One of the most important preparation tasks ahead of going for an interview with a prospective employer is to do thorough research on the organisation. Companies expect you to display some knowledge about their business and the functionalities of the role you are applying for. We’ll explore three types of research you can engage in to prepare in advance.
Search engine research
The most convenient and productive starting point for finding information about a company is through good old online research. Using your preferred search engine e.g. Google, Bing or Yahoo do a general search for the name of the organisation. This will yield many results sometimes, into the thousands. Doing search engine research will give you a variety of reading and viewing options so you can get a general idea about what the organisation does. You should also find the organisation’s official website when you do a general search.
It’s very important to thoroughly go through an organisation’s official website to gain insight into what they say about themselves. A website is to a business what a CV is to a person. This is where you will find their brand proposition, their values, information about what their current plans and activities are and perhaps some details about the structure of the business. By knowing this information well, you gain a deeper understanding of the role you are applying for. Their website will also help you to identify some of the gaps in the business, if you have the skills to apply a critical eye.
Social media accounts
Looking at the company’s social media accounts is as important as its website. Articles they’ve published, events, campaigns, photos and videos provide great details of what the business has engaged in and the direction the company is taking. Their social media accounts show you the current things they are busy with. Who they follow and what they re-post will give you an idea of what they identify with and aspire towards. Formulating the insights you draw from this information into recommendations for how you might contribute to the company’s progress is a great way to show interviewers your strategic thinking capabilities and what an asset you are.
For your own purposes, also read any public criticisms (e.g. Hello Peter or Glassdoor) that have been made about the organisation. For example, for the corporate division of a retail concern it is useful to understand what their clients think of them and particularly if there have been complaints about things like service and quality. Other useful information could come up by looking at criticisms that former employees have posted or written about the business. You want to know whether the stated values the company publishes on their own platforms are practiced or if there are red-flags that indicate a gap between their values and their practices. Having this information could alert you to a mismatch between you and the company if you feel that their practices contradict how you would like to work. However, do not decide to eliminate them as a place you might want to work at based on this. Use the information to be cautious in your judgement of the organisation and give them a chance to explain why some of these criticisms have been made against them. Approach questions around negative feedback on the company carefully as you do not want to offend the people interviewing you. Treat it as a reference, like the ones they may have received when they did their due diligence in screening you.
Another source of information are the people who currently work for the company. Not many people do this but calling a company and speaking with someone from the department where the vacancy exits, one of their brand ambassadors or a person in the Corporate Affairs division is a great way to get to know a company. If people are open and happy to share non-sensitive, general information it is a good sign of a healthy culture within the organisation. They may even be willing to let you visit the site ahead of your interview. NGOs are usually prepared to do a site tour so that they can showcase the work they do and provide information about their projects and impacts for prospective donors and partners.
One final piece of preparation that can really set you apart in an interview is displaying knowledge about the competitive space the organisation operates in. This requires knowledge about their products and/or services, customer base or target audience as well as competing businesses. Take a sample area where the company operates and get to know the various features of the market. Do actual visits to where they supply their goods or services as well as online research. Where businesses are completely digital, without physical trading spaces, their online delivery platforms will be your market research space.
Once you’ve gathered information about the different market aspects, it is time to analyse and draw informed conclusions. You can practice your ability to engage in complex and strategic thinking by identifying patterns in the market, consumer insights and market or competitive threats. Even if these are not part of the functionality of the role you are interviewing for, it is necessary for all employees of a company to have some awareness of how the company fits into the market it operates in.
Conducting these three forms of research ahead of your interview will provide excellent preparation and display your seriousness as a candidate for employment. They are also great ways to practice your research and analytical skills while job hunting which will benefit you in your professional journey.