how to research the company you’re interviewing with

A reader asks:

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.

Yet I always hear you should research the company before an interview. What am I missing?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 118 comments… read them below }

  1. Jedi Squirrel*

    I work in such a niche field that it’s hard for potential candidates to do this. But there are keywords on our website that they could easily research.

    In addition to the things Allison mentioned, also check to see if they have any kinds of quality certifications. Check into those and what aspects they cover, and what things they require the company to do, because that most likely will have an impact on your job.

    1. Neil*

      I work as a temporary help worker in the public sector (and occasionally private sector) here in Canada. While I agree that researching is a good thing, I often can’t do this because my jobs are very specific (and ninety-five percent of the time the client doesn’t want to go through the hassle of an interview). To me, researching is more appropriate for private sector positions, where the company will be much more forthcoming on their website when describing projects undertaken and any kinds of quality certifications.

  2. LadyByTheLake*

    The research done before an interview can also help frame questions — “I see that Acme Inc has been centralizing operations in Illinois, what does that mean for the California office?” (when interviewing in California). “How are you addressing Major Industry Change?” It can also give me an opportunity to drop in how I can help them — “I see that you are merging with Acme — I worked on a similar merger while I was at BigCorp.” In other words, having the information makes me as an interviewee have better questions and more to talk about.

    1. Sparrow*

      Yes, I was coming to say this! Researching an organization nearly always leaves me with some question(s) I’d like to ask at the interview. Your first example is a good one – these are legitimate questions that can give some additional insight on office climate, organizational priorities, the work you’d be doing, etc., all of which may impact how you feel about the opportunity.

    2. Oh No She Di'int*

      I actually think that might be a great short-hand way to think of it: researching a company isn’t about preparing for their questions for you, it’s about preparing your questions for them.

    3. Jen S. 2.0*

      All of this. It’s not that they’ll be quizzing you on their history and projects. It’s that it gives you important context for where the job fits in their organization, helps you organize the information they give you, and helps you formulate your questions for them.

      Frankly, it also keeps you from wasting time asking questions for which the information is readily available. That is, a good interviewer can tell when you are more informed, whether or not the specific information ever actually comes up.

    4. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Agreed! It also focuses your cover letter better if you make sure it’s aligned with their mission statement and current direction (etc) rather than the industry more broadly.

      It can also be useful for questions like “why are you looking to move from your current job?” if you can distinguish between Current Job and Prospective Job based on something at the prospective employer that is a particular skill of yours. For example, $OldJob was about harmonising processes to streamline and reduce costs, whereas $NextJob was about customer satisfaction and individualised client care, so I talked up my preference for client relationship stuff over strict efficiency.

  3. Nora*

    I work in a very specific office in a government agency and we would never quiz anyone on our functions but we have interviewed some people who had absolutely no idea what our office does at all. One woman seemed amazed and at the end of the interview said she “learned a LOT!!”, which was not a great look. The whole interview was kinda like this:

    Interviewer: “How familiar are you with what our office does?”
    Interviewee: “Wow, I don’t know!”
    er: “We write and enforce teapot regulations”
    ee: “Wow! Who knew teapots have regulations!!”

    1. Aquawoman*

      Yeah, this. People who go into an interview with insufficient knowledge about the company may very well leave a negative impression through the questions that they ask, as well.

    2. A Hiring Manager*

      Whenever I interview someone who’s not at all familiar with what we do, it leaves a bad impression and makes me think they’re not all that interested in working here.

      Same as if you’re just sending the same cover letter with every job that doesn’t address the specifics of the company or role.

      It gives the impression that you just want a job, any job, and don’t care about what you’ll be doing. Why would that interest me when there are plenty of people who are actually passionate about what we do?

      1. Dan*

        “Why would that interest me when there are plenty of people who are actually passionate about what we do?”

        That’s a point that a lot of job seekers miss. The disinterested ones say, “I just want a paycheck, what’s wrong with that?” The reality is that if your competition has a real interest in the work, you’re at a disadvantage.

        I work in a niche field where many of our staff come from “industry” and are hired for their knowledge of how the “real world” works. You have to learn that to do our job well. Most of us like being here (don’t get me wrong, we all have lives outside of work) and have a very real interest in the work we do. If one comes here and has no interest in the work (or worse, is disinterested) it’s just not going to go well. It’s going to be hard to bond with the team (the new guy who says, “I don’t need to know that/want to learn that” is usually off putting) and for that matter, actually be *good* at your job.

        1. Ariaflame*

          There are places where people, in order to receive any money while between jobs, must apply for a certain number of jobs (and that number is thought to be on the high side) no matter what those jobs are. Apparently they’re also obliged to accept any job they are offered on penalty of losing what benefits they do have. Even if it leaves them worse off and they’re not interested in it. This, as you might gather, wastes a lot of time on their part and all the employers who now have to wade through applications from people who don’t actually want that job, or aren’t qualified for that job, but do want to eat.

          1. Massmatt*

            Very true, not everyone has the good fortune to be passionate about their job or company, especially in more entry-level jobs. But if the paycheck is important then you had better show a prospective employer why they should hire you. Hopefully that doesn’t require faking enthusiasm but knowing something about the business can only help you.

    3. LadyByTheLake*

      Totally agree — and for people who are more senior, it is critical to be familiar with things going on at that company. For example, I work in banking law and more often than not, recent regulatory actions have come up during the interviews. I have to have done my research so that (1) I know what topics might be sore spots, and (2) if they mention a recent challenge I can immediately respond that I read it and we can converse about the implications or my insights.

    4. Filosofickle*

      When I was in college, I applied for a Rotary International scholarship to study abroad. I was called in for a panel interview, and one of them asked me if I knew what Rotary was/did. I had done zero research, it hadn’t even occurred to me. (Now that I think about it, this was my first “professional” interview.) He looked me dead in the eye and said, in a calm but irritated tone, that it would be wise to learn something about a company when asking them for money. I didn’t get the scholarship, and I never showed up at an interview or client meeting unprepared again.

    5. Lawyer Wrangler*

      Yup! I work for a very specific “branch” within a huge international organization. Many people are familiar with the organization but our role within it is completely different from what the org does. We get a LOT of cover letters saying, “It’s always been my dream to work at Organization and in this field” and it gets kind of maddening. Just going to our website and reading the “About Us” section and then tailoring their cover letter to that would’ve given them a leg up.

    6. Elizabeth West*

      This, plus if it’s something you don’t want to be involved in, you should actually know that before you even apply. For example, if it were still around, you might not want to work for Peanut Corporation of America.*

      *the defunct peanut company that killed people

      1. SusanIvanova*

        Oh, yes, if you put in the name of the company and Google suggests the TV show “American Greed” – run!

        (It’s an awesome show – that’s where I’d heard of the Peanut Co)

    7. Quake Johnson*

      Aw, I kind of love her upbeat outlook. Not that you should have hired her or anything, but she sounds like tourist who’s just loving every single thing there is to see.

    8. tamarack & fireweed*

      :-) At least you contributed to the candidate’s education – count it as your good deed for the day. And there’s a fair chance 5 years after the fact the candidate will bring it up to herself and her closest friends as an example of how incredibly wet behind the ears and naive she was.

    9. seeker*

      Any tips / translation to government agencies? Need to know the mission of course, but there’s not really a “what distinguishes you” angle. Also their websites often are hard to navigate.

    10. Not a Dr*

      Agreed! Not knowing what we do is a big no. I often hire for marketing and communications positions. If you can’t sift through our website and put together a quick pitch of what we do that worries me.

  4. XtinaLyn*

    When conducting an interview, I always ask the candidate, “What can you tell me about our company?” Some people will openly say, “I just applied to a bunch of places, so I didn’t research your company.” That tells me they’re looking for a paycheck, not a career. The company I work for, while a non-political entity, has a political stance in the way it serves its customers. It’s important for an individual to know about that before they commit to working for us, because their ethics on certain social issues may not match our own, and that would make them an incompatible match.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      It’s wrong to assume that people who are looking for a paycheck are not also looking for a career. Not everyone is lucky enough to land in a career track from the get-go, especially with how crummy the economy has been over the last decade.

      1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

        Ditto. Also, just because they are looking for a paycheck (they may have been laid-off, moved due to spouse, etc.) it does not mean that they will not make a good employee.

        However, in XtinaLyn’s case it does make sense since they do have a particular political feel to the company and someone with a different stance would probably not work out well even if they were a great employee.

        1. XtinaLyn*

          That’s exactly right, (Mr.) Cajun2core. If a candidate did any research on our company, they would know that one of the big issues we tackle requires a great deal of empathy towards an underserved portion of our population. Working here requires an inordinate amount of empathy, and that’s loosely referred to in our mission statement and core values (all of which can be found on our website). If you haven’t taken the time to research those things and to know more about what we do, and you are a staunch Conservative, you may not be aligned with our goals. That equals failure for us all, so it’s in everyone’s best interest for candidates to know what they’re getting into, and a quick Google search will tell you all you need to know about our company’s intent.

          1. Close Bracket*

            It’s important for an individual to know about that before they commit to working for us,

            An application doesn’t constitute a commitment to working there. Even an interview doesn’t constitute a commitment to working there. It’s not clear whether you ask the question in a phone screen or if you jump straight to in person interviews. You certainly don’t want to waste your in person interview time of someone who wouldn’t commit to working for you based on their political stance, but you are making a mistake if you think all your interviewees are exhibiting a commitment to working for you by showing up for an interview. Seems like what you need is a way to discuss the political stance of the company before bringing people in for an in person interview so you can screen out people who would object to working for you.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The issue is that if you have strong candidates who are obviously enthused about what you do and excited to be a part of it, that’s going to be more appealing than a candidate who’s presenting themselves as neutral.

      3. Oh No She Di'int*

        I think this response make sense only if the candidate is applying in a vacuum. But in almost all cases, they are not. There are other candidates applying for the same job.

        If I’ve got two very well qualified people in front of me and one of them says, “Oh yes, I know you’ve had major initiative XYZ, which seems really exciting!” and the other one says, “I just applied to a bunch of places,” guess which one I’m going with?

      4. Ra94*

        In addition to what others said, I also don’t think the issue is looking for a paycheck itself- it’s doing so little research and having so little awareness of how you come across in an interview that the interviewer picks up on that vibe. It’s not that difficult to do your research and appear passionate, even if you’re not applying for your dream forever job.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          TBH, you don’t even have to act passionate. Doing research just shows that you’re conscientious enough to know what the hell the company does and can ask intelligent questions about the work.

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          To put it another way, the problem isn’t applying to lots of places. The problem is not doing your homework once you have the interview lined up.

        3. Triumphant Fox*

          YES. I know that the my company is B.O.R.I.N.G. I do not expect anyone to walk in the door and just be like “When I was a very small child, I played with teapots and one day I was playing with a friend who didn’t have a teapot and another who had too many teapots and I thought to myself, I wonder if I could bridge that gap and become the teapot middleman. It’s always been my passion.” I do, however, want to know you’ve done some rudimentary searching and that you can comment on my department’s initiatives and enthusiasm for the role (which I think is not at all boring). My most recent hire I know really just wanted a job in any industry where he could do his role well at a company that didn’t treat him like dirt and I can absolutely provide that. Does he dream of teapot negotiations in his sleep? I hope not.

      5. hbc*

        Maybe there’s not enough evidence to *prove* that someone is looking for a paycheck and wouldn’t do a good job based on that info, but it’s undeniably relevant. I think most of us wouldn’t stay neutral on stuff like that in our personal lives. All other things being equal, we’re going to be hiring the pet sitter who talks about her love of animals rather than the one who says, “Pet sitter, checkout clerk, roofer–it’s all a paycheck.”

        1. Cat*

          Yeah, and this is especially true if you’re hiring people who have other options. We not infrequently hire entry-level lawyers who decide this isn’t the field they want to be in and then leave. Which is expensive for us. I’m absolutely looking for signs that candidates actually want to be in this field rather than that they’re jumping for a paycheck and will leave as soon as something more interesting comes up.

    2. Jdc*

      Most jobs I apply to do not list the company name and they always call me and ask me that right away. No asking for a phone interview. Then I get to sound stupid while I admit I have no idea which posting was theirs specifically or their company as it was not given. Never has gone well. Why oh why do companies do this. You have to know someone applied to more than one job.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        This is admittedly infuriating, but it is sometimes possible to run a search on some of the statements about a company in the job listing to see if you get a direct hit on any particular website.

        So say if they say “The opportunity has arisen to add a Teapot Distribution Agent to a top ten manufacturing company with five-star benefits and glorious countryside location” you could search for teapot + “five star benefits” + “glorious countryside location” and maybe the top three hits are all for Top Top Teapots. Sometimes the job listing you found on a recruiter’s website is word for word the same as on Top Top Teapots’ “Join Our Team” page.

        If there’s nothing distinguishing in the listing then as you point out it’s completely unreasonable to expect you to get the information from your crystal ball, but in some industries you can work it out with a little Google-fu.

  5. Need Some Coffee*

    I will say, one of the oddest interview experiences I ever had was with Volkswagen. I was interviewing with them after grad school to enter their HR rotation program. In the first round of interviews they asked me to say at least 6 different makes of their cars. Then in a second round they asked me to identify the other car lines in their overall company. I have been on plenty of interviews since then and never had that level of quizzing thankfully. In general, I think it’s helpful to look at the websites and news info for context. Sometimes I weave something I find into a question I ask at the end, but it doesn’t always make sense to.

    1. Dan*

      I could see that for a marketing or sales position or something like that. But for back end business operations? That seems like a stretch.

      I’ve had the opposite experience. I’ve interviewed at companies where I have more familiarity with their operations than the average candidate will. Some of these places have a rather structured interview process, and when that happens, it drives me nuts. The thing is, those structured interview processes are tailored around the lowest common denominator, so it’s almost impossible for *me* to show *my* skills and how *I* can help the company further their business objectives. I have to answer some generalized set of questions, where TBH it’s hard to stand out from the pack.

    2. sacados*

      That level of specific quizzing is definitely odd. There are some companies that do place a premium on that sort of thing though.
      For example, Netflix is famous for their “Culture Deck” which outlines the core company values, etc. And I can tell you– both from my own experience and stories from others I know in the industry– they do consider it pretty important that interviewees know about this. They’re not going to quiz you on the contents, but they’ll ask if you’re familiar with the deck, if you’ve read it, if you understand the core company values, etc.

  6. Cobol*

    In addition to what Alison answered, which for sure is the main point, some interviewers won’t specifically quiz you, but you will get points for naturally saying something that shows you did your research. Especially true for entry level jobs.

    1. London Calling*

      I interviewed for a job a few years ago and the interviewer actually commented that I was one of a very few candidates to have bothered to find out anything about the company, which astonished me. Why wouldn’t you reearch a prospective employer, particularly when that’s a basic piece of interview advice?

      1. Locket*

        I had a similar experience when interviewing for my current job. During the interview, I was asked if I had taken a look at their website. Since it’s a small town, I said I had taken a look at it and was surprised by how nice it was. Most places here have very simple websites, if they have one at all. I mentioned something specific from it (can’t remember now, it was several years ago), and she said I was the only person she’d interviewed who had honestly looked at it. I would have assumed that that’s the bare minimum before an interview, but I guess not?

  7. SarahKay*

    As a student, I had an interview with a global burger company for a part-time job. Literally the first question the interviewer asked after confirming my name was “So, what do you know about our company?”. I sat there, thinking ‘how much do I need to know, other than how to ask “Do you want fries with that?”‘. Eventually I managed to come up something about them having just opened their first branch in Russia, and we moved on.

    Spoiler alert: I did not get the job. My lack of knowledge was made worse by the fact that every single outlet had a whole series of fact cards at their counters, so even back then (1990-1991 ish) there was no excuse for me.

    I am immensely grateful that this happened then in such a low-stakes interview, and have made very sure it’s never happened since.

  8. AnotherSarah*

    Researching a potential employer is also about figuring out how you can add to what they do–I interviewed a candidate last year who would have been perfect…if we had been a totally different workplace. He didn’t seem to know about some of the basics of what we would need from him (which would be fairly obvious from about 15 minutes of research, and were pretty clearly stated in the job ad). He proposed amazing new programs…but didn’t tell us how he might be involved in our already-existing, already-funded programs, which are laid out quite clearly online. And all those amazing programs he proposed would have taken him away from the core functions of the job. He also didn’t demonstrate that he had a sense of our clientele, who we serve (which also would have been clear from research on our site and from searching for our name elsewhere). He seemed to bring a lot of icing and no cake, and we were left with a very impressive person we had no clue whether he could do the job or not. It would have been weird if he had quoted back the number of clients we serve or memorized our budget (also online, as a state agency), or said something to us about where we had all gone to school; that’s not what the research was for.

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      Researching a potential employer is also about figuring out how you can add to what they do

      Right. Or whether you even want to.

  9. Hey Library Lady*

    I work in public libraries, and when I was last applying for jobs, I looked at things like their mission statements, strategic plans, patron satisfaction surveys, etc., (all of which were easily accessible via their websites) and I found it tremendously helpful. I was able to briefly reference some of these in my cover letters so that I could tailor my experience to that particular library’s mission/goals/community. Maybe it’s part of being a librarian, but I loved the research part of the job search – it helped me craft the strongest possible resume & cover letter, and gave me a lot of insight into a particular community/working environment. With the library that eventually hired me, I noticed that they were on the verge of potentially making some big, exciting changes to their building/services, and I told them that I wanted to be a part of helping them to create something new – something I was able to do at my last job that I really, really loved. And it’s absolutely worked out for me – my role has involved a lot of input into some of these big decisions. So good research is extremely helpful!

    1. hobbittoes*

      Absolutely! I used to be a librarian, too. I found for organisations that have mission statements or even strategic plans available online, that was a perfect place for me to start my research and think about how my skills and personal work style align with their goals. It was also helpful information for me to realize an organization wasn’t actually mission/vision/strategy driven at all, because I do best when I feel like there’s a larger organisational goal I’m supporting or furthering. Depends on your context of course.

    2. AuroraLight37*

      I am also a librarian and found it very useful in my last job interview to mention something I’d seen on the website. They told me later I was the only person who had indicated that they actually read it!

  10. Witchy Human*

    If a large part of the job you’re interviewing for involves a specific event or a prestige project, it’s wise to be prepared to talk about that specific thing in some depth.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Exactly. I once selected a solid applicant who referenced his interest in our company, specific industry, and ‘contribution to innovation’ of same in his cover letter. The online application portal he used had an index of links about us – vital stats, mission and vision statements, product lines, etc. I set up a phone interview via email and included a link to our company website as I usually do.

      When I called him for our scheduled interview – he knew I was calling and who I worked for – we exchanged pleasantries. Then he said, “I’m not really sure what your company is all about. Can you tell me what you do?’ Huh? I said, ‘I was hoping you could tell me. Your cover letter states you were specifically interested in us and our industry.’ He laughed and said, ‘Oh, I tell everyone that. Guess I blew it.’ Yeah, better luck next time.

      Other applicants referred to our recent new product launch and spoke about it in some detail. It’s not like we kept it hidden, it was a big deal for us, and the industry.

  11. Eillah*

    Take Glassdoor reviews with a huge grain of salt. Employers can have bad (aka accurate, in my experience) reviews removed.

    1. voluptuousfire*

      I found you have to organize it by date. I also ignore several 5-star, glowing responses posted on the same day. I dig for the 3 and 4 star reviews for the real info. The ones that are more balanced and give actual cons vs. “we need more healthy snacks in the lunchroom!”

      1. Eillah*

        Maybe I’ve just had two spectacularly shitty employers in my past, but even accounting for dates the bad reviews always eventually seem to mysteriously disappear.

    2. Miss Astoria Platenclear*

      Removing negative reviews = More shade than a forest.
      On Glassdoor and Indeed, I cringe at reviewers who list “close to home “ as a positive. Do you not realize that’s meaningless to anyone but you?

      1. OrigCassandra*

        It may be a way of damning with faint praise, especially for employers who remove negative reviews. If that’s the best someone can find to say…

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          “My car parking spot is near the coffee stand so it is in partial shade in summer.”

        2. Massmatt*

          I know someone that worked at a travel magazine that was funded mostly by ads for nightclubs etc in the city featured for that month. They would write articles, generally puff pieces, about them in the issue. I asked how they gave a bad review if the place was buying ads, he said “pay attention to whether they say ‘plenty of parking’, that means it’s dead”. That became a catch phrase.

    3. Grain of Salt*

      My last employer not only had my last review removed twice, he also had my account blocked by Glassdoor. Of course Glassdoor provided me no notice or info for how to reactivate. Check their terms of service. It clearly says they can ban reviewers. This is a thing.

  12. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    As an interviewer (typically for admin support or internship roles) I like to see candidates who have a general understanding of my office’s role in relation to the rest of the organization. This can be a tricky thing to sort out from the organization’s website because my office is an in-house legal department, but it’s not hard to understand who the client is (the organization not its customers) and lacking that understanding can be a big knock against potential candidates who seemed surprised to learn basic things outlined in the job posting.

  13. Alanna*

    For myself, I want to know a few things. I want to know about their diversity, their diversity and inclusion policies, and what the company looks like. Is it led by all white men? Do they have any diversity initiatives? What’s the makeup of the company, if employees are listed anywhere or those stats are available.

    If it’s a big company, I’m also googling things like “company name + scandal” or “company name + lawsuit” and googling them in google news. I want to know not only what they’ve been involved in but how they’ve handled it and bounced back from it.

  14. Asenath*

    When I was job-hunting years ago, I didn’t know you were supposed to research jobs before an interview, and if I had, I would have had problems finding anything out. It was such a new position it didn’t even have a proper title – it was called something else which was at the salary level they were willing to offer. The job description was vague, so all I knew was that it was largely clerical, required skill in some common software programs, and might have something to do with research (that last bit wasn’t true; I’d been misled by the job title). I didn’t have much hope of getting it, so I was probably more relaxed than I normally am for interviews, which helped. The only question I remember was “What’s the difference between summative and formative evaluation?”, which was dead easy for someone with my background. The interviewers looked at each other, and one said “she’s the only one who knew that”, and I got the job. Evaluation was a part of it, but not, I think, so important as that question indicated.

  15. TimeTravelR*

    One of the reasons I was offered one of my first jobs was because I was the only candidate who even knew what the company did. The job was admin, so it wasn’t absolutely necessary to have that knowledge, but because it was very niche market, and most people would not have heard of it, it let them know that I at least cared enough to know where I might be working!

  16. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I think research on a company’s mission or culture is important not only to find out if you think you’ll be comfortable there but to give you insight on small things that may boost or tank your interview right as you walk in the door or talk about yourself. So many businesses these days are picking up causes as part of their marketing and culture. They may or may not specifically ask you about it, but if it is important to them they will notice little things like that. If a company has stated that they are environmentally conscious for instance, don’t carry in a plastic single-use water bottle. If their mission has to do with animal rights, or they donate heavily to animal rights groups, don’t carry a leather purse…

  17. Mary*

    In my current job, they actually did ask me what I knew about the company during the interview. It was the first time I’d ever been asked that. I hadn’t done much research, which showed in my answer.

    I work for a large engineering company, and at the time, I was interviewing in a state where their work was overwhelmingly in oil. The interviewer wanted to see if I knew about their global work as well. It all worked out in the end, but I was flustered at that moment.

  18. 1234*

    How would you tailor your cover letter to respond to an ad that says “We are hiring for a Teapot Coordinator at Company Confidential?” and you live in a large city where there are plenty of companies who could be hiring for a Teapot Coordinator?

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      You talk broadly about how your teapot experience would be an asset to anyone needing to coordinate some teapots.

      Note that the question is about interviewing, though–if you have gotten to the interview stage and your recruiter won’t tell you who the interview is with, and explains that you will be driven to a remote warehouse and then sit alone in a room while questions squeak through an intercom system, just assume it’s for something with an incredibly high mortality rate.

  19. JK*

    I work for a nonprofit and am hiring an intern. One of their responsibilities is updating the website, so in each interview I asked if they had taken a look at our site. Thankfully, most of them said yes, but one said no. I was already not impressed with her, but that was the nail in the coffin. If you can’t manage even a cursory look at the website of an organization that you would be working for, then it’s probably not a good fit.

    Back when I interviewed here, the website was horrible. It was outdated, poorly laid out, and had conflicting information. That also gave me good information about the organization, and i did mention in the interview that I had trouble determining their mission, and that I had experience in web updating and thought I could help.

  20. AuroraLight37*

    I think it’s helpful to do some basic research in two ways:
    1. It avoids gaffes. If you know nothing about the organization, you’re not going to be able to ask pertinent questions. You may also end up saying something like, “Teapots are boring, chocolate pots are where it’s at,” during your interview at Only Teapots, Inc., thereby ruining your chances.
    2. It warns you about potential trouble. If you’re applying for a job at Company X which has just had a big sexual harassment suit erupt in the department you’d be applying for, well, it’s better to to be forewarned.

  21. Oh No She Di'int*

    Sometimes it can be hard to find information, especially about small companies or companies whose work is so niche that they don’t really have much of a publicly available presence. Mine is one such company.

    In those cases, I would advise the candidate to brush up on the sector in general. Even if you don’t know much about the company you’re interviewing with, it can be very impressive to say something like, “I know that many llama grooming companies are facing challenges with the new federal llama regulations. How has your company been addressing that?”

  22. Ixora*

    My previous job was for an environmental consulting firm. We spent most of our non-office hours sampling in and around buildings in industrial areas. The “what do you know about us?” question weeded out a lot of folks who hadn’t read the whole job posting and thought we spent all our time in the forest researching bugs and bunnies.

      1. MayLou*

        My friend at school did his work experience with the wildlife department of the local council and I teased him constantly about his experience counting badgers. I would totally have loved to do a week counting badgers though (I did my work experience in a Belgian beer and chocolate shop which was also pretty excellent!).

        1. Buttons*

          I had a friend who spent a summer releasing sterilized mosquitos in British Columbia. It was to cut down on the breeding population. I thought it sounded like an interesting way to travel around BC!

        2. OrigCassandra*

          Any mushrooms or snakes?

          (sorry, I Am Old on the Internet and sometimes these things just slip out)

  23. Anonymeece*

    In my case, our president prides himself on our campus being very “[ADJECTIVE]”. You’ll see numerous references to it all over the website (in fact, someone once created a parody of it that was frankly hilarious).

    So in the final interview, he always asks candidates what they know about the campus (they’re expected to say “[ADJECTIVE!]”) and always asks, “What [ADJECTIVE] idea would you implement here?”.

    Sometimes it’s more about the “feel” of a company rather than the facts. Some companies might like someone with a lot of innovative ideas or ready to change things because they pride themselves on that; some companies may be looking for someone who is tactful, discreet, and very professional.

    You can often read what personality they’re looking for by doing that research and lean into that, and maybe anticipate some questions based on it.

  24. KHB*

    Wow, this is giving me flashbacks to when I interviewed for the job I have now. The HR woman I met with at the beginning of the day kept saying things like “Now, if you did your homework, you’d know (inane minutiae about board members and budgets and stuff).” She never quizzed me, but she – deliberately, I think – did a lot to make me feel ignorant. When I was offered the job, I considered not taking it – because of her. (Fortunately, she’s not here anymore.)

  25. Buttons*

    I look for information about the company that is applicable to the role I am applying for. So I am usually part of HR, so I look for information on the culture, tif they have ever ranked as a best place to work, their learning and development, their employee interest groups, mentoring, etc. If I am asked “what do you know about us?” I can take one aspect and then tie it directly to the role I am interviewing for and from there, I can ask questions.
    If you are able to help the interview be a conversation and not just Q&A, you will stand out and have a better chance of being offered the job, and finding out if you really want to work there. To have a conversation you need to have knowledge.
    As a hiring manager, I want someone who can connect what the company does to what we do in my department.

  26. Pub Cheese*

    Sorry if this is a repeat of anything above – but I would add to also look into elements relevant to your job, to the extent that you can. For example, if you’re applying for a development role at a nonprofit, read up on past fundraising events or major sponsors; or if it’s an editorial role with an online magazine, delve into the site, maybe pick a favorite article or two you could discuss if asked what drew you to the role. I was recently part of an interviewing panel and was surprised at the number of interviewees who hadn’t looked at the site they’d be working on.

  27. Pretzelgirl*

    I tend to do more researching on the culture of the company. I look at glassdoor, linkedin etc. I am too old to be dealing with a bunch of BS drama. I’ve been through it before and will try my best to avoid it in the future. I am turned down interviews after research on the company revealed no great treatment of employees.

    1. Buttons*

      SAME! I have also turned down an interview because while researching I found the parent company owned some businesses that I find morally repugnant. I am not working for a company that is shady, has horrible treatment of employees, or who does something I can’t morally get behind.

    2. Margaery Tyrell*

      I agree that Glassdoor is useful but definitely to observe all reviews with a critical eye. When I’ve never heard of a company I often rely on Glassdoor to see what working experiences are – always hunt for the negative ones. Sometimes they’re things you can live with, and sometimes there’s stuff like “directionless management and constant turnover” which are definite red flags.

  28. Anonny*

    I’m not sure if I just ended up with crappy agencies, but in my last job search they wouldn’t tell me the name and full address of the company until the day before the interview – presumably to stop me applying directly and cutting them out.

    I was always asked two questions – what do you know about our company, and why do you want to work for us / why did you apply to work for us. I would always do research in the time I had because I knew they would ask, but as another benefit I could ask intelligent questions about the job based on what the company was doing or involved in – I could prise out information that was useful to me specifically and give myself a better chance at jlining a company that was a good fit. It was frustrating, but the research would have had value even if they didn’t ask.

    1. Close Bracket*

      why do you want to work for us / why did you apply to work for us.

      Yes, this is why you research the company. You need to give a reason beyond “I like eating regular meals and sleeping indoors.”

  29. Kiwiii*

    I’ve mentioned this in a Friday thread before, but researching companies before interviewing has always been a means to letting them know how well I’d fit in with them, or knowing enough to ask the right questions to figure out if I would.

    I’ve found the thing that works is if I can find out a few specific things/categories to pull from (and Alison’s definitely overlap here). 1) What’s something they’re actively working on/will be launching in the next year or so (so I can relate it to something I’ve done, express enthusiasm for it, or ask how my role will engage with it), 2) something they’ve done in the last year or so or something highly publicized (so i can express what the company has been doing or what it’s known for and ask any follow up questions about that), and 3) what the company values either through the work it does, or if it has a mission or slogan or something (so that I can express enthusiasm about it, ask what it looks like in practice, or tell them about how it aligns with my own values).

    Pulling it apart step by step like this gives me things to focus on in the research process with an end goal, so I don’t try and learn everything from the CEO’s interests to their budget for the last year, even if the topics don’t end up being 100% applicable to all interviews.

  30. catwoman2*

    I had an interview with a company, where I’d done a lot of research on the company and knew the industry well. Most of their questions seemed to revolve around basic functions. For example: was a job I had 7 years earlier was a temp role? Odd, given that I’d had 7 years of really strong jobs with promotions after that short stint!

    When I was able to ask about the company itself (pro bono efforts, client work – which was publicly available and known), they seemed to brush it off. It was an easy decision to not go back for a second interview!

    1. 1234*

      Sounds like the person interviewing you may not have much experience interviewing unless:

      – The job you had 7 years ago directly related to the one you were interviewing for
      – The company you worked for is known for hiring temps and not FT employees
      – The job 7 years ago is at a really cool company and they wanted to know more about it?

      1. catwoman2*

        Nah, it was a very entry level in a support staff role in Big Law. All my experience is in that realm.
        I left that job for another one that was interested in training me up, although it was a short stint at the initial job (6 months). Usually in interviews, when asked, I mention that it was a nice place to work, but they weren’t interested in training me, and I found a place that was. It’s pretty obvious after I say that, and looking at my resume, that it was a leap i needed to make.

        I was getting questions that seemed very much along the lines of “can you show up on time, describe a hard experience” rather than discussing my actual hands on experience in the industry. They seemed surprised when i knew things about the company, but didn’t have interest in discussing them further.

  31. Lili*

    I had one interview with a smaller, very specialized magazine publishing house. I researched them high and low – news outlets, library electronic databases, their website and social media. There just wasn’t much out there on them in terms of mission, corporate history, or awards. The lady interviewing me asked the question “what do you know about The Teapot Publishing House?” I rattled off my few measly facts. She got a bit snarky and said something along the lines of if I had researched more, I would have known about XYZ.

    I took that as a lesson that interviewers may not always know the quality and quantity of information that is actually available to people researching them. And that what a company knows about itself, isn’t always effectively marketed. (Slightly ironic since this was a publishing company??) This is where I feel tapping your network for info about the company can be very valuable.

    1. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

      I always thoroughly research companies (my career IS research, so this is the one thing I do well), but a few months ago I had an interview with one such snarky interviewer. It was an organization that promotes a variety of products, and their website focused heavily on – say – dog leashes. In the interview, I started a speech on how I could help them market dog leashes, and the interviewer snapped that dog leashes were only a small part of their product offering, and that their main product is cat toys. I went home and checked the website again to see where I screwed up. There was very little on tenor website about cat toys.

    2. Close Bracket*

      What a response! Maybe you did know about XYZ, but that didn’t happen to be one of the facts you rattled off.

      (To be clear, I understand that you didn’t know XYZ)

    3. 1234*

      LOL my response would’ve been “I looked at News Outlet, Library Database, your website and social media. Where else do you recommend me looking to learn more about Teapot Publishing House?”

  32. Llama Face!*

    Where are you all applying that they provide you with company names and also have enough easily accessible company info to learn these things? Probably a half to two thirds of job ads I’ve responded to (in my admittedly somewhat distant last job search) either didn’t name the company or it was a small local company with little to no online presence. I was lucky to get enough of a description of the position to think it might be in my wheelhouse.

    1. Buttons*

      I have never applied for a job without knowing what the company is. If I have been contacted by a recruiter who won’t tell me, then I tell them I am not interested. If I look at jobs on Linkedin or Indeed, etc, the company is always listed, with a link to their Linkedin page as well as their website.
      I guess if the company is a small privately-owned company maybe they wouldn’t have much of an online presence, but it is pretty hard to survive these days without social media.

      1. Llama Face!*

        These are normal job board ads around where I live. A lot of companies are cagey about their identity pre-interview for some reason. And it’s email response only with no street address so I couldn’t even match it up with yellow pages or 411. (I am not at a level or in an industry where recruiters would be hunting me).

    2. Close Bracket*

      In my field (engineering), most companies have websites, and most of them have job listings right on the website. The job board posting probably links to the website. The only time a company wouldn’t be listed is when the ad was posted by a recruiter.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I tend to avoid confidential job postings for two reasons:

      1. I’m not even sure it’s an actual job. It could be a recruiter, or a bot fishing for information. In the past, I’ve applied to a few and then received loads of spam email. Nope nope nope-ity nope.

      2. I got a reply from a blind ad where the hiring manager clearly didn’t look past the first page of my resume. It was a company I’d been fired from (and hated working for) who had changed their name from Dolphin Inc. to Grampus. The first job listed on the second page of my resume was Dolphin Inc. Boy, was that an awkward email exchange. >_<

  33. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

    I can’t imagine not researching a company before the interview because I want to see if this is a workplace that actually fits my interests/values. It’s really important to me that the company focuses on service/products that I will be interested in, and serves customers I also want to serve.

  34. Syfygeek*

    When I went for an interview with a VP who had only been there 3 months. But thanks to the power of Google, I knew where he was from, and where he had been working before taking this position. It was a promotion, but he had been at Big Place Everyone Knows to come to a Smaller, less well known Place. When he asked if I had any questions, I asked him what made him come to Smaller Place from Big Place. He was absolutely shocked, asked how I knew that. I told him I did my research, and wanted to know why he made the jump. His answer was touching, it involved his mentor who had founded the place, and I knew right then I wanted to work for someone who was that passionate.

  35. PopJunkie42*

    A cursory google is always helpful. I worked for a museum that had a huge news story come out a few years ago – we’re talking multiple weeks of national and local coverage. I was on a hiring committee and when our director was giving the initial tour and mentioned it off-hand, one of our candidates asked about it and obviously had no idea what it was. A literal 30 second google or clicking through our website recent news would’ve done the trick. She ended up being a decent candidate, but our director said she almost ended the interview right there.

  36. Akcipitrokulo*

    You don’t even have to get it perfect – you have to show that you care enough to have put in some effort. I once was asked “what do you know about us?”, froze slightly and talked about the one of their products I remembered, and why I was interested in developing it… turns out it wasn’t one of their leaders but I had a topic to discuss.

  37. Betsy S*

    It happened to me a few jobs ago. I had several interviews for Company A that were going so well (and taking so much time) that I blew off preparing for my interview with Company B. I had been aware of Company B for ages and thought I knew more about them than I did. It became clear in the interview that I was not familiar with some of the things they did, and it came back to me via a friend that they thought I was ‘not enthusiastic’ about the role. (I was hired by Company A, which promptly had a huge layoff including all but one of my team. Wished I’d done better with Company B!)

    When I applied to the job before my current one, I read the whitepapers that they made available on their website and I was able to tie in some of what I read to my own goals and skills. I could see the boss’s boss light up when I talked about reading them. So I think it made a big difference! For my current job it didn’t come up, but I went in prepared.

    Even if you aren’t quizzed, I think it’s a big confidence builder, and it helps you convey that you’re genuinely interested in joining this particular company.

  38. Spartan*

    I had a long response but it really boils down to passion. I have 0 passion for what my company does. But I greatly enjoy what I do. I am a data analyst at heart. I love to dig into data and find out the stories it tells. It can be manufacturing production data, healthcare data, financial data I do not care. So when I look at the job I look at the posting and the tools they use but I don’t really care what the company does. Is that bad? The company website doesn’t usually offer much beyond this is the industry we work in that would be relevant to me.

    I like the type of work I do. It’s available in many forms in many companies so I do it for your company because you pay me. In money, benefits and opportunities. Not because I love teapots or coffemakers. I loved working for a library but never checked out a single book in the 8 years I worked in them.

    With that in mind is it better to feign an interest in whatever the company does do or concentrate on the enjoyment of the skill set they are advertising a need for.

    I would think this is often the same for IT jobs as well. I like doing IT functions like x y and z and companies need them regardless of what they make or do.

    1. Orange You Glad*

      Passion is attractive and I think showing your passion for the tasks involved in your job is enough. It would be for me as a hiring manager.

      The key would be to leave out anything that implies you DON’T care about the company/industry.

      Lots of passion for the position with minimal mention of the industry would probably be ok.

      Lots of passion for the position while also specifics “I don’t care which company I’m at – it’s all the same to me” would be game over!

  39. Doctor Schmoctor*

    Most job advice articles suck.

    There are so many interview advice articles out there that say you have to know who the CEO is, when the company was founded, etc. And I always thought that’s just stupid. I mean, I don’t even know who the CEO of my current company is, and it has no impact on my ability to do my job at all.

  40. Myrcallie*

    If nothing else, doing your research is important to know exactly which company it is you’re interviewing with- I went for a job interview for a tech company that shared its name with a housing association, and the interviewers seemed surprised that I knew it wasn’t the latter! I’d looked it up and figured it out based on the address, but apparently most candidates just arrived and started happily chatting away about their interest in housing.

  41. londonedit*

    In my industry (book publishing) you’re generally expected to be able to answer the question ‘Why do you want to work for this company in particular?’ and you’re expected to have a general level of knowledge about the books that the company, and the department you’re interviewing with, is producing. So you need to have researched not only the history/values/output of the company, but also if you’re interviewing with the children’s fiction department then you need to know a lot about their specific books, which ones have been bestsellers, which ones are advertised as upcoming, etc etc. You won’t impress anyone if you go in for a sports editorial job and spend the whole time talking about how much you love the company’s most famous cookery writer. Or if you talk about how much you love working on illustrated books when the department you’re interviewing with doesn’t produce any illustrated books.

  42. Peter*

    I worked at a big organisation in Washington DC which had some people fly in from across the world, partly for meetings with us. They would then ask a lot of questions our web site would have answered in full, before heading off to the next meeting to do the same thing. I didn’t find it irritating, but it seemed like a real missed opportunity for them.

  43. Anonamama*

    I always tell people it is a little like dating – tell me why you want to date me, not just go on any date – why do you want to work HERE, not just why you want a job. I don’t expect people to know everything about us, but I do want them to have at least a general idea of who we are and what we do. That is a sign of initiative to me, that they bothered to at least look at our website before the interview, and also that they think they will fit here and be successful.

    That said, it is hard to do a really deep dive into a company at this stage. I was interviewed once by someone who, when I was telling them that the reason for my short stints at a few companies in my 20s was because I had had some back luck working with some small companies with bad management, asked me, “Well don’t you research a company before you work there?” in a tone that was pretty dismissive and snarky. I told her, “well, there is only so much you can do from the outside, you can’t very well ask if a manager is dysfunctional in an interview” and that was the moment I knew I didn’t want to work for them anyway.

  44. Partly Cloudy*

    In a previous job, when I used to interview a lot, I always began by asking how much a candidate knew about the company, partly to determine how detailed I needed to be when I gave them my “this is who we are and what we do” spiel.

    The company was also a certain level of interesting to the public and was super easy to research. While I was hiring for fairly low level positions sometimes, it was still a ding if they had no idea what we did.

    Also, it was nice to know if the candidate had ever been a client, and if they had they’d usually mention it when I asked if they’d been there (to our location) before.

Comments are closed.