how to research the company you’re interviewing with

On a recent post, one commenter wrote:

When I first started job searching, I tried to research the companies a lot. That was a waste of time. No hiring manager I ever talked to quizzed me about my company knowledge. They wanted to talk about the specifics of the job.

And honestly, when you think about how many people are interviewing for one position and how many jobs each of those people are interviewing for, that’s a lot of wasted hour memorizing facts about companies they are probably not going to work at.

It’s absolutely true that interviewers are unlikely to quiz you on your knowledge of a company. Some interviewers will say something like, “Tell me what you know about us so far,” but with that question they’re generally just looking to ensure that you know the basics.

So, no, you don’t need to memorize facts about a company — but that’s not what researching a company is about. It’s not about memorizing the names of their board members or their sales numbers last year, or knowing every location they have an office in, or the precise year they were founded. If you spend time on that kind of thing, you’re going to waste your time — and if you try to bring it up, it’s likely to come across as stilted and forced anyway.

If that’s the kind of research you’re doing, you’re doing it wrong.

What you want to know when you research a company is stuff like this:
– how they see themselves — what do they think differentiates them from other companies in the field? What do they say makes them different from their competition?
– what they’re most known for
– any recent news they’ve made and why
– their biggest current initiatives/projects/products/clients
– anything you can find about the company’s culture and values
– roughly what size they are — not to regurgitate back to them in your interview, but to give you a general sense of their context
– who their key players are, so that you recognize names and know what sorts of backgrounds they bring

And here’s the key: This isn’t research for you to then regurgitate in the interview to show you prepared. It’s mainly for your own background information, to inform your understanding of what they’re all about — which will help you have a more intelligent conversation with your interviewers because you’ll better understand their context.

It’s not about rote memorization or proving anything. It’s more like the type of research you’d do if you were an independent consultant about to meet with a prospective new client so that you weren’t starting from scratch in your conversations with them.

{ 119 comments… read them below }

  1. voyager1

    What AAM said. I would add if in banking see if you can find any rumors if they might be merging with another bank.

    1. and care for no one but the offspring of your might

      I, too, liked AAM’s Alison’s outline. One thing I’ve noticed – both now and in the past – is that this information is also the basic information you’d want to know about a ‘prototypical’ law firm.

      (There’s an infinite amount of information you could learn about any given company – but I’ve known people who’ve interviewed with law firms, and the list Alison gives is pretty much spot-on exactly the stuff the law firm candidates needed to know).

  2. YandO

    I just had an interview where they literally quizzed me on their company in two different interviews.

    Good thing I am more than a bit OCD about researching potential employers.

    It happens. And you really don’t want to lose out on an opportunity cause you did not read their website.

    1. Anonymous Educator

      You’re interviewing for the company—true. But they’re also interviewing for you, if they end up wanting to hire you. If a company starting quizzing me on the company, I’d take that as a good sign that’s a company I don’t want to work at.

      1. Sherm

        Just one data point here, but the time I was grilled about what I knew was my worst interview ever — not because of how I did, but my impression of the people. I left the place extremely annoyed, for reasons other than the grilling.

      2. Graciosa

        That’s your prerogative of course, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the company to find out whether or not you were interested enough to at least take a look at the web site and get a basic sense of the company.

        We do ask some variation of “What do you know about [our company]?” in many, although not all, of our interviews. Good answers show some understanding of what major industries we’re in (with a preference for knowing what industry our particular division – named in the job description – is in) and a little more – a major news story, key product release, just *something* that shows enough interest to check out our web site.

        I’m not going to quiz a candidate along the lines of “What did X division report as its Op Income for the third quarter?” but I do expect some evidence that the job mattered enough for you to spend a few minutes thinking about it and getting some basic information.

        Answers like “It’s a really good company” or “You’re really big” or “You’ve got a great reputation” with nothing more than that are definite fails on this question. You can tell when someone didn’t do their homework.

        1. Anonymous Educator

          No, I’m all for making sure candidates know about the company, but grilling candidates with trivia questions—no.

    2. Not telling

      So they quizzed you. Did you get an offer? Did the quizzing make you want to accept the offer?

      I think AAM’s point is that your trivia skills usually aren’t the clincher in hiring decisions. There are always exceptions to everything, for example if you are interviewing for the job of company historian, or if you are a statistician. Otherwise, they are often only looking for a way to break the ice and to gauge your level of interest in the company.

      And you can express your interest by rattling off every stat known to man, but you could also save yourself some time by asking questions in the interview. The latter has the advantage of letting the interviewer talk about their company. And if they are a good company, the managers oftentimes like talking about themselves, so you have not only expressed your interest but flattered your interviewer at the same time.

  3. Oryx

    I had to give a presentation for an academic position and researching the company gave me an opportunity to include some of the things related to the mission and culture into the presentation. I didn’t get the job, but one of the interviewers did remark in a positive manner that it was clear I had done my homework.

  4. BRR

    It can also be used to show why you want the job and why you’re the best candidate. For the university I work at they asked me what interested me about the position? Part of my answer was that I find fundraising very rewarding and I love how the university is doing a, b, and c and would like to help them continue and achieve those initiatives. My husband is applying for some private school teaching positions right now. He’s mentioned in his cover letters how he can teach to show the subject in a broader context and connect it to how the school is focusing right now on blah blah blah.

    The research wasn’t done to show off but as Alison said, to learn about the company/organization. But as an added bonus once you know what they’re about you can see how you would fit in.

    1. Anonymous Educator

      Particularly for private school teaching, schools vary widely in terms of cultures and values and, more importantly for an interview, private schools tend to perceive themselves to be different from other schools, so if you can show you understand how the school is trying to differentiate itself, that’s definitely a good way to set yourself apart.

      In a way, it’s part of the whole hiring dance where many candidates have to pretend they are looking for a job only because they want that particular job at that particular company and not just a job or a better job. Private schools want to know you want to teach at their school and not just that you want to teach.

      1. BRR

        This is great to know as he applies. I will add he has put something similar in all three cover letters as they are all “uniquely” focusing on the same things.

        1. Anonymous Educator

          If you have any other general “applying to private school” questions you think might help with your husband’s search, let me know. I’ve worked (and been involved in hiring) at several independent schools (in both admin and teaching) and have also worked at a placement firm for independent schools.

          1. BRR

            This is really off topic so please feel free to delete this Alison but there doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming number of comments. I think my main question is how to address extra curriculars. They all seem to want to know what other things you can do outside the classroom but they have such a wide variety it seems hard to address what he can specifically do. He’s researched (there we go I tied it in) what the school has to offer but it seems hard to address how he can coach this, monitor that, serve as dorm head.

            1. Anonymous Educator

              I think the best way to address extracurriculars is to put the experience you have on your résumé but also to ask what opportunities there are to use your extracurricular expertise.

              The latter helps to clarify things for both the candidate and the hiring school. For example, “How often do students or faculty add new clubs? I have a ton of experience with knitting and crocheting. Any possibilities of some kind of craft club I could lead?” or “I noticed you have a lacrosse team. I’d love to help with coaching there, as I played varsity lacrosse in college.”

              Most of the time, the hiring manager won’t immediately jump on what you’re offering (i.e, “Thanks for offering—we’ll definitely start up a knitting club when you get here!”), but it’s very helpful information when they’re figuring out the top two or three candidates. Sometimes, particularly at a private school, it isn’t necessarily about who is the best teacher but who is the best overall addition to the school. The school may opt to hire a good teacher who fills some extracurricular or administrative niche it needs filled instead of an amazing teacher who can fill only the classroom needs.

              1. BRR

                Thanks for your help! He’s already applied to two and it working on the third so let’s hope that he can get an interview since he did his research.

            2. Anonymous Educator

              P.S. I don’t know if your husband is already working with a placement firm, but placement firms are a big part of the hiring scene in private schools, and there are a lot of positions that do not get advertised through traditional means.

              1. BRR

                He is not. The ones he has applied to are local (we happen to live in an area with a fair number of well ranked private and boarding schools). It’s part of his overall job hunt since I have a job in the area that I love.

              2. I teach

                Do you have recommendations for any placement firms? The one I have read about has terrible reviews.

                1. Anonymous Educator

                  I’d actually recommend any of them (Carney Sandoe, CalWest, ATOMS, Southern Teachers, etc.). They all operate in pretty much the same way (I used to work at one that got terrible reviews, by the way), and you’ll notice almost all the terrible reviews are from rejected candidates and not from accepted candidates or from client schools.

                  The key thing to keep in mind as a candidate is that you are the product and not the client with placement firms. The placement firm’s job is not to find you a job. The placement firm’s job is to find the schools candidates. So if they don’t agree to work with your husband, they aren’t saying he’s a terrible person or that he wouldn’t be a good teacher. They’re saying “Schools are telling us what they’re looking for, and we’re doing our best guess as to which candidates will fit those criteria.” Sometimes they guess wrong, of course. It’s an art and not a science.

                  That said, if the placement firm does agree to work you, they obviously want to not totally piss candidates off, because if the product gets pissed off, you don’t have a product, and if you don’t have a product, you don’t have clients. So their #1 priority is client schools, but the #2 close second is their (accepted) candidate pool. They want to make candidates happy, and they want to be part of successfully matching up candidates with schools.

                  At the end of the day, though, you’ve got nothing to lose. The commission fees are all paid by the hiring school (I believe Cal West charges a nominal fee for candidates, but I don’t think any of the other placement firms do this), so if you work with a placement firm and get a job some other way, nothing lost. If you work with a placement firm and get the job through them, the school pays for it, not you.

                  Before I worked at a placement firm, I worked with one, and it was tough, but I’m 100% confident I got my first private school job through one of the placement firm’s hiring conferences that I would not have otherwise gotten (I wasn’t a shoe-in candidate, and the position wasn’t not publicly listed anywhere).

                  Hope that helps.

                2. Anonymous Educator

                  Oops… just realized you’re I teach and not BRR, so sub in yourself for “your husband.”

                3. Anonymous Educator

                  P.S. None of the placement firms are exclusive either, so you can work with all of them if you want, and see which one works best for you.

                4. Another educator

                  This is a reply to anonymous educator below. I was accepted by CalWest during my job search last year but didn’t sign the contract because it was exclusive.

                  And although I had a fine experience with Carney and got plenty of interviews through them, the job I actually accepted was one I got through the NAIS job board. In fact, the last 3 jobs I have gotten have been via the NAIS board. So I always recommend keeping an eye there even if you are working with one of the search firms.

                5. Anonymous Educator

                  Yes, by all means do not search exclusively with placement firms. NAIS is a great resource as are the local AISes (e.g., CAIS, AISNE, etc.). Sometimes CalWest seems to give candidates the impression they need to work exclusively with CalWest, but they do not actually do so. Many candidates work with CalWest and other placement firms simultaneously with no issues.

                6. blackcat

                  I did not ultimately find a job through either of them (I got nepotism for the win), but I had good experiences with Carney Sandoe and Southern Teachers Association (STA is souther US-only).

                  My advice on the extra curriculars is see what’s listed and pick 2 that you’d be excited about. At my last job, I coached an “academic” team. I had zero experience, but was vaguely interested and I LOVED IT. So a willingness to try something out is always a huge plus.

            3. ModernHypatia

              For extracurrics, the way I handle it is talking some about the general kinds of things I enjoy – for me, that’s something like:

              “I really enjoy managing details while working with students: I’ve co-advised the newspaper and done layout on an annual publication of student speeches, but I’d also be interested in assisting with other publications or theater or music activities. I don’t have experience coaching, but I’d be interested in assisting X and Y sport (if they have relevant ones). I knit and do some other handcrafts, and I’m also really interested in making there be comfortable spaces for quieter activities and down times.”

              Basically, a mix of what I’ve done, what I’d be comfortable doing, and where my own priorities and interests fall. If your husband doesn’t have experience, but is willing to do something, saying that can help.

              And from down-thread: I’ve worked with Carney Sandoe, both my current search and in the past, and second the comments about them.

              They do definitely sometimes know of jobs that aren’t posted (i.e. the school isn’t sure if someone’s leaving yet, but wants to get a head start in case) or get pinged if there’s a late in the year hire (someone leaving a job over the summer/etc.) in ways that don’t show up in other hiring venues. Last job hunt round, it got me some initial interviews, this one I have had two second round interviews – one already, one being scheduled. They also can help with getting more context about a school and its priorities.

    2. Chloe

      +1. I’ll add to this: I always spend a bit of time researching and googling the company before an interview so you can see what most recent initiatives are and bring that up casually to show that yes, you’ve done your homework. (i.e. “There’s a lot of talk in the industry about “X” and I noticed your company is doing “y” – is that a new strategy for the company?”) Also since a large part of my job is being a change-agent to existing strategy, I like knowing what I’m getting into and coming to the interview armed with a few light ideas. I noted in my interview in my current job that I noticed there was a lack of content regarding a certain audience, and my interviewee picked up on that, knowing it meant I pored over the site and could identify a hole.

    3. Sascha

      When I’m hiring, it’s important to me to see why people want to work at my university, so it’s nice if they do a bit of research. I’m always hiring for the same entry level position, so I know this isn’t someone’s dream job or anything, but there are a lot of other similar entry level positions at other companies, and I’d at least like to see that the candidate is taking an interest in my university for its own sake, and know what they might be getting themselves into. It’s interesting to hear some of the answers about why people want to work at a university.

    4. Anonsie

      Yep, this has happened in the interviews for several of my past jobs. They ask why I’m interested and, even though the listing didn’t specify much about the program I’d be working in, I had looked into it myself and knew what about it was actually attractive to me.

    5. jillociraptor

      Definitely. You might also notice that the company has a need that you can uniquely speak to. For example, you wouldn’t necessarily assume that change management was part of a job at my company, but right now, it sure is, and if a candidate had experience managing through change AND thought to bring that up, it would be really impressive to me. It can be a big benefit to you if you have a more unique skill set or experience that might be a nice to have or a huge leg up in certain environments.

  5. Smart Anon Name

    To add to this: research what they/their industry actually does! Say you’re a project manager looking for project management jobs, and you show up at the chocolate teapot factory and ask “so what is a teapot? why do you make these? why is this different from vanilla teapots?” It’s not a great impression in the interview.

    1. Laufey

      I cannot concur with this strongly enough. Every year we get cover letters telling us how “enthused” (actual verb choice) the applicant would be to work in investment banking, or how their “life’s passion” (actual noun choice) is to work M&A deals. Apart from the ridiculousness of the verbs, there’s one major problem: we do neither of those things. A thirty second Google search (we were curious, so we timed it) accurately and concisely explains exactly what we do. Jesus Crispies, people. Use some sense. At least pretend like you actually want a job with us.

      1. MsM

        Thirded. I bombed a couple of interviews very early on in my career because the interviewers asked questions designed to test my knowledge of the industry, and I had nothing to offer.

      2. Kyrielle

        I always enjoyed the people who were excited to work at facilitating chip design with us! (That would be Computer Aided Design software. We write Computer Aided Dispatching software…and we spelled it out in our ads, because we know the wrong assumption will be made if you just say ‘CAD’. It will also be made if you spell it out, at least in some cases.)

    2. Kathryn

      So much of this. So, so much of this.

      A lot of what we do is close to unique, so I don’t expect candidates to have in depth knowledge, but I love the candidates who come in having thought about what sorts of problems we face with what they can tell about what we do. It shows that they not only did some research but genuinely thought about what impact our industry will have on their work. It lets us have a much better conversation in the interview, rather than me having to explain the basics of how we function in our industry, who are compeitiors are in different arenas, what neat bits of tech we are using to do what, etc.

      Don’t start me on recruiting fairs – I have about three renditions of Company 101 in me before I start telling people to look us up on their phone and come back. There is a lot of cool things we do and can talk about, but I like to get to those discussions with interested and qualified candidates as quickly as possible.

  6. David B

    What do folks think about looking up the people you’ll interview with on Linkedin? I know they can get a notification, does it skeeve any of you hiring managers?

    1. Jessica

      Also would like to know what people think on this, though I’m anonymous. I sometimes have a bad habit of over-researching my interviewers, then get worried that I will let slip something I learned about them. I don’t want to come off as creepy!

    2. PlainJane

      That doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, to me it shows initiative and interest in the job.

    3. NickelandDime

      I do it all the time! I don’t do it anonymously either. I think most people expect it. I’ve noticed hiring managers checking me out on LinkedIn.

      1. Sherm

        Is there a way to look anonymously with a basic account? I always feel like I am caught cyberstalking when I look at a profile.

        1. Koko

          There’s a setting in your account. You can be anonymous if you waive the right to see who is looking at your own profile. Once you turn on the “see who’s looking at me” feature everyone else can see you.

          Personally I don’t care who looks at my page so I always browse anonymously.

        2. Beezus

          I look at their profiles while logged out. You should be able to find them while googling “John Smith LinkedIn ACME Corp”. You can usually see education info and work history without being logged in, but you cannot see connections.

    4. YandO

      I always, always, always look them up on LinkedIn

      if they think it’s creepy or bad, I don’t want to work for them

      I am actually surprised interviewers don’t look up me most of the time, but I guess it’s a time issue?

    5. MsM

      There are ways to set your searches to private, but personally, I’d be really happy to see a candidate doing that kind of research. (Of course, it’s the same kind of research they’d be doing for me, so YMMV by industry.)

    6. Kathryn

      Not skeeved, but I update my LinkedIn once a year… maybe. I think the current job listed there is from over two years ago (I haven’t changed companies, I have changed jobs) so a candidate who comes in prepped with my LinkedIn profile is going to have a very different conversation in the room than they were expecting.

      I did have a candidate who looked up my wedding photos online. (In their defense, I have a limited online presence and that’s a fairly easy thing to find by a quick google.) That was a slightly odd thing for them to admit to me in the interview.

    7. Revanche

      Here’s what I think is sort of creepy: scouring LinkedIn and other bios and taking personal bits of information from those to include in the cover letter when it’s completely irrelevant. One real example for the equivalent of a data entry position: “I’d love to bring you coffee and talk (genre) novels with you!”
      Neither of those things were remotely like job requirements. It was clear who the applicant thought the hiring manager was (it wasn’t), but much less clear why offering to hang out like the HM’s personal assistant/companion would be valuable.
      If you’re using professional information like: “I noticed you’ve been with X company for Y years, do you anticipate we’d see the same growth of the team that you saw in ZZZZ over the next three years?”
      Then sure, that makes sense. You’re looking at professional information and using it to glean more relevant and professional information. All good!

    8. AW

      I’m not a hiring manager but the way I see it, LinkedIn is more like Twitter than Facebook in terms of how much of it is public and easily findable. The whole point of the web site is to network so it wouldn’t make sense to get mad at someone you’ve already reached out to regarding a job for getting more information. If it’s not skeevy when you’ve had zero contact, why would knowing why they looked be any different.

      1. voyager1

        You can google most people and add the company name after ex: Jane Smith TeaPots Inc. That pulls up a profile most times if it is public.

    9. hayling

      Like 5 years ago in a less-progressive town I think I freaked out a hiring manager because I had looked her up on LinkedIn. Nowadays I don’t bat an eyelash when candidates look me/us up.

    10. Not telling

      +1 for the comments that you should set your profile to anonymous.

      It’s helpful to research the names of people who will be in your interview if you know their names in advance–maybe one person is a department manager, another is a hiring manager. You can direct your responses accordingly if you know their roles. I even do this for work–I had a meeting today with a real estate broker, a doctor, and a practice administrator. I knew who each of them were when I walked in which made the meeting flow so much better in the beginning.

      But don’t cyberstalk. If you pepper your interview responses with ‘I know you were a member of Phi Beta Epsilon in college’…. and ‘Like you I once worked in Los Angeles’…or ‘Since you’ve been here for three years now…”–that’s when it gets creepy. Don’t do that.

  7. Ali

    This is a huge help. I’ve been trying to improve my company research for cover letters, but admit to not really knowing how to articulate it or what to look for. I would look up the facts, but admit to feeling a little lost beyond that. I’ll have to put this into play next time I research a prospective employer.

  8. Jessica

    Piggybacking on what Alison said, in regard to ‘culture companies”, they seem to expect you to know what they’re about as much, if not more so, than the actual job. Mind you, I was not applying for a high level job. But a lot of these companies build from the ground up and have a pay your dues attitude, so they really look for culture fit at that level. It would also make a difference at the higher levels too.

    Also, if they have a free trial of their software or service, always try it. Interviewers always get excited about that.

    1. AnonAnalyst

      Free trials or pre-recorded demos can also be hugely helpful in figuring out more about how they’re positioning their product in the marketplace and what they think their differentiators are, in addition to giving you a better idea about what they do (and impressing interviewers!)

      1. Jessica

        Yup! I just had an interview at an up and coming software company that is taking on a Goliath in the industry. I had used Goliath software in a previous job, so by taking a brief spin around the free trial, I was able to provide specific comparisons. All three interviewers seemed to love that.

  9. KJR

    I interview a fair amount of candidates. I don’t quiz anyone, but I do say “Tell me what you know about us.” I am always extremely impressed by the ones who work their company knowledge into the conversation somehow, before I ask.

    1. Chocolate lover

      I work with students going on internships, and it’s still a top pet peeve of employers that some people do little to no research ahead of time, or even the basics of looking at the company’s websites. It’s not about memorizing details, it’s using that information to inform your answers and the questions you ask them, to show initiative and interest, etc.

    2. Anonymous Educator

      Yeah, the more natural is can flow into conversation instead of just being a regurgitation of random facts, the better.

  10. Ann Furthermore

    On a related note, there is a big company in my city that has an absolutely awful reputation. I know several people who have worked there, and they all say the same thing: the pay is great, but the benefits are terrible, and they work you to death. Like you’re expected to be on call 24/7 and take your laptop on vacation. Many people have left my company, lured by the high salary, only to find themselves miserable and end up quitting because they just can’t take it anymore. One guy I know told me at one point his boss was giving him grief for not being online working when he wasn’t in the office…but the reason he wasn’t working was because his wife was giving birth to their child. Egads.

    A friend of mine just interviewed there last week. I told her what I’d heard (and from at least a half-dozen people) and said she should ask about it in her interview. She said she’d been through the second round with the VP of the area she had applied to. The VP brought up their terrible reputation without being asked, and then told her what they’d done to fix it over the last year or 2. They’ve also gotten a new CEO, so if s/he is committed to changing the culture, that should help. That kind of thing does flow downhill.

    1. Ann Furthermore

      Ugh…meant to add that if this is really true, then it’s nice to see a company be aware of how they’re perceived, and then take steps to try and fix their problems.

    2. Cautionary tail

      I know a company like this. The CXX personally told me she was so proud that one of her employees left work to be with his wife having their baby and then was back at his desk a short time after. I gave her an unbelieving wtf! look.

    3. AW

      A relative of mine had a co-worker whose boss expected him to be on-call during his wedding (and honeymoon).

      It’s depressing to think that there’s more than one manager on the planet that has these expectations.

  11. ali

    For Nonprofits, don’t forget to look them up on Guidestar. If you can review the financials, do it. You might get a good idea of what they are able to pay, and you’ll see where they spend their donations, etc. Also, be aware of their mission and purpose – in most cases, you’ll actually want to make sure you agree with those things before you work there. The last thing you want is to end up working for an organization that advocates for something that is the opposite of your personal belief.

    I actually cancelled an interview I was scheduled for once because while the work itself sounded exactly like what I wanted to do, the company was very clear that they provide services for people running for office in only one political party – and it was the party I am not.

    1. hayling

      I wouldn’t look them up on Guidestar. You’ll only see the very top execs who are probably very highly paid. I worked at a nonprofit where front-line employees made like $11/hr, and most salaried people were in the $30-$50k range. The CEO I think made $200k (which made me do a spit-take when I found out).

      1. ali

        it depends on what is published for the organization. Guidestar is a huge resource for information about many organizations (and people for that matter. You can find Barbra Streisand’s home address if you know where to look), some organizations not as much. Either way, I’d look at the org’s 990 to see their financial situation so I know what I’m getting into going in.

        And look what you were able to find out about where you worked, I think that’s pretty helpful information to know that most salaried people are in the $30-$50k range. If you’re looking for $70k, they’re probably not the place for you. And you also saw how they might be overcompensating the CEO. All information I would like to know about where I’m working, personally.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          If the organization is small, $200K is probably over-compensating the CEO. But if it’s large, that CEO could be earning far more at a for-profit, and that’s not an inappropriate salary for the role.

  12. MW

    I work in public education. In interviews we ask people, right off the top, “why are you interested in working for [school agency]?” In the interviews I sat in on last week, only one candidate of the eight we saw said anything about caring about public education or wanting to help kids or being excited about our mission (which is X) or anything in that vein. The rest of the answers were I’ve always wanted to live in [city name]” or “I want to move up.”

    I don’t need you to be able to tell me all the millions of services we offer or the details about how many students we serve or anything else – although it moves you right up the list of potential hires if you can – but tell me something about us, not just you. Looking at the organization’s mission and finding a way to articulate how you connect with it is the *minimum* level of research I expect from a candidate.

  13. Elizabeth

    I’m in nonprofits, and while job searching last summer, I had one organization ask me what their mission statement was.

    Obviously, the mission statement is integral to what an organization does and aspires to do, but I got the sense that they wanted a word perfect answer (and the mission statement was about three sentences long), not just to make sure I got the gist of what they were about. Luckily, at my new/current job, a co-worker used to work at said organization and it’s apparently a mess, so I think I dodged a bullet.

    1. MsM

      Yeah, I think you did. I’m much more interested in hearing a candidate frame their idea of what we do in their own words, because that’s what they’re going to be doing when they’re answering questions people might have about us.

  14. KT

    I always work in company news into my answers.

    For instance, I work managing social media accounts, so a frequent question is “What improvements or changes would you make to our Twitter/Facebook/etc”?

    I usually answer with something like “Well, you had great live tweets and photos from the Teapot Gala. But since it’s your biggest fundraiser, videos would be a great opportunity to bring that event to life”

    I can’t even tell you how often interviewers tell me I am the only person to 1) check out their social accounts and 2) pay attention to what their big events are. I have been offered jobs on the spot after such an answer.

    1. AshleyH

      My coworker has been interviewing for social media managers for us and yeah…A LOT of candidates don’t bother to look at our existing social media pages. A whole lot. It is bizarre.

      1. AW

        Yeah, that’s kind of weird. Are these people without prior experience in handling corporate social media accounts? I imagine your co-worker gets a lot of people who are like, “I use Twitter! This will be easy!”

        1. AshleyH

          nope, not always. In general the lack of preparation I see from many candidates is astounding. I work for a retailer and I used to frequently have buyer candidates interview who told me, in the interview, that they hadn’t been one of our stores in “years”. So now I tell every single candidate who will be working with our merchandise to take 30 minutes to visit one of our locations before their interview. It seems redundant and obvious…but apparently it isn’t.

  15. AshleyH

    I interviewed a candidate last week and when I asked if he had any questions he said “Do you still have approximately 600 locations in the US and Canada?”. It was really awkward and completely caught me off guard (and not at all related to the position he was interviewing for!). He followed that up with “Do you conitue to stay true to your roots and attempt to reinvent yourself?”. I realized then that he basically memorized the “about us” section of our website and was using that as his basis for questions, instead of asking real questions about the job he was interviewing for.

    1. Revanche

      This happens a lot in my interviews! It’s like someone out there is advising applicants to have memorized our mission statements and goals and mirror the tiniest details back regardless of relevance. Weird.

    2. Jessica

      That’s so wooden and irrelevant. It’s like he thought he was studying for a test.

  16. Stranger than fiction

    Yeah Im glad Alison pointed this out. And I’d add know what product or service they offer! Even if (especially if) you are interviewing with several companies wouldn’t you want to know this is the place that sells teapots or this is the place that provides software for teapot inventory…

  17. HR Manager

    I’d echo that I’ve expected candidates to know something about the company (i.e., understand our space and what we do, and a little about how big/small/awesome/not awesome) but I’m not looking for candidates to spit out little known facts about it or to memorize dates. For candidates, I want to know that candidates understand our business and perhaps see themselves contributing in a meaningful way for us.

    I remember one “kid” who interviewed and pulled out a question about page 5 of our annual report from 3 years ago asking a very specific question about something in that financial filing. The kid was interviewing for a telephone rep job for a financial services firm. That did not impress me, and I found it extremely annoying because it was clearly meant to be a “See how much I know about you guys? I’m asking a question whose answer is so irrelevant to what I’m interviewing for and to any decision I might need to make about working for you, but boy am I S-M-R-T” He did not move forward.

  18. TotesMaGoats

    At least do some research. I use the “tell me what you know about X” as a screening tool for my entry level interviews. I’ve really had people say things like “well, not much” or “I know you’re a good university” or “My friend is a student here and really likes it”. Seriously? It takes two seconds to look up online about the university and jot down some notes. And it’s even worse when it’s internal candidates that we ask what they know about our department and they haven’t looked up a single thing. Fail.

  19. Clever Username

    When researching a company, make use of any nearby academic libraries. Public libraries are good too, but academic libraries with business programs will have access to research databases including proprietary reports about companies. Usually, those databases (and research help from librarians) are free to local community members. At my academic library, I could get you 2-4 expert summaries (including recent news, financials, key players, major competitors, etc) in 10 minutes.

    1. Anonymous librarian

      I was also going to suggest going to the library, and I have always worked at academic ones. But depending on where you live and the focus of your local public library, they can be a fabulous resource for researching businesses, whereas, if the local college near you doesn’t have a business school, they may not have as many of the types of resources you need. Explore them all. Libraries are great.

    2. Not telling

      I’m always amazed at the advice to look at financials. Financials are available for less than 1% of companies in the US (that’s Forbes’ latest stat). And that’s not just talking about small companies.

      Plus there are so many fields that aren’t even on the radar at a business school. Architecture and any other creative field (film, graphic design, public relations, etc). Anything related to tourism (except hotels). Anything related to agriculture (except equipment mfr). A business library isn’t going to tell an applicant any more about these fields than vague generalities like ‘housing starts are up’ or one-off profile pieces.

      1. Stephanie

        Yeah, I never quite understood that advvice, either. I’d imagine, too, if you’re interviewing for a job that has nothing to do with finances, a hiring manager (or HR recruiter) would be a bit confused if you spouted page 12 of a three-year-old 10-K.

      2. Anonymous Librarian

        I’m sorry, but that simply isn’t true. The information products business schools and libraries get subscriptions to cover many areas of business and employment. I have worked with students looking at all kinds of fields and companies and we have been able to help them through subscription services, news services, etc. Great detail on very small local companies can be hard, yeah, but there is always something about the field or the business climate in the area, etc. I have also helped my spouse when job-hunting and we uncovered useful information.

        What information ends up being useful, and appropriate to share in an interview is a different question. Financials are important if you want to know how sound the company is, or where they are putting their efforts. Knowing about a new product the company was launching in Europe made a nice talking point at my spouse’s interview. It may not have been what sealed the deal, but let them know ‘this person does their homework and is interested in competitive products.”

        Knowing that the other company who made a job offer at the same time was facing bankruptcy was also useful info.

  20. baseballfan

    Definitely just basics of the company and what they do, and what might have been in the news recently.

    I’m reminded of the time I interviewed for a job at FedEx/Kinko’s, when that was the name (very recently post-merger) and my interview was on the Kinko’s side, in Dallas. I almost asked during the interview if the FedEx team was also local to DFW. Hello, even for someone who hasn’t seen Cast Away, that would have been a highly clueless question.

    I stopped myself before that came out of my mouth. (I did not get the job – but had already decided I didn’t want it anyway – nothing against the company; the job was just not a good fit).

  21. MrsL

    I had a phone interview recently where I was asked if I visited their website (Of course I did). I then got asked if I read any of the case studies they had on their website (Yes, I had done that too). I was then asked to summarize one of the case studies that stood out to me and mention the outcomes of the study. This threw me a little. I could answer the question, but not even near as intelligible as I would have liked. I scrambled! So, in hindsight, I actually wish I would have reviewed the case studies a bit more thoroughly.

    I believe that the in depth question was not meant as interrogating me. I think he just wanted to make sure I was honest in my interest to work at the particular company. Additionally, part of the job would be to verbally deliver insights from studies that I would conduct. I just was not prepared enough for that kind of in depth question during a phone interview.

    For my next interview, I will be more invested in being able to give examples and practice them out loud beforehand!

    1. Jessica

      Interesting! That’s pretty in-depth; I kind of like that question though because it can also weed out people that flat-out lied about actually reading the case. I can see how it threw you, even though you did read the case. That would totally throw me if it came in a phone interview.

      I’m a person that job searches almost solely on companies I want to work for, so it doesn’t ever come up that I wouldn’t already know quite a bit. But I am guessing most people search based on the job first, not the company, and sometimes it can be a stretch for them to figure out why they want THAT company as opposed to any other. And sometimes, companies can be so similar that it really doesn’t matter to people. I wonder if interviewers can see right through this?

    2. Jessie

      This kind of scenario is the reason I think that the best way to do research about a company is to find some things about them that you (honestly) find particularly interesting. They aren’t going to expect you to know something about everything, but if you can talk intelligently or ask questions about one particular product or service you’re interested in (in this case, a particular case study) you can show them that you’re genuinely interested.

  22. Jessie

    Here’s why you should do research:

    I recently interviewed with a technical job for a large company. I did a lot of research on this company, and read about a really cool and innovative Teapot they had been developing 20 years ago but which hadn’t been commercially viable at the time.

    I had an in-person interview with four managers, including a very experienced Teapot-maker manager who had been with the company for 30 years. I noticed that there was a model of this really neat Teapot sitting on his shelf and immediately asked about it. The manager brought down the model and we spent a majority of the interview talking about it. It turned out he had had a major role in its development.

    I got the job.

  23. Lanya

    I once interviewed with a battery company for a graphic design position, and they pointed at an outlet in the wall and asked if I knew how many volts of electricity were available from the outlet. I had absolutely no idea, but I gave it my best guess. I didn’t realize I needed to research electricity before I went to that interview, although I had thoroughly reviewed the website and company history!

    1. Jessie

      That’s a really really weird question. Not just because it doesn’t have anything to do with graphic design, but because it’s the sort of thing a lot of people just happen to know and lot of people don’t. For instance, someone who travels between the U.S. and Europe is going to know off the top of their head that most U.S. outlets will be 120V and Europe will be 220V. But someone who doesn’t do a lot of travel has probably never had much of a reason to think about it.

      1. Lanya

        I guessed correctly, then! But I dredged that number of 120 volts up from somewhere deep in the recesses of my brain. I am not a traveler by any means.

        The whole interview was really weird, so I’m glad I didn’t get that job.

  24. Just Another Techie

    Exactly this. I will often ask candidates “Why do you want to work for us?” A good number, maybe a quarter, will say they’re fans of our flagship product and want to be a part of making it. That’s an excellent response. Another quarter or so will say they know working with us will be a challenge and force them to grow their technical skills–also good. But the rest will just flail around and it’s really clear they have no idea what we do or what we’re like and they just want a job, any job, and those are the ones we aren’t interested in pursuing further.

    1. Job Candidate

      That’s like the candidate asking: “why do you want to hire me?” It’s presumptuous. The point of the interview is to discover whether that question is even valid, for both sides.

      A few years ago, a company flew me in for a two-day interview and at the end of the second day the recruiter asked me why I wanted to work for the company. The answer was that I actually didn’t want to work for them. I realized that after the first day. He noticed my hesitation (as I searched for a diplomatic answer) and quickly re-phrased to “why are you interested in our company” which is a perfectly nice substitute.

      1. MW

        I don’t understand why you feel it’s presumptuous? They have taken the time to apply for the job; clearly they are at least open to working for you.

        Likewise, “why are you interested in hiring me” isn’t a strange question, in and of itself. I’d say being called in for an interview shows the company is at least open to hiring you. I’ll give you, though, that it’s not something most candidates would ask because of the (perceived) balance of power…

        1. Job Candidate

          Well, here’s an analogy. It’s like going on a first date and leading with, “so, why do you want to marry me?”

          It’s appropriate to be interested in the company and for that interest to be reciprocated. Ideally, that’s why you’re each there. But there’s a gulf between being interested and actually being convinced for all but the least-discriminating job candidates (and companies).

          Your re-phrasing isn’t a strange question. But that’s because you softened the language. “Why are you interested…” implies potential. “Why do you want to…” implies that a decision has been made. Asking “why do you want to hire me” is the equivalent of “why are you offering me this job?” It assumes facts that are not in evidence. That’s presumptuous when each party is still trying to determine whether or not it’s a fit.

    2. hayling

      Yes, we do that too. I do that in the phone screen, because it shows if they even read the job description or have any idea what we do.

  25. Chuchundra

    I was at a direct marketing event a few months back and someone from Publishers Clearing House was up at the dais giving a talk. He noted that occasionally when he’s interviewing someone they’ll ask, “How’s Ed”, referring of course to pitch man Ed McMahon.

    He said that he generally replies that, sadly, Ed McMahon died in 2009, but that in any event Ed never represented Publishers Clearing House. He did ads for one of their competitors, the now defunct American Family Publishers.

    After that, it’s pretty hard to recover.

    So maybe you don’t need to do intensive research about the company you’re interviewing at, but at the very least don’t rely on assumptions or half-remembered tidbits from TV.

  26. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

    This is a great list. It keeps you from sounding totally disconnected from the reality of the company. I have had people ask me at the end of an interview if we are non-profit. This is abundantly clear from our mission, our website, and the signs all over our lobby that we are a charity. I wonder if the person is absurdly unobservant and clueless. It would take 3 minutes (or less!) of research to encounter this, so it’s really quite concerning. I don’t expect details, I do expect the most basic level of context.

  27. Jennifer

    What I’m finding to be really odd of late are job listings that DO NOT MENTION THE NAME OF THE COMPANY. At all. No location (other than maybe a vague name of nearest city), no company name, not exactly super helpful on what they do. Or a salary either.

    I’ve seen a few job ads that looked great, but if I can’t find out where I’d be working (or preferably if I can get paid more than I do now), I don’t end up applying, folks. It looks darned shifty of your company to not say.

    1. Jessica

      Where are you finding these? The only time I’ve ever seen that happen is when a recruiter or staffing agency “owns” that listing, so they don’t want people to be able to apply independent of them. You have to go through them to get all the details. But I handle it the same as you because I need to know where the company is and what industry it’s in. I hate those listings.

    2. Job Candidate

      In my experience, the trick is to find a unique phrase from the job listing and search the internet for that particular phrase in quotes. Like “chocolate teapots with an emphasis in spout maintenance.” If it’s a recruiter, sometimes the job description will be pulled verbatim from the principal company’s own job listing. If so, then a quick Google search will turn it up.

    3. hayling

      Less so for very junior positions, but I expect candidates to have done their homework when they come in. If it’s a marketing position, what do you think of our website? What would you add to our blog? If it’s an engineering position, you’d better have taken our software for a test-drive!

    4. I Can't Remember What Name I Use Here

      I mentioned this a while back and that I don’t apply to those because I don’t know who they are and don’t know if I want to work for them anyway, and someone pointed out that it might be a strategy so they don’t get contacted directly and so you go through the way they want you to go? IDK. It still seems very fishy strategy to say “a top tech company in Boston!” and not say which of the million tech companies in Boston you are.

      I do a bunch of research on a company before applying, from things like “do I support their mission” to “how horrible would this commute be”? If I don’t know who you are, I can’t do any of that, I’m not going to waste my time spending an hour dealing with the bleeping online application.

    5. Not telling

      It comes from an era when hiring folks didn’t want to be inundated with a massive pile of unqualified resumes or be fielding phone calls and even drop-ins from applicants hoping to reiterate their interest in the position. Sometimes they are also trying to avoid solicitations from placement agencies.

      It can be off-putting, especially if you are currently employed–if the job fits, you could be applying to your current employer and accidentally expose your job search! But beyond the cover letter, is it that much of an imposition to be in the dark? Surely they will reveal themselves before you interview, at which point you could decline if you aren’t interested? As others mentioned I can almost always figure out who the employer is by a description or by comparing search engine results and finding the same ad elsewhere. I can at least narrow it down to a short list.

      If I limited my job search to only those advertisements with salaries listed, I would have no career! Maybe that’s an industry-specific thing but I rarely see a salary and usually it’s such a big range that it’s meaningless.

      1. Jennifer

        Ohhhh, that’s why.

        Well, I did not know that about the ads/descriptions thing. But as someone else said, it is an imposition if I want to research the company, figure out if I can handle their commute, etc.

        In my industry, it looks like a lot of jobs are paying less than what I currently make now (gah), so unfortunately that seems like something I need to check before spending several hours applying for what could be a pig in a poke.

        And where I’m seeing this: Craigslist (okay, that’s not a surprise) and on indeed.com, which surprised me.

  28. Tammy

    How not to do it: 1) find a bar near the company, 2) pick up an employee and take them home, 3) after having sex, drug them with a roofie, 4) take their badge, 5) sneak into the office building, 6) find the HR office, 7) open the file cabinet using the crowbar you brought with you, 8) find the file with company salaries, 9) make your escape, avoiding any security guards and police who might have heard the alarm, 10) use your new information to negotiate a better salary offer.

    It sounds like a good plan, and even if steps 1-8 go well, step 9 is where the problems usually start.

  29. Pixel

    I don’t expect any candidate to know a detailed history of my company. But if you’re interviewing for a position with Vanilla Teapots, and when I ask you what you know about Vanilla Teapots, don’t start telling me all about sister company Chocolate Teapots! 5 minutes of googling/just going to the company website will tell you all you kneed to know about where you’re interviewing.

  30. Stephanie

    If you’re interviewing for a technical position (or at a technical company), you could also do a quick search at Google Patents or the USPTO’s website to get an idea of what the company’s doing technically. Granted, some patents are garbage (and usually have about a two- or three-year lag between application and grant ideas), but a search could give you an idea of what the company considers to be its novel technical advantage.

  31. a ninny mouse

    Certain Mexican food restaurant gets miffed if you don’t know about them like the back if your hand before the interview.

    I went to this other interview for a food service job and the lady got mad at me because I hadn’t memorized their menu.

  32. Beth Anne

    This is SUPER HELPFUL as I never really know what to research and lots of times looking up random facts about the history of the company seems weird and to trivia like.

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