It’s 3:00 a.m. and you can’t sleep. You keep tossing and turning, thinking about the job opening you saw in the newspaper with the best company in the area. You know the company’s reputation-everyone does. It is good. You are good. It’s a perfect match. So, why can’t you sleep?
How did you hear about the fabulous reputation of this company? Friends? Family? People who do business with them? Did you read about all the great things they are doing in the newspaper? Do you believe everything you read? How would you fit into their picture as the ideal candidate?
You have all seen the crime scene investigators on television. Who usually solves the crime? The investigator who accepts the evidence at face value, or the investigator who keeps on uncovering more information? Which one do you want to be in your career scene investigation? Before you even send a resume, start doing your homework. It is critical that you begin the matching process before you get to the interview. You can find out if this is or isn’t the place for you by digging deep to discover you would or wouldn’t be satisfied with this job.
Sometimes, there’s only one way to get the job: BY SHOWING THE INTERVIEWERS THAT YOU KNOW WHAT THEIR COMPANY IS DOING AND HOW YOU CAN HELP THEM DO IT BETTER. You are there to solve their job search case by providing the solution: That you can do the job they want to fill better, faster, and more effectively than any other candidate. How? By learning about the company from the inside out and being prepared to present workable solutions to their problems based on their company and the industry. Sound simple? It requires a thorough investigation, so let’s get started!
Pre-interview Research is NOT just about using the Internet
The Internet is a great tool for research. At a touch you can find just about all the information you want on just about anything you want. Companies are well aware of the image they project, and their cyber image is as important to them as their real image. Whether a company is small or large, the image they project on the web is critical to their success, and they know it. It is here that you will find the useful information you need to start building your foundation about a company or organization.
Where do you start? The answer is just like crime scene investigation: go to the scene of the crime! In this case, go to the website for the company/organization you want.
Before you begin, take a look at the layout of the site. The style, color, tone, and user-friendliness of a site can speak volumes about the culture and vision of a company. Just as a CSI investigator examines a crime scene before securing it, you are going to examine the website for obvious clues as to what is important so you can focus on those areas during your interview.
What should you look for?
User friendliness – are visitors welcome to browse?
Can you find the different areas quickly and easily?
Is there a separate page for the company history?
What is listed first? Sales figures? Products? Staff? History? The layout can give you nonverbal clues as to what is valued in the company structure
Are there loads of graphics or is it primarily text?
Are the job/career listings easily accessible, or do you have to wind your way through the site to find them?
Are Contacts easy to find for each area, or is one General Contact listed?
Do they list a mission or vision statement?
Can you find an area for News or Press Releases? Although a lack of these areas does not indicate stagnant activity, it might be a red flag to check against other data
Note colors, graphics, interactivity, and focus of site. Pay special attention to the pictures. Are they pictures of happy customers? Serious employees? Are the employees dressed casually or professionally? Are they in cubicles or at desks? These are all clues as to what the company is trying to represent
Is the Annual Report and financial figures readily available?
All this may sound over the top, but remember: You are not meeting them in person until the interview, and you WANT an interview. Knowing as much about them, their focus, their successes, and their orientation to the public is something that can be gleaned from many non-written cues. So before you start reading, get a feel for the site and what it is trying to say about the company and its products.
Start with the Mission/Vision Statement
Why? A good CSI investigator is going to see if anything obvious pops out first that could solve the crime. If you read the Mission/Vision statement, search for the indicators that you can capitalize on from your own experience. Are they future-directed? Tell them about the innovative plan you developed at your last job that saved the company hundreds of dollars a week. Are they using technology effectively? Craft a short paragraph that details how you used technology to improve procedures. If you don’t know where they are going, how are you going to help them get there?
Read the History next
If the company has a long tradition of success, they love to trumpet it, and usually expect their employees to be proud of it, too. Knowing how the company started and developed during an interview is a surefire way to impress the interviewers. Just don’t overdo it by reciting names and dates without meaning. Remember, you are investigating the best techniques here, so selecting the most important or interesting facts and weaving them into your interview makes a better impression than sounding like an encyclopedia.
Check out the Press Releases/News Section
If you want to work for this company, what are they doing that is building their stellar reputation? Again, this is a great bugle-blowing part of the website, as companies are rightfully proud of their successes and want everyone (especially their competitors) to know what they are doing that is innovative and cutting-edge. Not only do you want to show that you are aware of their successes, but how YOU can increase those successes by talking about their latest project, program, or product and how you would fit into the success role. Don’t just say, “I am really impressed by the success of Product X.” Say, “Product X was a really innovative product. I can see taking that one step further by adding another component X or Y to really maximize the efficiency.” Not only will they see you as someone who has read their press releases, but that you have already put yourself in the role you are seeking.
So what do they do at this company anyway?
Important Point – Please memorize: NEVER ASK A COMPANY WHAT THEY DO WHEN YOU GET AN INTERVIEW. You might as well get up and leave right there. If you don’t know what they do, what their products are, and who their clients/customers are, get out before they show you the door. This is the number one pet peeve of employers when they interview candidates.
If you aren’t sure what they do, this should be right on the opening page of their website. If not, you can check out their products and find out by looking at their offerings. The reason you are doing your pre-interview research is so you will NOT ask the automatic knockout question!
BE AWARE OF THE PRODUCTS OR SERVICES THE COMPANY SELLS OR MAKES. This is where you can really make a hit by talking knowledgeably about the products and the industry. Why would anyone want to hire someone who is clueless? If you want to convince them that you are the best person for the job, know your stuff – and theirs!
The Job Description says ‘Accountant’ (or Marketing Assistant, Administrative Assistant, etc.) What exactly do they want?
The advent of laws regarding employment has forced many employers to be very specific in detailing what they expect of their employees. This usually takes the form of a Job Description, a thorough analysis of what is required. It is also a way to make it easier for Human Resources professionals and supervisors to evaluate an employee’s performance and assess progress within the company. Small employers may still rely on short descriptions or a few words; don’t be afraid to ask questions about your duties, requirements for the position, or anything else that will help you make your successful pitch. When searching the website, check out the Careers or Employment section. Usually a description of the position will be posted there so you can assess how you can highlight your qualifications in such a way that they puts you in the frame as the best candidate. In general, newspaper ads give a condensed version. You may have even seen a reference to go to the website for a complete job description.
Benefits and Compensation
The work of Human Resources has become more difficult as healthcare costs soar, pension plans go belly up, and time off has changed from sick/vacation time to other forms of time off. It takes an intrepid sleuth to find specifics about benefits and salaries on the website. Many companies will give a basic overview such as: health insurance, time off, 401k, dental and eye plans. As to what they are in more detail may be difficult to assess from the website. Keep in mind, though, that benefits and compensation, while important to YOU, are not what the interviewer is seeking. The Human Resources Office knows that making a hiring mistake is expensive and puts their jobs on the line. If you have convinced them by knowing your stuff and supplying them with the skills and abilities that are going to help them reach their corporate goals, the compensation and benefits will follow.
You’ve now secured the basic career scene in your investigation, but what do you do next?
Company culture – it’s not listening to the opera at your desk!
For some people the word “culture” brings to mind a vision of a fat lady in a steel helmet carrying a shield and spear while singing at the top of her lungs. Or it might bring to mind spending an afternoon at the local art museum. These are artifacts of culture, or perhaps it is better put as highbrow culture. How does that apply to a company?
A 2002 document from the United Nations agency UNESCO states that culture is the
“set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs”. http://www.unesco.org/education/imld_2002/unversal_decla.shtml
Now think about the company where you want to work. It, too, has a distinctive value system, traditions, beliefs, and ways of living and working together. They might not be obvious to you just from the website, so how can you find out more about this important component of job fit?
Talk to the witnesses
After you gather your evidence from the scene (website), you go in search of witnesses. Who would be likely witnesses for you to assess the company culture? A good staring point is people who currently work there. If you don’t know anyone who works there, check around with your friends, family, and coworkers. Do they know anyone who works there? You’ll be surprised at how quickly you will find a connection. Remember the 6 degrees of separation theory? There are no more than six intermediaries between you and a relationship to anyone.
The harder route is to find someone who USED to work at the company. TREAD CAREFULLY! A disgruntled former employee might not make the best ‘witness’ for your investigation. But…former employees are often very aware of the culture, and the current climate (which is not about the weather, but about the conditions existent in the offices at any given time), so talking to them is a good idea, as long as you weigh their evidence with the evidence from current employees. THIS IS ALSO A GREAT WAY TO FIND OUT WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO THE COMPANY, AND HELP YOU TO PUT YOURSELF IN THE FRAME. All this information searching is giving you the ammunition to land squarely in the job seat!
Customers of the company, both past and present, can give you an assessment of the products and services. Again, weigh all the evidence you gather carefully, and consider the source of the information. Competitors are not the best source for unbiased information.
What if you cannot find any employees to talk to, past or present? Review your website research to identify keywords that indicate what is important to the company culture. Some good ones to look for are:
These words can give you a fair idea of what is valued in the company culture. Don’t forget to use those words in your strategic plan to nail the job during the interview.
You’ve gathered the evidence, talked to witnesses – what next?
Now you need to see what additional sources you might identify to help you get a full picture of the company.
Do an Internet search using the company name. Amazing information can appear with a simple search. Weigh it carefully before using it, as disgruntled customers or employees may make outrageous charges that cannot be substantiated. But if you see a thread that indicates trouble, make a note of it.
Go to the library. If you haven’t been there in a while, you’ll be amazed at how extensive the career section has become. This is where you will find an amazing number of helpful books that will give you more in depth details about the company
For corporations, look for How to Find Information about Companies, the Corporate Intelligencer; Encyclopedia of Business Information Sources; and Job Seeker’s Guide to Private and Public Companies. These are just three excellent sources you can find at most libraries. Here is where you can find out everything from hiring practices, benefits, and features of employment.
For non-profits, check out Gale’s Guide to Non-Profits
Annual reports. Yes, I know – what are you supposed to find in there anyway? Check out the way the report looks, the photos they choose to represent themselves, and the report of their financial condition. If they are borrowing lots of money but not showing a good sales record, you might want to think twice before accepting a job
Read newspapers, magazines and trade papers, such as the Crain’s Business publications, the Wall Street Journal, or the business sections of local papers. This is where the ‘buzz’ usually starts for company ups and downs
Want to know how reputable the company is? You can check them out with the online Better Business Bureau at http://www.bbbonline.org/consumer/
If you went to college, your college Career Services Office and Alumni Association can often be a great source to learn more about a company, and also help you find fellow alumni to talk with who work or have worked there
You’ve got your case down solid, so it’s off to court – I mean the interview!
Just like in court, what you say and how you say it can mean the difference between losing a case and winning. During the interview, weave the information you have found in your responses, always keeping in mind that you want them to see you as part of their organization already. Here are a few tips:
Don’t overwhelm the interviewers with facts about the company – they already work there and probably know most of them. Coming off like a know-it-all can be detrimental to you getting the job
Fuse their words and ideas gleaned from your research into your answers, without memorizing sentences word for word. Subliminally you are tying yourself to their organization as they register their own words in your answers
Just like in court, state the facts, not your opinions, about the company and its past and future
Indicate, when appropriate, that you are aware of a new program or product. Use that opportunity to show what you know and how you can be a valuable addition to them in this area. SELL YOUR EXPERIENCE AND KNOWLEDGE –OFFER SOLUTIONS TO THEIR PROBLEMS AND SPEAK TO THE ISSUES YOU KNOW THEY (AND THEIR INDUSTRY) ARE FACING
Ask questions about something you have read during your research: a new program, product, or innovation that you can see yourself being part of if hired. THIS IS A CRITICAL COMPONENT OF THE INTERVIEW – PREPARE WELL!
Use inclusive language when responding; such as “As we conduct more research on these products, I can see where our sales figures can skyrocket.” You have already put yourself into their framework
Dress and conduct yourself as if you already work there. If their culture is highly traditional and conservative, dress the part and polish your manners. ALWAYS CHOOSE TO BE PROFESSIONAL IN DRESS AND DEMEANOR
A highly effective technique that is used is called ‘mirroring’ or ‘pacing.’ This is when someone adapts the stance and body language of another to indicate agreement with that person’s ideas or attitudes. Prospective dates use it to indicate, subliminally, that you think alike. Use the mirroring technique during the interview. Act as if you already work there, talk about the job as if you already have it, and know your facts. When the job offer comes, you can claim your CSI investigation as solved!