A successful interview depends on how well you prepare for it, including how and what you research. A cursory review of topline information about a company may help kick-off a conversation, but not sustain it. Gaining in-depth knowledge not only conveys your level of interest in the position, it also influences what conversations you’ll have with interviewers.
When you research a company in-depth – whether for a potential job, board role or even business opportunity – you take a comprehensive look at the organization and what’s happening there from multiple perspectives. Deep-dive company research involves:
Draw from a variety of sources, including:
Read a company’s website in full and pay close attention to recent news and announcements. Older news may still hold relevance too, so don’t overlook posts from 6+ months ago, for example. Aim to gain a solid understanding of the organization’s products and services. No interviewer wants to meet a candidate who doesn’t have a good picture of the company’s offerings. By extension, review the company’s history to get a sense of how they got to where they are today.
Reach out to current or former employees, strategic partners, vendors, customers and clients – essentially, anyone whom you trust and can speak with confidentially – that has a connection or can give reliable insight into the job, company, leadership, hiring manager, department, competitors, industry etc. Sometimes this requires thinking outside of the box. Perhaps a family member or friend can put you in touch with someone directly connected to the company. Gaining an “inside scoop” provides a unique and invaluable perspective that’s likely unavailable elsewhere.
You can glean helpful information by reviewing profiles of current and past employees of the prospective employer, especially the management team and leaders/members of the functional area or department that you’re targeting. Any commonalities you uncover, like alma mater, industry association membership or volunteer experience, can give you a leg up in conversation.
Many firms publish a newsletter or blog featuring content about company and industry-relevant insights, as well as information about their leadership, clients, events, staff, services etc. Subscribe to receive new issues and read through recent publications to enhance your knowledge of the company’s perspective.
No one wants to start a new job only to find out that the company has financial problems that derail promised budgets, product launches, staff expansion and job security. While much harder and sometimes impossible to assess for private companies (particularly small ones), you should endeavor to evaluate the overall financial health of a company.
Review any available information from sources like Bloomberg, D&B Hoovers, The Wall Street Journal and other business-oriented media. If published, check out the company’s Annual Report, including the Management Discussion & Analysis section, which covers key events from the past year that influenced earnings and the overall direction of the firm. For public companies and financial firms, the SEC (EDGAR database) and self-regulatory organizations (e.g., FINRA) are reliable information sources too.
Look at all of a company's social media presence: LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube. Do they target different audiences and, if so, who? What type of content do they share and is the messaging consistent? Look at engagement across accounts to see who interacts with what content.
Industry-specific and professional associations can provide another perspective about an organization and its people. On Google, look beyond the first several pages of results to uncover other highly relevant and helpful information referring to a company. Also explore “Searches related to [query phrase],” located at the bottom of the search results (available in desktop view), for search query variants that may yield different results.
While diving into details about the company is critical, so is taking an in-depth look at the industry, market climate and competitors. Make sure you’re aware of current industry trends, especially those covered by the media, industry and professional associations, social media etc., and how they may affect the company. If a direct competitor has just made headlines – due to a merger, IPO or game-changing product release, for instance – that also can impact your prospective employer’s bottom line and may be top of mind when the interviewer meets with you.
Developing a robust and nuanced understanding of a potential job and the company behind it takes time. This isn’t a project to undertake the night before a breakfast meeting or while traveling to an interview. (One executive recruiter recommends candidates spend at least two hours researching and preparing for each new company they’re meeting with.) If you try to wing it and fake your way through a discussion, the interviewer will soon take notice. When hiring mangers suspect you’re unprepared, this poor impression may lead them to question if you’re really interested in the job, which ultimately can take you out of the running for it.
When you go into an interview armed with in-depth research, it’s a positive reflection of your personal brand and gives you a competitive advantage over other candidates. Demonstrating that you’ve really done your homework conveys to the interviewer a serious level of interest in the job opportunity and enhances the quality of your conversations. This leads to more thoughtful questions – and answers – to make the interview a more useful process on both sides.