Once upon a time, the key to getting a job was nailing the job interview. Well, okay, perhaps that still is the key. What has changed, however, is what is expected of you during that job interview. Professional appearance, a ready smile, steady demeanor and clear communication skills are still important, so important, in fact, that almost everyone with whom you’d be competing for the position possesses those attributes (and often in abundance). As a result, it’s no longer prudent to rely solely on your “job interview skills” to advance your career.
If you truly want to distinguish your personal brand (because that’s what it really is), you’ll want to demonstrate that you have enthusiasm for both the field and the organization with whom you’re interviewing, and that you have unique value to offer the organization. Value that will make you a more profitable choice to hire than your competition. How best to do that? By impressing the interviewer with how much you know about the company and the industry, you’ll be able to state a better case that you have the background, experience and training necessary to meet the needs (both present and ongoing) of the business. Even more important, that you are the solution to whatever challenges or problems the organization is facing.
So, where do you start? Fortunately, there are multiple resources available that will help you with the “homework” assignment you should complete before you attend any job interview. Although this list certainly isn’t an exhaustive one, utilizing some of the following tools will help adequately prepare you.
- Company Website. While this resource may seem fairly obvious, not everyone utilizes it fully. You can learn a great deal not only about the firm itself from the “Home”, “Mission Statement/Philosophy”, and “About Us” pages, but much can be gleaned from other pages such as “Employee Resources”, “Activity Calendar” and the like. If they are an international company, check out their overseas operations. The “Contact Us” page may also give you some indication of “who’s who”.
- Industry/Association Websites. For more of a “view from 30,000 feet”, these pages can give you an information about what the industry is doing and what changes are anticipated. Having this info will be enable you to present your abilities in context and be more effective at showing that your skills are commensurate with both the company’s current and future needs. Examples include www.hoovers.com and www.bizjournals.com.
- Google the company. Check for press releases. Is there an issue that you are ideally suited to help resolve? Are they in trouble? You’d want to know, wouldn’t you? Remember, a job interview is not a one-way street: You are also interviewing the job, so to speak.
- Google the interviewer. Find out anything and everything you can about the individual. There may be information that shows the two of you have something in common, a great thing to refer to “in passing” during your meeting.
- Public Library Card. Yes, you read correctly. Many online resources are not available for free; however, you may be able to access them (e.g., Info Trac) via your membership number. Your local library can provide details and the reference desk is also a great source for guidance and information.
- Industry Directories. While you may need to join an industry association, it may be worthwhile. A great place to start is the American Society of Association Executives’ Gateway to Associations Directory.
- Your Network. Use your LinkedIn account to its fullest. Who do you know that is employed at the company or used to be employed by them? Who do you know who knows someone who is employed at the company? Maybe that person would be willing to sit down over a cup of coffee or spend ten minutes on the phone with you. The “inside scoop” from employees or former employees can be invaluable.
Once you’ve done your research, develop a list of specific questions for the interviewer regarding the employer itself, the direction/strategic plan of the organization and, most importantly, what your specific role is anticipated to be going forward. Prepare to speak about how the unique skills you bring to the table will add value to the company and will help them meet their goals and solve challenges they are facing. While getting a job may still be, at least in part, about who you know, rest assured it will also be about what you know. After all, is it really possible to know too much about an organization?