’s Industry Surveys, Mergent’s company overviews, and a variety of business directories.
The New York Public Library has kindly published an online, printable guide to searching for company information that is available either in print or on the Web. You can access a copy at the NYPL website.
* Talk With People In The Know
Ask your family, friends, and acquaintances if they know anyone who works at the company. If you are lucky enough to identify one or more such treasure troves of information, interview them thoroughly to get an insider’s perspective.
* Use Social Networking Sites to Learn About the Company
In the process of leveraging all of the above techniques, you will identify names of people who work for the company. With this information in hand, search for them on social networking sites such as ZoomInfo and LinkedIn, and read their profiles carefully. You will likely find there links to articles by or about them, their personal or business blogs, etc. You may even be able to strike up an acquaintance with one or more employees through such sites. Wouldn’t it be great to arrive at the interview able to drop
the names of a few people in the company?
Don’t Be Like Jack
The bottom line is that it is so easy nowadays to find a wealth of information about a company you are considering or one that you are scheduled to interview with that there is just no good excuse not to do so! Shame on the candidate who shows up at the interview without substantial knowledge about the company whose representative is sitting on the other side of the desk!