Employer Research: Do Your Homework Before the Interview
By Marlon Doles
Researching potential employers before interviewing with them has always been an important if difficult part of the successful job search. However, resources used to research companies have been enhanced significantly during the past decade. Long gone are the days when you walked into your career center library and searched for the huge three ring binder of out-of-date material on the company with which you would be interviewing the next day. With the emergence of new technology and all types of search mechanisms, a job candidate doesn’t even have to leave home to conduct thorough research on a company.
Why is research important?
Before attending an interview, researching the company as completely and accurately as possible will allow you to field without hesitation any questions the interviewer might throw at you. It will also demonstrate to the interviewer that you are smart and thorough in your research process. Also, you will be able to ask questions about the organization in an informed way, which allows for a more relaxed, conversational type of interview rather than simply a questionand- answer type that doesn’t set you apart from any other quality candidates.
At some point, interviewers typically ask the question, “Why would you like to work for this company?” These types of general and open-ended questions are used to see if you’re worthy of continuing the interview.
If you don’t have a response or your response is ineffective, such as, “Because it’s a great company,” you’re in trouble before the interview has really started. A great company already knows it’s great. Interviewers want to know specifically why you want to work for such a great company.
Here’s where conducting company research before your interview pays off the most: You can step up to the challenge and answer such questions confidently and intelligently. At minimum, know what a company’s products and services are, why they interest you, and how you can help support them.
What do you need to know?
Employment is a two-way street. Make sure the company is one in which you want to work, and you’ll be well prepared to answer such questions. Find out everything you can about the company, including the following:
Naturally, you may ask about some of these topics during interviews. But it’s a good idea to find out all you can beforehand to help you formulate specific questions and answers, and show that you’ve done your homework.
Where will you find the details?
If you’re a college student or recent graduate, check with the career center at your school. Many still maintain libraries of company research resources like brochures, annual reports, recruiter information, newsletters, etc. Public libraries stock research resources, too, such as the Thomas Register of American Manufacturers, the Vault College Career Bible, and other books about industries and careers. If you don’t know where to look, just ask a librarian or career services professional for help.
The Web is also an excellent place to conduct company research. Employers know that candidates visit their websites for exactly that reason. Even if companies don’t post information specifically for job seekers, most provide information for customers or the media that is also useful in job interviews. Pay close attention to areas of the site labeled investor relations, careers, diversity and community outreach. These areas tend to give you the best information on the company and what it’s like to work there. Study this information and any description of the job for which you are applying.
Other websites like Hoovers.com or Vault.com and search engines like Google and Yahoo! all prove very valuable when researching companies online. The Web can be a source of balanced research on your future employers.
Also very popular as research tools these days are magazines, periodicals and other publications such as Fortune, Forbes, Black Enterprise, BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal, Jungle Media, Hispanic Business, Working Mother, and the list goes on and on. Through their many best-of and worst-of lists and other featured articles, all of these publications will provide you with current research on companies.
It’s also important to watch where companies are advertising and branding themselves. By noting the types of magazines or other media outlets a company advertises with regularly, you can determine the organization’s target market strategy from recruitment, product, and services points of view. Using these research sources will also help you determine the company’s value proposition (what makes that company special to its customers and differentiates it from its competitors), or assess why people want to work at that particular company.
One of the best but largely overlooked places to conduct company research is within the company itself, right at the source. It doesn’t hurt to contact the human resources department of the company for which you have an upcoming interview, ask for a recruiter, and inquire about company literature such as product brochures, job descriptions and new-hire orientation packets. They may be impressed that you took the time to call and seek out this information.
If you’re a college student or recent graduate, it’s also not uncommon to look up alumni who currently work for the company or may have worked there in the past. These are always great sources of information on the inner workings of your potential employer.
Lastly, if you really want to scope out the company thoroughly, request a copy of its annual report, and research it from an investor’s point of view. After all, if you wouldn’t risk your money in a company, would you want to risk your career?
At Campbell Soup Co., Mr. Doles is Senior Human Resource Manager, Global College and Diversity Programs.