Preparing for a Job Interview

On 06/03/2011, in Career, Interviewing, by Jordan Wilson

My best advice for a job interview is that you be prepared.

That means spending some time before-hand getting ready.

This is equally true whether the job is full-time, part-time, or even a summer position. Put in adequate preparation and you will be rewarded. 

When I interview someone, I like to use the following format. Many managers I know do something similar.

I start by outlining the interview to the candidate. I state that first I will tell her about the company, our unit within it, and the position itself. The candidate can then tell me about her life that addresses the requirements, duties and additional information I have given to her. Following this, we will have a question and answer session. First, by me asking the applicant questions to clarify open items. Then, any questions about the position that she may have at this time.

Before I explain anything about the company, unit or position, I like to hear what the candidate knows.

This shows me the investigative work done to learn about the company or position. In most jobs, one needs to be motivated to find creative and comprehensive solutions. To see how much effort went into researching the position is always of interest to me.

Often, applicants even for senior roles do little, if anything, to enhance their knowledge pre-interview. That pretty much eliminates them from contention immediately. If you cannot be motivated to research a potential job, how energized will you be doing mundane daily tasks at work? I do not want to find out.

Do Your Homework

Do your homework before coming into the interview.

Start with an internet search and see what is available. Many companies will have websites with lots of information or there may be news or commentary about the company available on-line. To the extent possible, drill down to the unit you are applying to work within.

For companies where there is little information on-line, be creative. Do you know someone that currently or previously has worked for the firm? Or someone that works in the same industry? Do you know any customers? Is there a showroom or office where you can pick up company information or sales brochures? If you stop by the front desk and explain that you are preparing for an interview, often the receptionist will help you with information.

There are a multitude of ways to find out information about a company or a specific job position in an industry.

Sometimes it is advantageous to interview with a company that has minimal publicly available information. By finding out information on your own, you will impress the interviewer and stand out from the other applicants.

Tailor Information to Your Needs

Don’t just read and remember the information. Consider how it may relate to you.

Perhaps you notice that the company is developing a new product line. Maybe you are applying for a sales position. Have you experience selling new products? Working on product roll-outs, including the initial marketing and advertising campaigns? Or perhaps applied for an accounting function. Have you any experience accounting for new products, research and development, segmented accounting or other relevant skills? It may not have been on the job requirements list, but I guarantee you the interviewer will ask questions in this area.

Knowing what the company is doing, you can anticipate many of the questions ahead of time.

If the questions are not raised, that is fine too. You can proactively mention your related skills by tying them into information that you have researched. Or, during the phase of the interview when you are expected to ask questions, you can demonstrate your knowledge of the company by asking about corporate news and rumors.

Expand Your Research Horizons

Should you limit your research to the company you applied?

Not likely.

Industry and Competitors

You need to look at the industry and key competitors. What is going on in the industry that may impact the company you wish to work for? Amazon has been very successful with their Kindle e-book reader. Does it surprise you that Barnes & Noble has entered the fray with their own version? In the financial services sector, this is very prevalent. One company develops a new offering. Other banks, insurers, brokers, etc. wait and if successful, launch their own version. By understanding industry trends, you gain an understanding about where the company may be moving.

If you can show you bring some skills to the company that may be needed in the near future, you enhance your value. And, when it comes to the question and answer phase, you can ask about specific differences in competitors and the company which shows that you have done some research and considered the ramifications.


You should also consider the government. Local, regional, and national.

In my own experience, I followed the governments of various countries very closely. Have they enacted legislation that makes doing business more difficult or have they provided incentives for companies to act? In the US, there is concern over pay levels for executives in the banking sector. Does this make highly talented people want to enter that industry? What about the ripple effect? If a CEO has his pay capped at a certain level, will that not impact people below him in the corporate hierarchy? Certainly.

What about government policies?

Given the spending levels in governments today, there is a high risk of inflation. If you are working in the oil or mining sector, that may be very good for business. In the US, these policies will continue to weaken the US dollar. This will help US companies that export products but will hurt importers. In Canada, a weak US dollar will not be kind to Canadian exporters. It looks like those economics courses may have some value.

As you can easily see, limiting yourself to company specific research may lead you to miss many key areas that will impact a company in the short term. By doing some homework, you can anticipate areas of discussion and questions that may be asked of you, plus they may raise questions for you to ask in the interview.

Consider the Actual Interviewer

One area of research that is usually ignored is research on the interviewer.

Not the Human Resources representative, but your potential employer.

If you know the name of the person(s) you will meet with, you may be able to learn a little something about them. Knowledge is power and every little bit helps.

When contacted to arrange the interview, obtain the names (gender, spelling too, if necessary) and titles of everyone you will meet for interviews.

This ensures you remember the names of the people. How many times have you been introduced to someone and did not properly hear their names? Then you spent the rest of the night calling them by the wrong name? If you have all the names ahead of time, you will have no difficulties.

In addition to making introductions easier, knowing who you will meet with facilitates your research efforts.

Besides Google, try social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace and  business associations that may be relevant to the person you are meeting.

That said, search do not stalk. And definitely do not try something like becoming friends on Facebook. Unless you do not want the position, that is.

You may not learn much, but every little bit helps. Do not simply focus on business matters. Information on your potential boss’s education, associations, hobbies, and interests are equally important. If you can tie any of these activities back to something that appears on your master resume, you may be able to form a bond.

People like people who are similar to them. If your potential boss works with charities and you have also done charitable work, try to use that as an example during the actual interview. For example, you took the initiative and lead your fraternity in fund-raising for United Way. You show skills in leadership, self-motivation, plus may get some subconscious credit for being involved in a charity.

A Few Words of Caution

A few quick cautions in respect of researching the interviewer.

One, do not be obvious that you have researched the person. Do not say that you noticed they enjoy listening to Death Metal music on their Facebook page. That will come across as a little creepy and not hold you in a positive light.

Be subtle in your use of personal information.

Two, do not try and make links that are tenuous at best. This superficiality will be transparent to the interviewer and cost you dearly.

Three, do not sacrifice a better example simply to create a bond with the interviewer. If you have three strong examples of a skill you wish to demonstrate, pick one that may help create a bond. But do not choose a weak anecdote just to fit it into your research.

Four, you may want to search yourself as there is a good chance the company will research you. Clean up any less than flattering references you find, especially on Facebook. And if there are any negative issues you come across, be prepared to address them in the interview.

Okay, you have done your homework on the company and any other relevant factors. Obviously, the type of job that you apply for will dictate the level of research that you conduct. But do your best to get as much information as possible. It may just be the difference between getting the offer or not.

You are well prepared and know that you are as ready as you can be, which is a relaxing thought. Now go get the position.

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