How to Research a Company Before Your Interview

company research
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Before you head into an interview at a company you are interested in, you must take time and care to do your research.  How can you know, after all, if you will like the company without having adequate information?  At best, you simply can’t make an informed decision about the job, if you are offered it, without doing some basic research.   At worst, you may be making a huge mistake if you don’t learn the in’s and out’s of the company.

Fortunately, there is only upside to doing research before your interview.  What if you are asked (and you likely will) why you want to work for the company?  What will you say?  Being armed with knowledge about the company’s products and services, operations, leadership, and strategy can help you answer that question, and any interview question, more effectively.  You will be able to deliver why you are the best candidate to help move the company forward, and you will have the knowledge you need to speak to your interviewers as an emerging “insider.”

What Should You Learn About the Company?

What The Company Does

Very often, it’s not easy to tell all a company does simply by its name.  If you are applying for a job that does not directly create or deliver the company’s products or services, you may not feel the need to learn what the company does. However, this is a grave mistake.  How can you feel motivated to work somewhere that you have no idea what it does or what purpose it serves?  How can you feel a sense of purpose going to work every day without that knowledge?

You certainly don’t want to find yourself working for a company when you don’t like or agree with what they do.  For this reason you should find out everything the company does — what products it makes or what services it provides.  Find out what types of clients the company serves as well as the geographical areas in which it operates.

Other basics you should find out:

  • How big is the company?
  • How many employees do they have?
  • Where is the company headquartered? Where does it operate?
  • Who are their closest competitors?
  • What major innovations, if any, is the company responsible for?

Having these basics down will help you connect the job to the “bigger picture.”

Why They Do It

While every for-profit company is created to generate revenue, each usually has a “higher purpose” that it seeks to serve.  Find out why the business does what it does.  What challenges is it trying to solve?  What needs do its products and services fulfill? This information can provide you with valuable insight into the values the company holds and what makes people want to work there.  Having this common sense of purpose fosters a sense of teamwork and collaboration, often making the company a vibrant place to work.

Sometimes this information can be found on the company’s website in a mission statement, while other times you may need to connect the dots to understand the company’s purpose.  eWhen you discover the root of the company’s existence, try to incorporate that information into your response when asked why you want to work there. What parts of the company’s mission resonate with you? What does the company do that makes you excited? What attracts you to the company’s sense of purpose?

Company Leadership

A company’s success is based, in part, on having competent and visionary leaders.  Find out who belongs on the company’s management team and what their backgrounds are.  Consider the following questions as you conduct your research:

  • How tenured are these executives and what impact have they made since they took the reins of the company?
  • Has the company been successful under their leadership, or has it taken a turn for the worst?
  • What is their leadership style like?
  • What is their outlook on the company? How do they speak in public about it?
  • Are they actively involved in the industry? What reputation do they have?
  • What type of work environment have they created at the company?

While you may not find the answers to all of these questions easily, you may gain some insights into the type of leadership styles these leaders possess.  Their styles will often permeate the company’s culture and operations, which will have an impact on your overall happiness if you work at the company.  Find leaders who believe in what they do and empower their employees to challenge themselves and grow.

Company Finances

The company’s financial success will, in many cases, directly impact your long-term success at the company.  A thriving company will often be able to support employees’ career growth through training programs, promotions, and interesting work opportunities.  A floundering company, on the other hand, may constantly operate in “crisis mode,” meaning employee development often is put on the back burner.

For most large, public companies, you should be able to access and listen to a publicly available quarterly earnings calls and read an annual report. These calls and reports cover a range of topics including new products, company risks and opportunities, and quarterly revenues.For other private companies, you may not readily find this information on the company’s website and will instead need to look for clues in their press releases, industry reports, or other sites through a Google search.  If you’re interviewing with a startup, you may find information such as funding, press coverage, and acquisitions on Crunchbase.

Once you have this information, you will need to draw your own conclusions. While you can’t predict the future, you should be able to use these facts to speak thoughtfully about where the company is headed.  If the company is going through some tough times, and you are risk averse, this may be a clue that this may not be the right opportunity for you. On the other hand, if the company is doing well financially or on a growth path, this could potentially be a place you can stay (and succeed) for a while!

Reputation of Company

Just as your reputation is critical to your job search, a company’s reputation is so important as it attracts new clients.  Find out what the company’s customers are saying about its products and services.  Learn how the industry views the company — is it considered a market leader, an emerging player, or a company on the decline?

You should care about the company’s reputation because it will ultimately reflect upon you when you work there.  If you work for a well-known company with a great reputation, it can open doors for you professionally in the future. On the other hand, if you work for a floundering or unethical company, you may be stigmatized.

Current Events

Being aware of what is happening at a company can be beneficial for obvious reasons. Browse through the company’s social media pages to get a sense of the culture of the company. Search Google for news articles on the company’s recent accomplishments, press releases, or challenges.  Did the company recently unveil a new product or service?  Did it gain a major client or acquire another company?

The news you find on the company can be useful for making “small talk” or breaking the ice in your interview.  While you don’t need to recite every fact or figure you read about, you can certainly ask your interviewer for their thoughts on the news.  This will open up an opportunity for meaningful discussion where you can  learn even more about the company and its people.

Final Thoughts

In an upcoming article, we will look into where you can find out more information about a company.  For starters, though, you should always look at the company’s website because it is often a solid source of information.  After you have studied the company’s website, conduct a Google search to find press releases, articles, and even testimonials that pertain to the company.  Spending just a half hour and taking notes on your pre-interview research can help you make a sound decision about whether this is a place you really want to work… and if it is, you will be armed with good information to use in your interview conversations.

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