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When you're interviewing for a new job, one of the most important things you can do to ensure your success is to do your research. This may seem like an obvious task, but it's one that's neglected surprisingly often by job applicants. That's a good thing for you: it means that if you take the time to do your research properly, you'll be setting yourself apart from the competition right out of the gate.
So what kinds of information should you research? At a minimum, you'll need to know what the business does, where it's located, and what kind of role you're being considered for. Beyond that, there are several things you should try to understand about the company before you go in to meet with them. Most of this information should be easily found by reading through the company's website, doing Google searches, and visiting the company's social media profiles (including LinkedIn, which can be a great source of business information).
How to Research a Company Before an Interview
When determining how to research a business, you'll want to find the answers to the following questions.
What Is the Company's Mission?
This is one of the first things you should try to wrap your head around, as a company's mission or values framework underlies everything else that they do. Many companies have a mission statement displayed on their website, providing a holistic view of who they are, what they do, and why they do it. All other information you learn about the company, and interactions you have with employees, should be contextualized by that mission statement, so make sure you absorb it fully (or, in the case of a longer one, distill it down to its key points and remember those).
The mission is a great thing to keep coming back to an interview - skilled interviewees will be able to connect their own experience and values to that greater mission, and weave related phrases into their responses during the interview.
Who Leads the Organization? Who Works For It?
Most company websites have one or more pages dedicated to their leadership team, their staff, and/or their board of directors. You don't have to memorize the names and titles of all of these people, but it's good to get a general sense of who the key players are, and what they do. A good place to start would be:
Read up on the head of the business - the CEO, Executive Director, or President. What's their background? What can you learn about the direction they're taking the organization?
If there are bios of the leadership team and/or board of directors, scan them to see if anything relevant stands out - for example, if someone is a fellow alum of your alma mater, or volunteers with an organization you're involved in.
Learn as much as you can about the person who runs the department you're hoping to join (and, if you have this information, the person who would be supervising you).
Get a sense of the size of the organization (both as a whole, and the branch you'd be working at, if applicable), as well as the size of the team or department you'd be working in. LinkedIn is a good place to find this information.
What Do They Look For in an Employee?
Get a sense of who this company is looking for, both in terms of the specific role you're interviewing for, and on a broader level, in terms of cultural fit. The job description you applied to is a good place to start, but you should also look at the company website, as it will often include statements about culture, workplace environment, and hiring practices that can give you insight into the kinds of people they like to bring on. For example, nonprofits will often state that they're looking for individuals who are mission-driven; a tech startup might say they're looking for dynamic individuals who like to work hard and play hard, too.
If you've made it to the interview stage, the organization likely already sees the potential for you to meet some of this criteria; the interview process is usually an employer's opportunity to learn more about you and see if you're a good cultural fit. Given that, you can generally expect to get questions designed to assess your personality and working style, so understanding what the organization looks for in their employees - and being able to frame your own personality and experience within that context - is smart.
However, it's important to remember that you should not pretend to be something you're not. You should also be gathering information to see if you might not be a great fit, which will be better for you in the long run. For example, if they describe their ideal employee as someone who thrives in a fast-paced, deadline-driven environment and you're more go-with-the-flow, it might not be the right company for you, and you'd likely be happier somewhere more suited to your preferences.
What Are Their Core Products and/or Services?
This question basically boils down to, what does this company do? This should be fairly easy to answer based on a quick look at the company's website. If they offer a product, or a range of products, can you give a general description of them? If they offer a service, what does that services entail? This is a fundamental piece of knowledge that interviewers will expect you to have a clear understanding of.
Who Are Their Customers?
The answer to this will vary depending on the type of business it is. If it's an agency, who are their clients? If it's a company selling a product, who are they selling it to? If it's an organization offering a service, who do they serve? As an outsider, your knowledge of this will likely be somewhat surface-level, but most companies have some information addressing their customer base on their websites. For example, most nonprofits will list the specific populations serve, and most agencies have full client lists displayed prominently (along with some information on the kinds of clients they specialize in). If it's not stated explicitly, hunt for some contextual clues. What are the problems they're trying to solve? What are the demographics of the people in their pictures? On social media, who are their fans?
Who Is Interviewing You?
In addition to researching some of the key staff members at the company, it's very important that you try to do a little research on the person or people who will be interviewing you. If this is a first-round interview, it might be someone in human resources; further down the line, chances are it will be your potential manager and/or teammates (or, depending on the size of the organization, one of the company leaders). You don't have to memorize their entire resume, but taking a quick look at their LinkedIn profile to get a sense of their tenure with the company, their background, and any other relevant information that might help shape your conversation (or come up with good questions to ask them).
What Does the Company Pride Itself On?
In other words, what differentiates this company from its competitors? This will often be stated outright on a business's website, and while it may be connected to the company's mission statement, it can also encompass things like exceptional customer service, a better product, or a highly-tailored service - essentially, it's a statement of why a customer would choose this organization over any other organization offering similar services.
What Do Other People Say About the Company?
While it's important to know how a company talks about itself, it's also a good idea to do a little digging to see how other people talk about them. Look for reviews, recent news stories, and testimonials to build a fuller picture of how the business operates - use social media platforms like Facebook, review sites like Yelp!, and employee testimonial sites like Glassdoor. Take what you read with a grain of salt - reviews are subjective - but make note of what you see. A few negative reviews here and there is to be expected, but if that's all you see, definitely consider it a red flag. You can even bring this up in an interview, if you have concerns - say, "I noticed quite a few negative reviews on your Glassdoor profile. Do you have any insight into those?" There may have been a change in management or other shift that has addressed the negative comments - or you might receive an unsatisfactory response that tells you to be cautious moving forward.
Who Are Their Competitors?
Again, this is something that you will have somewhat limited knowledge of as an outsider. But it's a good idea to do a little research into who their competitors might be. Think about players on both a local and national level, and use sites like LinkedIn to help you out - visit the company's page and then look at the "People Also Viewed" section to get an idea of what the other companies in their space are. This is good information to bring up in a response during your interview, or even to ask about yourself - even if you miss the mark on the specific companies they're competing against, this is a great way to show you've done your homework and impress your interviewer.
What's Going On, Broadly, Within Their Industry?
Get a feel for the industry as a whole. What are some of the big trends or challenges they might be facing (on either a local or a national level)? Just knowing a little bit about the industry they're operating in will help give context to your interview responses and presents a great opportunity to impress your employer with a question or two of your own. For example, if you're interviewing for a company that specializes in enterprise-level cybersecurity solutions, you could ask how the increasing frequency of data breaches, such as the Equifax hack, has shifted their business strategy.
Although figuring out how to research a company before an interview might feel daunting, breaking it down into a few simple categories makes it a much more manageable task. Once you're able to answer these questions, you'll be confident, well-informed, and ready to ace your interview.
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