by Ellyn Enisman
Editor's note: This article is an excerpt from Enisman's book, Job Interview Skills 101: The Course You Forgot to Take, Hudson House.
The more you know about each company, the job description, the company's services and projects, its history, latest news, accomplishments, its mission, vision, and values, the better you will be able to sell yourself as someone who is qualified for the job and can make a contribution to the company.
Do it NOW.
Arm Yourself With Information
Gather as much information as you can about the position and the company, from as many sources as you can. Here are some resources you can use when you have an interview scheduled:
Network. It may be a cliche by now, but it works nonetheless. Often the best way to get information is to find people who have first-hand knowledge of the company. That could mean they work there now, or have worked there in the past. It could also mean they have other associations with the company such as having done consulting work for the company or having sold products to the company. Maybe they've run charity events in partnership with this company. Anyone who's had any association with this company might turn out to be a valuable resource.
A great source is LinkedIn. Search on the company name and you will find people who work there or have worked there. You can email them (I suggest former employees) and ask for their advice and insight. However, if they don't respond, move on. If they do respond, ask them about the culture, tell them you are very interested in the company and will be interviewing. People are always willing to help when you ask for advice. In addition, look at their profiles. You may find someone who is in the same position you are interviewing for in another location or someone who had your position and has been promoted. You may also find someone who worked at the company previously. Check Facebook for a company page. See if anyone is tweeting about the company.
A word of caution: You must tread lightly here. You don't want to be viewed as a stalker, hounding people who work at the company where you are interviewing. Keep your professionalism and respect your boundaries. You are still a prospective candidate.
Speak to your parents, your friends, your parent's friends, alumni, anyone you meet who might have knowledge about this company. Listen to their insights and advice.
But here's a caveat: don't believe everything you hear. You do want to know about each individual's experience with that company. Remember, though, that everyone will have his or her unique take on the situation.
Surf the Net. In many ways, the Internet can be a job-seeker's best friend. There is an incredible amount of information available at the click of a mouse. Just about every company has a web presence today, and there are several ways you can tap into them:
Go to the company site. This is the first, and most obvious stop on your Internet tour. Read over every inch of the Website. Click on every available option. Some sites will include more information than others, but every one will give you the inside scoop on some important aspects you should know about. Most companies have an "About Us" section. This section will often tell you about the company's history. In many cases, it will also introduce you to the company management, including bios and photographs.
After "About Us," go to the "News" or "Press" section of the site that contains articles and public relations releases about the company. There may be information there you need to know; for instance, if the advertising agency you're considering has recently acquired a smaller firm, you don't want to be surprised when the interviewer mentions this as an important aspect of the company's growth mission.
Check out the job description section if there is one. Remember, though, that a job description is generally a wish list. An employer sits down and says, "If I found the ideal employee, he or she would have these five qualities...". They don't really expect that every candidate will fill all five requirements to the same extent. When I am recruiting, I always have a wish list but know what I have to have and what I can live without. Don't be concerned if you don't match all five perfectly. Instead, use them as the basis for more questions. You might say, "According to your job description, you are looking for these five characteristics. Can you tell me how each of those attributes contributes to the job?" You must then let the employer know how your talents and skills fit those attributes, and how you can adapt your skills to compensate for a shortcoming in the one area for which you are not a perfect match. Draw from your seven stories to Create a Memory. [Editor's note: For an explanation of this "Create a Memory" approach, see this blog post.]
Check The Careers Section. Often, a company will have profiles of staff in different positions. You can learn a lot about the type of person they hire from this section.
Log onto Wetfeet.com, which is a great site not only for company profiles, but also contains an informative section called "Careers and Industries," which lists the types of jobs (e.g., accounting) in industries and tells you about people who actually have this kind of job, what their backgrounds are, and what they do on a day-to-day basis.
Google, Google, Google. After you've checked out the company site, see what data you can obtain from other sources. Use Google, or any other search engine, to search for any tid- bits that might add to your information arsenal. You can search by:
Company name: This will give you a broader scope of news items than you will find on the company's own site, especially if there are any negatives about the company that have been in the news lately. Naturally, these probably won't show up on the company's own website. You might also find positive information that hasn't yet been posted on the company's site. Either way, you should always know the latest.
Executive's name: Search for the name of the person who's going to interview you.
Articles: Your Google search may turn up articles that are not solely about the company or particular executive, but in which either or both may have been mentioned or quoted. You can also search at www.findarticles.com, a site that archives thousands of newspaper and magazine articles.
Use the social networking sites. Go to websites like LinkedIn, to see some profiles of people who work for the company. Facebook is another good site. You may find some recent grads or alumni who now work there who you can contact.
Go to Stumbleupon.com and search for the company name, and read what might be pertinent.
Visit Twitter. People from the company may be tweeting, including the person who might be interviewing you.
The above Websites may be sources of valuable information for you to prepare for the question, "Do you have any questions for me?"
Here's something extra: when you Google, click on "show options." Look on the left-hand side of your screen and you will see a list that says videos, blogs, forums, etc. Click on blogs and you will see blogs where the company is mentioned.
Go straight to the company. Don't forget that the company itself can be a great source of information. If they are a public company call the company's main number and ask to have their annual report sent to you. You may be able to find it on the Internet as well.
Read. What books, articles, etc. have been written about the industry in which you are interviewing? What industry specific magazines and publications have you read lately? When I interviewed new grads, I always asked them what books they were reading.
If you are interviewing with General Electric, you should know that Jack Welch, the former CEO, has written books and is frequently interviewed. You should know that Jeff Im-melt, his successor, is also frequently in the news. Find their work, read enough to know their philosophies and current thoughts, etc., before your interview.
Scout it out. Go to the place of your interview before the day of your interview and get the lay of the land. Find the street, building, etc. If it is a building with several floors, go in and check out the lobby. Knowing where you're going and arriving there before the interview, will help to calm your anxiety. In addition, as mentioned earlier, it is never okay to be late.
Arrive at your interview early, but no more than 15 minutes early. If you are more than 15 minutes early, wait in your car or walk around the block. When you enter, greet the receptionist, if there is one. Then sit in the waiting area and observe. Many people will be sitting in the waiting area as you are -- people such as sales representatives, business executives, other candidates, etc. You can observe how people in the company interact with others. You will get a feel for the company culture, atmosphere, and the type of people who work there. You will get a vibe if the place is friendly, stiff, conservative, etc. Being there early allows you to get settled and will help reduce your anxiety.
Know How To Sell Yourself
A word about selling yourself. To sell yourself you must know what your "features" are and the "benefit" of your features. One of your features might be that you have excellent critical thinking skills. But how does this benefit the company? Critical thinking is a necessary skill for problem solving. So depending on the position you are interviewing for, the benefit might be that you have a strong ability to solve problems. Solving problems will help the company grow and generate increased profits. However, saying that you are a problem solver is not enough. You need to have an example/story of the benefit your problem-solving ability resulted in. It might sound like this: "I have very strong critical-thinking skills (feature), which helped me become an excellent problem solver. As an example, in my internship with XYZ Company, we had X problem, and (example of critical thinking) as a result we were able to achieve Y..." So you have your feature, your benefit, and the story that illustrates this along with result.
You need to understand how your education, project work, internships, jobs, and life experiences have shaped who you are as a person and as a candidate for this position. Understanding these experiences will provide the information you need to formulate your personalized answers to questions based on your experiences and who you are.
Employers want to know the real you. They will remember your stories, in which there will be evidence of the traits and skills they are looking for. The assessment will provide you with the knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses. It will also help you define your project experiences, internship experiences, jobs, etc and help uncover your skills, knowledge, and abilities.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Grab a friend or two or a group and practice your answers.
Give them a list of questions and have them interview you. Use the questions you fear most and master them. Do the same for them and critique each other. If your career services office offers mock interview sessions, go there and practice repeatedly until you feel comfortable. Show them the job description and ask them to question you according to the skills needed. The more you practice, the more your anxiety will decrease.
Have a friend or an adult family member interview you on the phone and record it. You will hear how you sound, and listening to your responses to questions will help you refine them. Also do this with a web cam if available. You can also use a flip camera or a video camera. Remember you can secure a conference line at www.freeconference.com and practice the interview and record it. You will need a paying membership to record but it is very inexpensive.
WARNING AGAIN: If you have a Facebook, MySpace, or other public profile, you must remove any unprofessional pictures and information that you do not want a potential employer to see. Employers will do their research on you. They look at Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
Yes, you have a legal right to post unprofessional photos or content online. And guess what? Potential employers have the right to look at your content and decide that they don't want to hire you. Are your spring break photos really worth a career?
Your profiles on social sites are now part of your resume. Use these sites to your advantage by showing and talking about your accomplishments.
Surf the other networking sites to find information about others interviewing and job search experiences. You may find people who have interesting information and/or interviewed with the company you are about to interview with.
Have all Your Facts Correct
When you arrive at your interview, you will probably be asked to fill out a paper or online application. Make sure you have your correct dates of employment, and that they match with those on your resume. Make sure your GPA is correct, and that you have the exact title of your degree. When a company decides to make you an offer, someone will usually check references or will make you an offer pending reference checks. I have seen companies rescind offers due to misinformation.
Background checks have become more common place as well as credit checks. When you fill out the application, read the paragraph or fine print, associated with the signature line. It will usually indicate that you are giving permission to check references and that may include, even though not written, credit and other personal information.
You Are Interviewing the Company
Don't forget to find out if this is a company that you want to work for. Prepare the questions you want to ask before the interview. Write them down on the second page of the pad that is inside the portfolio that you are bringing. Use your company research, the job description, and your criteria to craft these questions. (see questions to ask the employer)
Know What You Are Looking For
- You have had your education, your internships, and life experiences. Now you want to get hands-on experience in the areer you have o en and build a knowledge and skill base in that career.
- How will this job opportunity provide it?
- How far do you want to travel?
- How much can you afford for commuting expenses?
- What is the company culture?
- What are the people like?
- What advancement opportunities are there?
- How long have employees in your department been with the company? If you are interviewing with an established company and many people have been in their positions for less than two years... beware, unless of course they've been promoted.
- Is employee development important to you, and how does the company feel about it?
Final Thoughts on Job Interview Prep
You must know what is important to you before you go in for the interview to craft some questions. Your research will help you.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Ellyn Enisman is the author of Job Interview Skills 101: The Course You Forgot to Take, a book written just for college students and new grads. For more information go to her Website College to Career Coaching or contact Ellyn by email.