Do Your Homework: Job Interviews That Get Your Hired (page 2)
Researching Companies and Deciding on a Career
You've probably seen several promising help-wanted ads, searched online career sites, visited your college career center, and done lots of networking. You've undoubtedly sent many, many resumes and posted your resume online, as well. Hopefully, you've landed at least one interview by now, and maybe many more. I
Now it's time to prepare for the interview itself. It's always exciting (and sometimes a little frightening) to prepare for a job interview. But look at it this way: You've already shown a great deal of resourcefulness, energy, and determination to get this far. A little more planning, research, and advice is all you need to feel confident, relaxed, and optimistic. Think about everything you're learning about yourself and about different industries, organizations, and individuals. You've already begun your professional life!
How Research can Work for You
As the saying goes, knowledge is power. You will definitely feel more in control and be better prepared for an interview with any company if you take the time to research it. Here are just a few of the most basic things you should know or find out:
- Is the company profitable?
- What are its revenues?
- What are its services or products?
- How are they marketed?
- Is the company in expansion mode or maintenance mode?
- What jobs are available?
- What kind of a feeling do you get about the company from its various publications?
Keep in mind that your interviewer will ask you what you know about the company. If you haven't done your homework, the interviewer will be able to tell—and it will be a strike against you. Before you have an interview with any company, there are three important areas to research:
- Sources of information in general. If you read the newspaper regularly, you may already know a bit about a company that interests you. To learn more, go to the library or search the Internet by Googling the company name to find recent articles about the firm in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and trade publications. Has the company been in the news because of an imminent merger or takeover? If so, pay attention to any information or speculation about changes at the top or layoffs.
- Trade sources. If you already have some general knowledge about a company but want information about a specific job—direct mail coordinator, say—within a specific division of the company—new product development, for example—you will have to dig a little deeper. Once again, go to the library for trade publications or access the Internet for more detailed information. Read trade sources for industry news, such as who has been recently promoted. Your knowledge will make you sound like you're already an insider.
- Inside sources. People are a resource you just can't beat for information about a company. Check your list of network contacts to see if you know anyone working in the industry in which you're interested. If possible, find someone who can tell you about the company's real benefits—and detractions. It can make all the difference between going with a company and running in the opposite direction.
Knowledge of the company's history, especially current events, will serve you well during the interview. You may want to ask, "What's the likelihood that people will be laid off after the merger?" If the company you are interested in is testing any new products, find out what they are and whether any of them are controversial. Don't hesitate to ask tough questions—it shows your interviewer that you've done your homework and know about the company. It also shows that you are not afraid to ask difficult questions.
Exhibit 3–1 lists some of the Internet search engines you can use to find valuable information about prospective employers.
Finding the Information You Need Online
Once you've landed an interview with a particular company, the first thing you will want to do is check out its website. The site will give you a general overview of the company—that is what its general business is and what its products and services are. The website should also give you detailed information about the company's employees, history, and policies. In addition, it may include statistics, newspaper articles, and press releases. Even the design of a website can give you important information (if on a more subliminal level) about a particular company—for example, does it look conservative or cutting edge?
If you can't find a website for a particular company, give them a call and ask whether or not they have a site. A company's site may have an unusual name, making it difficult to find. Or, the firm may not have a website. Although more and more companies are putting information online, some companies may not have their own sites. If this is the case, don't worry.
There are plenty of other ways to find information about a company, if you can't find it on its website. You can search for relevant articles on newspaper sites. For instance, the New York Times website (www.nytimes.com) allows you to search its archives for newspaper articles, although it will cost you $3.95 to purchase a complete article published since 1981. The Washington Post website (www.washingtonpost. com) charges $3.95 per article, but it provides free access to articles published in the last two weeks.
Check these and other major newspaper sites. Your interviewer will be impressed if you can say, "I read in the New York Times last week that your company has decided to… " But don't forget to do your homework. You don't want to get into a discussion about the company if you can't support your end of the conversation.
Another good source of information is online news sites, such as www.cnn.com, www.msnbc.com, or www.thestreet.com, a financial news website. These sites give you the freedom to search their archives, some of which are quite comprehensive, for articles on business and commerce. The best part about these sites is that the information is available free of charge.
Other Research Options
The Internet and the library are superb resources for gathering information about jobs and companies, but there are a few other good options for research, too. For example:
- Company advertisements: Look at how the company advertises its products and services. Does it advertise them on television or in magazines? What do the ads say about its products and services? To whom are the ads directed? Is there a guarantee or benefit to the consumer?
- Annual reports: Take a look at the company's annual report (assuming that it trades on the stock exchange). It should give you lots of information about the company's profitability and career path. It might even give you salary information about senior management and how bonuses are structured. This kind of information tells you which businesses are important…and who and what they invest in.
- The Better Business Bureau: This organization can tell you whether the company you are interested in has had any resolved or unresolved problems with either consumers or other companies.
- The Chamber of Commerce: Call for information about the company's role in the community.
- Your campus career center: Ask if it has any printed information about firms that interest you, particularly if those companies participate in on-campus recruiting.
- Your network: Ask your contacts if they know anything about the companies that will be interviewing you. For instance, if you have a job interview at a particular investment bank, any investment banker in your network could give you some information about the firm, even if he or she doesn't work there.
- The company interviewing you: When a company calls to invite you for a job interview, it is perfectly appropriate for you to ask the caller to send you the company's annual report or a catalogue or brochure describing its products or services. If the HR manager or hiring manager does not seem willing to do this, do not push it: It is not the company's responsibility to help you with your research. You should remember that most HR managers (and hiring managers) are probably extremely busy trying to find and evaluate the resumes of prospective candidates for the jobs they are trying to fill. So be resourceful and do your own research, if possible: Resourcefulness and autonomy are skills for which most employers are looking, so if you exhibit them now, even before the interview, you will already be one step ahead of other candidates!
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