Research, research, and then research some more for good measure. You’ll find this advice in almost any article written about getting ready for a job interview. But why is researching the company so important? And how should you actually go about it?
There are clear benefits of doing your research. In any interview, you want to come across as engaged, knowledgeable, and genuinely enthusiastic about the role. By showing that you know plenty about the company and have taken the time to research them, you’ll quickly tick all those boxes. Several interview questions are aimed at finding out just this, with a common example being ‘Tell me what you know about the company’. Getting caught out on a standard question like this could cost you dearly.
A good interview will often feel more like a conversation. You might be under the microscope, but if you have a meaningful discussion with the interviewer you’re more likely to make a good impression. This means you don’t always want to feel that you’re on the back foot, and having a good knowledge base about the company can really boost your confidence.
So instead of heading to an interview in the dark, follow our guidelines for how to go about researching a company thoroughly. You’ll find yourself far better set up to answer their questions, and to ask pertinent questions of your own.
The company’s own website is the obvious place to start – but you shouldn’t just take a cursory glance at each page and consider yourself done. There are certain things that you should be looking for, and making notes on.
First of all, you need to make sure you’re as familiar as possible with all the products and services the company provides. If you don’t know what they do, no interviewer will take you seriously when you say that you’re keen to work there. By carefully going through their website, you should not only learn about their products, but also about how they choose to pitch these to potential clients and customers. This will give you an insight both into the company and those they aim to do business with.
Many websites will also include a list of company values or a mission statement. By becoming familiar with these, you can make sure that your answers to questions like ‘why do you want to work here’ or ‘what do you like best about this company’ are in line with their message. Of course, this will work best if your enthusiasm for their mission is genuine, so take time to consider whether it really sounds like the place for you.
If the company runs a blog or social media channels, these can be invaluable research tools. Head to their LinkedIn page, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to get as rounded a view as possible of their output. After all, these channels will showcase everything that they want you to know about their company – it would be a shame not to make use of them!
Social media channels offer a chance for you to learn more about the company culture, and life working there. Their blog might include posts by employees about what they like about working there, and what their days typically include; of course, if the company is putting out this content, it may be sugar-coated, but it should still help you learn more about your potential role.
Understanding company culture is important because it can help you show the interviewer that you’ll be a good fit, both in the role and in the company as a whole. If they clearly have a work hard / play hard approach, you could emphasise how important a sociable working environment and good work-life balance are to you. And although you should generally stick to a relatively conservative dress code, seeing pictures from the office online can help you decide where to pitch your interview outfit.
LinkedIn in particular might also help you understand the company structure, and give you some information on the key players in the organisation – from the CEO to your interviewer. You don’t want to come across as uncomfortably knowledgeable about the person sitting across the table from you, but it’s helpful to know a bit about the person you’re talking to and their role at the company.
The information you find out about the companies on other websites might not be something you want to bring up in your interview, but it will help you figure out whether you really want to work there.
So head to review sites like Glassdoor to get the inside scoop on the company and hear about the realities of working there from its employees. Remember to read plenty of different reviews; the first one you read might be from a particularly disgruntled (or unusually happy) employee.
External sites can also help you to find out more of the basic information about the company if it wasn’t included in the company website. This includes how well established the company is, an estimate of how many employees it has, and how big a splash it is making in its market.
Keep up to date with recent developments or news stories about the company or industry. Although press releases from the company are useful, you should check to see if there was any wider news coverage – perhaps of a new product or an event they hosted. As well as ensuring you’re well informed for any potential questions the interviewer throws at you, you could choose to ask about a recent news story at the end of your interview.
A word of warning: if what you read about reflected badly on the company or was bad news for them, don’t bring it up. Your interviewer doesn’t want to hire someone who comes across as hostile.
Before congratulating yourself for researching as thoroughly as possible, there’s one last hurdle to cross: investigating their competitors. This doesn’t need to be as thorough as your research into the company you’re interviewing for, but you should have some understanding of the other firms doing similar work. What is this company doing differently?
Not every interviewer will ask you about industry competitors, but it’s always best to be prepared. It’s not a question you can fluff your way through, and you don’t want one slip-up to make you feel wrong-footed for the rest of the interview.
About the Author: Claire Kilroy is a content writer for the UK’s leading graduate recruitment agency, Inspiring Interns. Head to their blog for graduate careers advice, or check out their website if you’re on the hunt for internships or graduate jobs in London and beyond.
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