Doing homework to learn about the company is absolutely essential before the first interview. It will be invaluable during subsequent interactions with anyone involved in the interview process as both parties dig deeper. Homework should be a candidate’s first priority. Googling the company and reviewing their website are easy and obvious starting information sources. However, remember that a company’s website is only a two-dimensional view. Information presented on the website is carefully selected by the company and shows only what the company wants a viewer to see. The third dimension, what is really going on behind the scenes, is never present. Always find independent sources to gain the third-dimension perspective.
There are two company-created sources that are often overlooked that can help in the information discovery process. The first source is the company’s press releases. They are often available on the company’s website but often do not appear in a timely manner. Surprisingly, many employees, including senior-level managers, do not read their own company’s press releases. This is especially true for large multi-divisional companies in which managers are focused on their division only.
The second source, applicable to public companies, is the company’s annual report. Other than a small number of senior managers, employees seldom read them. Although annual reports are full of historical performance numbers, their real value to a job candidate comes from the CEO’s cover letter and, believe it or not, captions to the pictures in the report! Focus on the company’s vision, trends, and initiatives often summarized in these unlikely places. Subtly weave comments or observations about these issues into the conversation during interviews. Don’t be surprised if you know more about these issues than the person interviewing you. Your preparation will come through loud and clear.
Many companies will include quotes and testimonials from customers and business partners on their websites and in their press releases. If the name of an individual is included, call that person. This approach may seem unorthodox, but it is remarkable how many times you will receive a positive response from the quoted person along with some additional background information. Casually mentioning your conversation during an interview will, most likely, take the interviewer by surprise and show how thoroughly you have done your homework! Taking time to understand who the company’s competition is, the company’s market position, and how the company competes allow in-depth conversations during the interviews.
Finally, an arduous task that can pay especially large dividends when interviewing with a high-tech company is to develop a basic familiarity with a company’s patents. These reviews are not for the faint-at-heart but, once again, will show a deep commitment on your part.
As you interview individuals from different parts of the organization, ask specific questions that the interviewer can answer! This sounds obvious, but asking someone in H/R about development methodologies is just as inappropriate as asking a development manager about the company’s sales funnel or sales approach. Submit the right “homework” to the right people at the right time.