Do Your Homework: Job Interviews That Get Your Hired (page 4)
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!
Real-Life Case Study: Researching a Major Consulting Firm
Michael, a recent college graduate, landed an interview at a major consulting firm for the position of business analyst. Here's how he went about his research.
- The firm participated in on-campus recruiting, so Michael's first stop was his college career center. Here, he was able to find pamphlets and fact sheets about the firm. This gave him a general idea about the type of work the firm did.
- Next, Michael went online. On the firm's website, he was able to read about the firm's philosophy, the types of individuals they hired, and the skills required for the job. The website also provided case studies, detailing how the firm had helped specific clients. Then, Michael read a few articles generated by the firm's consultants, as well as some about the firm.
- Not satisfied with the information he had found, Michael headed to his school library, where he printed articles written about the firm in the past six months. He knew that the articles posted on the website would be positive, and he wanted to see what kinds of articles the firm had chosen not to post on their site.
- Finally, Michael used his network to find the names of two recent graduates from his college who currently worked at the firm. He contacted both individuals and asked them about their work, responsibilities, the training they received, and the firm's culture.
Michael found that his skills, background, and interests were well matched to this consulting firm. When he went to his interview, he was well prepared to discuss the company with his interviewer. Because he read so many newspaper articles, he could speak intelligently about recent happenings at the firm and ask his interviewer smart questions. Ultimately, he landed the job.
Rediscovering Your Network
The people who actually work for a company are always the best source of information, so make an effort to talk to as many of them as possible, especially current employees. Listen carefully to what they say about the culture of the organization in which they work. Is it a command and control culture, where the bosses have most of the say and subordinates take their directions? Or is the corporate culture more collaborative, with people working in teams?
To identify an employee who can give you information about a company, go back to your network and re-prioritize the names on your target list. Who might have the information for which you're looking? This may be a little difficult if you are a recent college graduate and have a limited number of people in your career network. However, it is possible to find someone, if you use all your resources. If you can't think of a good contact, ask a friend or career counselor to help you brainstorm.
Even though there are lots of other excellent options for getting interviews, don't forget your network. Revisit it, and ask if anyone knows someone who works in the company or even the field that interests you. You never know—you just might hear, "I think my sister -in law's cousin works there." For all you know that person may work for a company you had never considered, but if there's an opening or you go for an informational interview, you may discover that you really like the company. In the best-case scenario, your interviewer thinks you would make a great asset to the company and will contact you as soon as there's an opening. Acouple months later, you get a call. This is a compelling reason to stay in touch with the people in your network. Keep your contacts alive, because you never know when they will pay off.
Brainstorming to Expand Your Network
If there isn't anyone in your current network who has contacts in the field in which you're interested, you need to find fresh contacts. First, do a little brainstorming with a friend, career counselor, or someone you know from college. If you need to find a contact at XYZ Pharmaceuticals, what would you do? How would you start to find that person? One answer is to start with the people you know. What about:
- Your college biology and chemistry professors. It is not unlikely that one of them knows someone in the pharmaceutical industry. Think of the strong relationships some university and college science departments have with industrial researchers, commercial laboratories, and pharmaceutical companies, in general.
- Your family doctor. Physicians usually have a lot of contact with drug manufacturers. Maybe one of them could introduce you to a company representative the next time he or she is in the office. That person may know if a particular company is looking to hire or if they are aggressively pursuing recent college graduates.
- The pharmacist at your local drugstore has good contacts with various companies and can keep his or her ears open for any news that might apply to your job search.
If you are going to be serious and disciplined about obtaining a job, it's simply not enough to look at your targeted networking list and say, "Oh, gee, nobody here is in pharmaceuticals." This is where many people give up and make the assumption that it will take too much time or require too much effort to find new contacts, leads, and information to get where they want to go.
But if you choose to challenge yourself and discover the best way to get the information you need, you will be a step ahead of the crowd. Call the human resources department or public relations office at the organization or company in which you're interested and ask them if they ever interview at your college or university. Or, go to the campus placement office for the same information. Even if you've already graduated, your college will likely give you access to their resources.
Take your network as far as it will go, and use every resource you can think of, from your grandmother's dentist to every search engine on the Web. If you maximize your opportunities to gain information, it will only be a matter of time before you succeed at getting an interview for the job you want.
- Managing your time and setting priorities usually boils down to common sense. If you're scheduled for an informational interview at a company tomorrow, it doesn't make sense to spend all your time writing thank-you notes the day before. Instead, use the time to research the company on the Web or read articles about it at the public library.
What do You Really Want?
Now that you are a nimble researcher and know exactly what to ask other people about specific jobs and companies, do you really know what you want? In all the excitement of meeting everyone else's expectations, have you lost sight of your own? If so, now might be the time to find a quiet place to think about what you expect from a prospective employer. Exhibit 3–2 lists some questions that might help you narrow down your search.
Think about and make a list of things you want from an employer before you show up for the interview; otherwise, you might be tempted to accept the first offer you get, especially if the terms seem unusually generous. Or you might convince yourself that you should take a job, even though it's not exactly what you want, because it's work you've been doing for a while or the money's too good to turn down.
It's human nature to feel conflict when making hard choices, but it helps to think about what you want before you decide. Don't be caught off guard and accept something you don't want. Think seriously about the things you do want from a job and keep them in mind during an interview.
To help you decide whether or not a company is right for you, make a chart like the one shown in Exhibit 3–3. Put your offers (i.e. company names) at the top of the chart and list the ten things you want from a company, or an employer, in the left margin of the chart. This way, every time you get a job offer, you can check it against your requirements. You will be asked to refer to this chart many times over the course of your job search, so take it seriously and fill it out as soon as possible.
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