Knowing how to research a company to prepare for a job interview is a no-brainer, right?
It may shock you to know that not all candidates take the time to research the companies they hope to work for. What’s not shocking is that failing to do so can cost even a great candidate a job offer.
Thankfully, learning how to research a company doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. Particularly if you know exactly where to look for the most vital information.
Table of Contents
- Why is researching a company a good idea?
- What should you learn about the company BEFORE the interview?
- What should you learn about the company AFTER the interview?
- What should you learn about a company BEFORE you take the job?
Why is researching a company a good idea?
You’re feeling great about the interview. You meet all of the qualifications. You were born for this job.
That’s enough, right?
If you’ve been invited for an interview, the hiring manager already knows you’re a good fit on paper. What managers want to know during the interview is what kind of a person you are—whether you’ll be a good cultural fit, a potential long-term employee, and if your values align with the organization’s.
In order to hit all of those marks, you can’t simply walk into an interview without doing your due diligence.
Unless, of course, you don’t want the job.
Taking time to investigate the company before the interview enables you to gather the information necessary to have an informed conversation with the hiring manager. And this can really set you apart from other candidates.
In fact, just this year Glassdoor conducted a survey of 750 people in hiring positions. The results were clear:
Hiring managers want candidates who are informed.
In fact, almost 90% of those surveyed indicated that an informed candidate was the ideal candidate. This goes beyond knowing about your own experience. Managers want someone who knows about the company, its values, and its culture.
It’s easy to spot the job seekers who do their homework.
To hiring managers, it’s obvious which applicants are in it to win it and those who just want a job, not a career. The candidates who are serious about a position come with thoughtfully prepared interview questions that show they know something about the company or the industry.
Guess which ones will likely get called back for second interviews?
Effectively researching a company also gives you the opportunity to scope out the people who work there and any non-industry related news about the company, such as philanthropic or charitable projects or partnerships.
Knowing this extra information can really give you an edge because it allows you to leverage the information in your favor or steer the interview discussion during the Q&A portion.
Researching in advance doesn’t only apply to jobs at large companies and in lucrative professions. Employers in non-profit sectors like education and social and community services want informed candidates as well.
Heather Barron has been a public library director for nearly a decade and says, “I expect candidates to know the basic services and materials we offer here.” She finds it a turnoff when candidates are unfamiliar with the library and the role they play in communities, adding, “It shows a lack of initiative.”
What should you learn about the company before the interview?
There are hundreds of things to know about companies and about as many ways to learn them. But there are some key things we believe you should know before the interview to give you a better understanding of the organization and, more importantly, prepare you for the interview itself so you can stand out.
- Know the basics.
As obvious as it sounds, know what the company does, who their customers are, what services they provide, and where their headquarters and any satellite offices are located.
The best place to find this information is right on the company’s website. What products do they sell? Are there various lines of the products? What’s their best-performing product, i.e. their “bread and butter”? Where is it sold? Where is it manufactured?
If it’s a service-based company, what is the full line of services offered? Who is the target audience or primary user of the service?
Is the company purely based in the US or is it global?
Many companies have pages on their website like “Who we are” and “What we do.” Those are excellent places to start. Also check out links like “Our locations” for clues.
Oh, and know how to pronounce the company name properly. Don’t be the person who walks into an interview for the fashion brand Hermes and pronounces it “Her-MEES.” (It’s “AIR-mez.”)
Once you have a sound impression of key company information, it’s time to dig a little deeper.
- Learn about the company’s mission, culture, and values.
Many organizations have a whole page dedicated to one or all three of these things on their website.
Look for these terms on the “About Us” page if you can’t find dedicated statements. Also check the company’s page for job seekers. The “Careers” page of any employer is a great place to find a description of the type of candidate they’re looking for and often gives insight into the culture.
Culture is abstract, and of course it’s difficult to ascertain a true picture without living in it yourself. But reading between the lines of the company website can provide great understanding about what kinds of people work there.
Once you’ve combed the company’s website, check out their social media accounts. Depending on the industry and size of the company, they may have accounts on all social media networks or just one or two like LinkedIn or Facebook. What do they post? What is the tone? What seems to be important to them?
- Know about the industry and where the company fits in.
It doesn’t matter if you’re interviewing at google or a non-profit startup scraping by using pens collected from hotels and bank drive-throughs. You should have a baseline understanding of the latest news happening in the industry and how it affects the organization.
This is good intel for piecing together the long-term career outlook and morale within the industry, but even better, it gives you something meaningful to discuss or ask about when the inevitable “So…what questions do you have?” comes up at the end of the interview.
Who stands out more?
- Candidate A who only asks the standard generic questions like, “What are the next steps in the interview process?” or “Why do you like working here?”
- Candidate B who asks something like, “I saw that the recent legislative proposal to increase the medical device tax didn’t pass. I’m assuming that really helps companies like this boost product development. Can you tell me your thoughts on how that impacts the company?”
Knowing about the job? Meh, ok.
Knowing about the company? Great!
Knowing about the job, the company, and where it fits into the economy and industry trends? Ding-ding-ding!
If you go above and beyond in researching the company in a dynamic and thorough way, chances are you’ll do the same as an employee.
- Get a feel for the company’s ethical and financial health.
It’s a good idea to check up front whether the organization seems to be in good shape.
Larger companies will often have a section on their website for press (and financials if they’re publicly traded). Start there. Then put on your super-sleuth hat and Google the company to see what their online image looks like.
Is the CEO being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission? You may want to think about politely declining the interview and looking for another opportunity. Was the company just fined for a major ethical misstep? It may be best to move along, friend. Is the industry itself taking a big hit? Think twice.
You may be surprised to learn that companies will continue to hire during times of duress if it means keeping the doors open because current employees are jumping ship. Avoid situations like this by being informed.
What should you learn about the company after the interview?
Once you’ve survived the hours (or days) of interviews, you work isn’t done yet. Use what you’ve learned to do some more research and fill in the complete picture to help decide if this is truly the best fit for you.
- Get a better understanding about the employees.
It’s likely that you got to meet a few people while you interviewed. If so, do a little snooping of their professional profiles if they have one. You can find out on LinkedIn whether they’re new employees or if they’ve been with the company or in the industry for a long time. What kinds of additional experience do they have? What does their career trajectory look like?
- Dig into the work environment.
Go back to the company’s social media accounts and see who’s commenting and what they’re saying in the comments.
Do a quick review online for insights about work culture and comments about what it’s like working there.
- Look for connections in your network
Now that you probably have the names of a few people, or at the very least the person who interviewed you, it doesn’t hurt to check websites such as LinkedIn to see if you share any connections.
You can also search for accounts linked to the company or the job title within the industry to see how long people generally stay at the company or in the job you’ve applied for.
What should you learn about a company before you take the job?
You may think that once you’ve received a job offer, you can sit back and relax. Not yet. The hard part may be over, but there are still a few more things you need to research before you take the job.
- Look at pay and benefits for the company, industry, and the specific job.
Comb through different online sites to research what others are making at the company to determine whether the offer is in line with industry standards and for the living expenses in your area. This information can help you when it’s time to negotiate your salary.
Likewise, you can review the benefits information ahead of time, which also provides negotiating power or peace of mind if the salary offer is below industry standards, but the paid time off is stellar, or vice versa.
- Find out what employees are saying about the company.
Again, review any comments on social media about the company. What are employees past and present saying about the company? What are the pros and cons they list?
Your network can really come into play here as well. Now that you have a job offer, don’t be afraid to ask anyone you know who currently works for the company or previous employees what the pros and cons are. The more you know up front, the better off you’ll most likley be negotiating a salary you can be comfortable with based on the benefits and working conditions.
- The devil is in the details. Get them up front.
For example, if you care for an ailing grandmother in the evenings but the job requires that you be on call several nights per week, that presents a conflict. While it may or may not be a deal breaker, addressing issues up front can save both you and the employer a lot of time and hassle.
Remember, it’s the culmination of all the little things that significantly contribute to the experience you’ll have as an employee. It’s not silly to ask about lunch breaks, if there’s an on-site cafeteria, or where employees should (or shouldn’t) park.
It’s also a good idea to know whether you’ll have a mentor or someone you’ll be working closely with during the first 30 days, what the training plan is for a new hire, and what the expectation is for the onboarding period (i.e., when they believe you should be up to speed at the job).
All of this information is available if you simply ask the hiring manager. Don’t be afraid to ask about the small details. Companies expect applicants to have questions and even negotiate. In fact, hiring managers may even be concerned when applicants accept an offer full-stop with no questions.
If an employer balks at your curiosity about what it’s like to work there day-to-day, that should be a red flag.
The road to interviewing for a great job, getting the job, and navigating the offer can be exciting but harrowing. Knowing how to research a company before the interview and before you take the job is vital.
Simply put, informed candidates are a step ahead. Time to get to work and do your research.