You hear it all the time from career experts: "Research the company before you go into a job interview." But what does that mean, exactly? Here are some tips on using the Internet and tapping your network to gain information and insight that'll improve your interview answers -- and help you ask the right questions.
The Company's Mission
Your prospective employer's web site is a great place to see the company as it wants to be seen. Look for its mission statement -- something that outlines the company's values (perhaps on an About Us or similar page). Then consider how the position you want relates to that mission. Also think about how your experience and background have prepared you to support the company¬°¬¶s goals. Don't parrot a mission statement back word for word, but do let it inform your discussion.
Recent Company Achievements
While you're at the company's site, look for a Press Room or Company News page that links to recent news releases. (Or simply search the Web for news about the company.) Then think about the long-term implications of this news -- not only for the company, but also for you when you get the job -- and prepare some questions about the news if that makes sense. Your well-informed conversation may be a critical factor in your interview's success.
If the company site has a search tool, use it to search for the names of the people you'll be meeting. You may find bio pages or press releases that give you insight into their most visible activities at the company. Then look to LinkedIn or do a general Web search to get some more background information about them. You might find some common ground (for instance, a shared alma mater) you can bring up in conversation, or a recent professional achievement for which you can pay a compliment.
What to Wear
The company's Web site can also help you determine how to dress for the interview. Are there pictures of the executive team? If they're all wearing dark business suits, you should probably dress very formally. If the CEO is pictured wearing a T-shirt, business casual is probably fine (though you'll rarely want to dress more casually than that).
Next, learn what general-interest publications, trade publications and blogs are saying about your employer and the industry as a whole. Search national publications for news on major corporations; use hometown newspapers to learn about small businesses or local industries. Depending on your field, you should be prepared to discuss your industry's financial prospects or other industry trends.
People on the Inside
People who already work at the company are another great source of information -- they can give you insight into business initiatives, corporate culture and even personality dynamics. Start on LinkedIn to see if you have any connections -- but don't stop there. Look to professional organizations and alumni organizations you belong to, and ask friends and relations if they know anyone who might have information to share about your prospective employer.
Now that you've found out everything you can about the company and the people who'll be interviewing you, Google yourself -- you can be sure the interviewers will be doing the same. (If you have a common name, use your name and city or your name and industry as the search term.) First, make sure that everything a Web search reveals about you presents you in a good light. Then prepare to discuss the search's top hits -- they might just come up at your interview.