You polished your resume, wrote a perfect cover letter, and now you've been invited for a job interview - congratulations! But before you start agonizing over the color of your necktie, spend some time researching the company you're ready to team up with. Here are seven must-have pieces of information before you sit down for your interview. (Check out Taking The Lead In The Interview Dance for some tips.)
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Most companies or organizations have a website these days, so that's the place to start your research. What's your first impression of the company when you look at the home page? Is it focused on the employees or achievements? Does it feel formal, casual, hip? Companies all have a personality of sorts - the company website will tell you a lot about what your potential new place of employment will be like.
2. Mission Statement
You should find a mission statement on the website or on advertising material about the company. Just like you have goals or missions in life, so does your potential employer. If you can't find a mission statement or clear company goals, try contacting their marketing department for information.
Marketing people tend to be friendly about sharing information - use this to give yourself a leg-up over the other interviewees. Knowing your potential employer's goals will help you understand how you might fit with the organization.
3. Employee Culture
What does the company website say about its employees? Is the company focused on equal opportunity, advancement or volunteering in the community? Most employer websites will list their employee achievements and benefits proudly; make sure you understand the employee culture before sitting down to interview.
Many employers run a background and credit check on future employees - why shouldn't you do the same? Larger corporations usually have their financial statements or an annual report available online; look for the investor's or corporate information page. The annual report usually includes a letter to shareholders by the president of the company - a great source of information on past and future performance and plans. (To learn more, check out How To Efficiently Read An Annual Report.)
You don't need to be a financial guru to understand an annual report; just look for profit or loss numbers and any statements on future growth. Remember that at a time of economic downturn, the financials may not look glorious. Look at the introduction to get a feel for the company's strategy for the future - optimism with clear goals is what you want to see.
Now that you have a good understanding of the company, its goals, employee culture and financials, look for its competitors. If your potential employer manufactures, say, laptops, try to find out who its strongest competitor is. How does your potential employer set himself apart from the other guys? This niche or angle may seem like just another piece of information, but you can use this to your advantage during your interview. Find ways you can align your skills or personality with this niche, and you will be more memorable to interviewers.
6. Opportunities For Growth
What's your opportunity for growth within the company, should you be hired? Larger corporations will often list their internal promotions possibilities, but you may have to dig a little deeper. Look at classified ads: are there positions listed you could see yourself promoted into? Does there seem to be a high turnover? Does the company offer any training programs, or education reimbursements? If you can't find out in your research, be sure to ask during your interview. Your interest in growing as an employee shows that you're looking to improve, and to stick around - both great qualities as a future employee. (Find out more in Tuition Reimbursement - An Employment Perk.)
7. Web Search
Once you have specific pieces of information, it's time to cast a larger net on the worldwide web. Simply run the company name through a search engine, and see what comes up. Were there any fundraisers held by the company, local volunteering or events? Are there pending lawsuits or employee horror or success stories? Get as much information as you can, though be sure not to take everything you find on the internet as truth. One disgruntled former employee does not mean your future employer will be a bad choice.
The Bottom Line
Does all this research sound like a lot of work for a job you're not even sure you're going to get? Remember that you're not just doing your due diligence; you're also gathering information for your job interview. Ask questions, refer to the president's letter to investors and bring up those new developments you learned about by reading the marketing material. Your due diligence won't just help you understand if you're a good fit for the company - it'll ensure you ace the interview. (For more, see Tips To Beat Tough Interviews.)
Catch up on your financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: Google Gains, Taxpayers Pay.