why do interviewers expect you to have already researched their company?

A reader writes:

Why do interviewers put so much emphasis on your knowledge not of the role, but of them as a business? Most companies have quite generic web sites that don’t really tell you much that distinguishes them from their competitors, so it’s actually very difficult to learn much that is meaningful online. But I had feedback when job hunting recently that I had not been “prepared” in this way. It feels like this gives a very unfair advantage to people who are no more qualified but are internal applicants or have friends who work there.

This is particularly true when it comes to company values. Some HR professionals put a big emphasis on anodyne company values that are interchangeable with their competitors’ values. It feels like a pointless dance where the company acts like it has discovered the holy grail and the applicant memorizes and fakes enthusiasm for platitudes no sane person could possibly disagree with — and after the job interview those supposedly integral values never come up again on the job.

I have found a great role now so I would like to think I am just curious, rather than bitter about the roles I wasn’t offered. Why does this kind of “preparation” matter so much to many interviewers?

No reasonable company will expect candidates to have done hours of in-depth research on them, but most interviewers do indeed expect you to have looked through their website and gotten a general idea of what they’re all about, as well as (for some positions at least) done a quick search to see any news on them recently. If you don’t do those basics, it’ll come across as not particularly interested/invested in the role, especially when your competition all shows up sounding more prepared.

That doesn’t mean you need special inside information that you can only get from knowing people who work there. It means spending maybe 20 minutes on their website, reading the “about us” page, some recent press releases, and any available overview about their work or their clients, and generally trying to get a sense of how they see themselves. As you point out, you might not really learn anything that distinguishes them that much from their competitors, but you’ll at least learn the basics — and you’ll probably learn how they see themselves. (There are some jobs where there are additional things you should look at too, especially for more senior roles. For example, if you’re applying to lead a nonprofit, you should look at the organization’s publicly filed 990 forms to learn about its inner workings. But for most jobs, the basics are enough.)

As for company values, that’s part of learning how the company sees itself. You’re right that it’s common for corporate values statements to be mostly lip service, but they do tell you a lot about what image the company wants to project, and they give some useful hints about what they might like to see in candidates. (In fact, seen in that light, they can be an interview cheat sheet in some cases. Why wouldn’t you take a look at that?)

I think you’re ultimately asking why employers aren’t just focused on your ability to do the job they’re hiring for, and why the rest of this stuff should matter so much. The answer is that a lot of interviewers see this kind of preparation as a proxy for how thorough/prepared/engaged you’ll be once on the job. And when you’ve got other candidates showing up having done this kind of prep, you suffer by comparison if you don’t.

{ 299 comments… read them below }

  1. Your friendly neighborhood Zen Buddhist*

    As someone who has interviewed folks, this question gives a peek into who did something very simple to prepare and a sample of how they might describe the company to others. I wasn’t looking for a fully-polished elevator speech, but just a little bit of enthusiasm that showed there was something that interested them about the place.

    That said, this is coming from someone who once hired for a park and heard “where is it/what is there to do there?” on too many phone screens.

    1. Lucious*

      Id like to point out something: “enthusiasm” should be weighed in context. A nonprofit working as domestic violence advocates has a right to expect some enthusiasm from its applicants. A tax preparation company does not, unless they’re Ok with candidates peppering interviews with insincere statements proclaiming their personal enthusiasm for the US Tax Code.

      1. Renata Ricotta*

        Tax preparation doesn’t have to be your life’s #1 passion, but it’s very reasonable for an employer like that to prefer a candidate who is interested and engaged in their work over one who DGAF about it. The former is more likely to be a pleasant and proactive coworker and you’re less likely to get a lot of disruptive employee turnover.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, absolutely. You can be enthused about accuracy, efficiency, serving customers well, getting things done, etc. And if you aren’t and someone else is, that’s going to be in their favor.

        2. Guacamole Bob*

          This. I know someone who works at the IRS, and he is interested and invested in the work and will happily tell you about why it’s important. He’s not bubbly about it, so “enthusiasm” might be the wrong adjective, but he affirmatively wants to be doing that work instead of some other work. And that’s why he’s a good fit for the job.

          1. Your friendly neighborhood Zen Buddhist*

            affirmatively wants to be doing that work instead of some other work

            That’s the best way to put it. And also to add: some sign that you’d like to work at this company specifically.

          2. Richard Hershberger*

            I think “enthusiasm” is the right word. The problem is that a lot of people confuse enthusiasm with being bubbly.

        3. Lucious*

          Looks like we’ve crossed some wires here.

          Being individually enthusiastic about ones individual work is absolutely a positive. And expected in most professions ( coroners presumably excluded) .

          But that is distinct from being enthusiastic about the specific company/org. Being enthusiastic about ones work in tax prep is a good thing. Being enthusiastic about Stark Industries Tax Prep LLC is a bit weird. Again, context is key. Nonprofits and charities should definitely expect a degree of enthusiasm for the organization

          1. Anononon*

            But this contradicts with your first comment, that a tax prep company doesn’t have the right to expect enthusiasm from it’s applicants. In that comment, you never distinguished between enthusiasm for the role versus enthusiasm for the specific employer. And I disagree that there wouldn’t be enthusiasm for a specific tax prep company either. I work for a company that does very unenthusiastic things (we’re often portrayed as the generic baddies in movie plots). However, I do appreciate my company’s take on how they approach those things and what values it has.

            1. Lucious*

              My reply was under the assumption we were purely discussing enthusiasm for an organization, since that’s the subject of this AAM post.

              My apologies for the confusion. I can see how that post could be viewed as stating an org can’t expect ANY enthusiasm from an applicant, which of course is unreasonable and definitely not my intent.

          2. JRR*

            Even at a boring company there can be things to be enthusiastic about–maybe their commitment to long-term client relations, or their use of innovative software, or that they’re based in a particular city. If I didn’t feel real enthusiasm for a company, I wouldn’t apply for a job there.

            1. RussianInTexas*

              “They may possibly pay me more with better benefits than I have now” is my enthusiasm and why I would apply.
              Other things, are secondary, truly (outside of unacceptable things, like geographical location, expecting to work super long hours, that kind of stuff).
              Then again, I work in customer service.

              1. JRR*

                I’m impressed. I couldn’t do that. If someone offered me a job that paid a lot but that I couldn’t muster up a little enthusiasm for, I’d have to pass.

                Especially when I worked in customer service, the thing that kept me going was a genuine desire to help my customers. I would have burned out quick if I didn’t have that.

                1. RussianInTexas*

                  My company is extremely crappy. I like most of my customers (not all), but I don’t talk to them on a regular basis, so it’s not like I have some kind of relationship with them. Plus, my company in general does not care about smaller customers, which make it more difficult for me to care either. If they, who’s business it is to care don’t, why should I?
                  My company pays me less than $40k, gives 5 vacation days, 4 sick days, and 5 paid holidays per year, and about to increase my workload about 50% once my counterpart retires. And during last 3 years I was required to work on some projects that are significantly higher than my paygrade, job description, or pay. Without a single raise or promotion.
                  I do not give a fig about any enthusiasm at this point, I want more than 5 paid vacation days.
                  When I started, I was unemployed for a while, this was better about unemployment.

              2. Mannequin*

                I’ve worked jobs that I’ve loved intensely & even considered “dream jobs” and still, they only exist to fund my Real Life, which is what I am ACTUALLY enthusiastic about. Eating! Paying rent! A few small pleasures here & there!

                I can’t imagine having to come in and act all rah-rah about the place I just want to give me money in exchange for my time & effort. It seems so needlessly performative.

                1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

                  That’s why I wound up in not-for-profit cultural institutions. In the business world, my jobs were “You pay me, I do X” and that was it. At the not-for-profits, as imperfect as they were, I could be genuinely enthusiastic about the overall mission and day-to-day tasks. No acting required.

                2. TrainerGirl*

                  I had an interview with a Company Who Shall Remain Nameless, but is quite fond of having people memorize their company leadership principles and be able to use them in your answers for the interview. It seemed like that mattered more than your experience for the position you’d applied for. That let me know that I wasn’t a fit, as well as getting a cold response to a question about worklife balance. That let me know that if I can’t muster up some enthusiasm, that job isn’t for me. And I, like you, work to pursue the things I really enjoy.

                3. Mannequin*

                  @TrainerGirl Can’t respond directly but yes, exactly.

                  Even when I ran my own small vintage clothing business- which I LOVED doing, my literal dream job, because it meant dealing with something I had been totally passionate about my entire life- the main reason I made it into a business was so I could more easily support & fund my hobby while also making a living doing so, LOL!

            2. OyHiOh*

              I have a rather boring job (office manager/newbie grant writer) in an economic development org. When I say what I do, I can tell that people find this the epitome of dull. However, it’s frequently pointed out that when I say what I do, my face absolutely lights up. I took it because I needed a job and planned to leave fairly quickly for something better. Almost a year later, I’m still here because it turns out, I’ve grown a significant amount of enthusiasm for what this organization does, and wants to do moving forward.

              I mustered up just enough enthusiasm in interviews (by parlaying what I knew from conversations with friends in the industry) to be a strong candidate and have made the most of the opportunity, since then.

          3. Koala dreams*

            I agree with you. It’s one thing to be enthusiastic about tax preparing or fast food, another thing to be enthusiastic about a specific company. Especially those companies that don’t distinguish themselves very much.

            1. TechWorker*

              I do think interviewees should be prepared to answer the question of what attracted you to apply to the role. If the answer is ‘no idea I scattershot applied everywhere I could find’ then I don’t think it’s unreasonable as an interviewer to rate that lower than a candidate who can give a more considered response (which *could* be enthusiasm for the company but could also reference other things about the role itself).

            2. ferrina*

              This is where interviewing the company comes in. Watch to see if your interviewer (particularly the hiring manager) has values that you are looking for. If you are passionate about high quality work, does your manager give off a “not motivated, just paid to be here” vibe? Or does the manager talk passionately about the innovative and incredible work that her team has done?

              You usually can’t tell that from a website, but it’s often something that can be teased out in the interview.

            3. BethDH*

              I think people are mixing up “enthusiasm for this company” with “must like this company better than other companies in the same field.”
              I can be enthusiastic about a company as a match with my approach/needs and express why I like it without ever saying “it’s the best” or “it’s the only”. It might be something like “company x doing work in this sub area is great because I’ve been looking for an opportunity to learn more about that” or “I want to work at this size company because it offers a balance of close relationships and growth opportunities.”

          4. ShowTime*

            I think “enthusiasm” is the wrong word. Having worked for a domestic violence non-profit, this type of organization absolutely expects a level of investment from applicants. The term often used in job postings is “demonstrated interest” – meaning, show me that you care about this issue. But that could apply to any job, really. No, tax code doesn’t have to be your life’s passion, but give me some indication that you want *this* job and not just *a* job.

          5. AnotherAlison*

            Let’s assume many seasoned professionals are coming from another company. I suppose I can see why NewGrad would not care about working for me vs. my competitor, but if you’ve been in the industry, I think you should have something specific about my company that interests you. I went to a new company in January, that is in an adjacent industry to where I spent most of my career. The fact that they were 1/10 the size of my last company was one of the things I was [wrongly] excited about. I liked that they were also a larger company in their smaller space, growing, locally based, etc.

          6. MCMonkeybean*

            “Being enthusiastic about Stark Industries Tax Prep LLC is a bit weird.”

            No, it’s not, and that really is the kind of thing you want to be able to show in an interview.

            And while their actual taxes may not be that interesting, you can show enthusiasm for doing taxes + enthusiasm for Stark Industries as separate things. They will want you to be able to say why you are interested in working at their company in particular over anywhere else. And yeah when you are job searching it may be BS to some extent because you’re applying to a bunch of different companies, but if you can’t say any specific reasons on why you are applying there then you’re likely to lose out to another candidate who can.

            There are tons of ways you can show enthusiasm with a little research on the website. You say something like “I have read about the research you guys are doing into developing new repulsor technology” or “I saw on your website that your organization works closely with this local charity and I love that you are so involved in the community because that’s something that’s really important to me.”

            It doesn’t have to be the thing you care most about in the whole world, but it’s usually not hard to find a couple of things on their website you can show at least some interest in and it’s really worth doing if you want to come across as a strong and engaged candidate.

      2. Lacey*

        I don’t really agree with that. I think that every company wants and should want people who are at least moderately enthusiastic about their company and it’s goals.

        Maybe the US Tax Code doesn’t thrill them, though I’ve known people who do find it fascinating, but perhaps they love helping others navigate it’s complexities.

        I’ve worked for a number of companies that might be boring on their face, but they provided important services to their communities and I loved being a part of that.

        1. Former Child*

          There’s a pleasure that comes from exercising one’s skills. Some do it for free, in recreational sports.

        2. twocents*

          My grandfather used to stay up at night reading tax code. He genuinely enjoyed understanding its complexities.

      3. Colleen*

        Although I’ve encountered people that are passionate about taxes, I think your point is a good one when it comes to businesses like fast food and retail chains. When I worked at these types of places, I found that they were actually the worst when it came to wanting to hear from candidates about their enthusiasm for the company. When I started to apply to more professional jobs, they were more concerned about my experience and qualification.

        1. Drago Cucina*

          That’s interesting. My son got his first job at a pizza chain when he was asked:
          What’s more important? 1. Education. 2. Who you know. 3. Enthusiasm.
          The manager said he was the only person to ever answer “enthusiasm”. For the manager it was the right answer. He didn’t want someone who saw themselves making pizza forever. He wanted someone who was enthusiastic about having a job.

          1. Mannequin*

            If they didn’t want someone who saw themselves making pizzas forever, wouldn’t “education” be the most important thing? Because that’s what gets you out of along pizzas forever.
            What weird logic.

      4. Calliope*

        Every tax lawyer I know loves to enthuse about how it’s so much more interesting than people think. Some people are just cut out for that kind of thing.

      5. learnedthehardway*

        If you’re hiring for a tax accountant, you absolutely DO want someone who finds tax accounting fascinating, in all its complexity and glory. Some tax roles take YEARS to become proficient in, and they take constant skills and training upgrading to stay relevant in, as well. You want someone who has enthusiasm for solving a client’s problems – whether that’s getting a client out of a jam with the IRS, reducing a company’s tax burden by setting up transfer pricing, making sure they are compliant with the sales tax laws in 30 states, etc. etc.

        (I may have recruited tax positions at one point. The best tax people are very passionate about their work, as well as good at it.)

      6. DLW*

        I had a law professor who sincerely loved teaching income tax and was very enthused about the tax code. I volunteered more in that class than any other in law school because I was pretty much the only one actually doing the problems and I felt sorry for him being so excited and all his students being so . . . not.

        1. Delta Delta*

          I loved my Income Tax Law professor, too! She made the class really interesting, and honestly, I remember substantively more about that class than many other law school classes.

      7. No Handwritten Financials, Please*

        Allow me to take a 3 minute break from my job in taxes to list some things about a specific firm/role that an applicant could express enthusiasm for that are not the IRC:
        – Strong mentoring practices for junior staff
        – Ample opportunities for growth in technical skills
        – Ample opportunities for growth in “soft skills”
        – A reputation for treating clients well
        – Providing a quality product that exceeds client expectations
        – Respect for and utilization of diverse skillsets and working/communication styles
        – Value placed on non-technical strengths like teaching, recruiting, client service, managing teams & projects
        – A large firm that offers many potential areas of specialization
        – A small firm that allows for practicing some of everything
        – Flexibility in work hours and locations
        – A firm that gives back to their community and supports staff doing the same
        – A firm that actively avoids burning out junior staff with non-stop high hours (AKA “work-life balance”)
        – A firm that bases compensation, promotions, and bonuses on more than just billable hours
        – A role that serves clients in a specific market or with certain needs (small businesses, rapidly growing startups, families, nonprofits…)

        1. GrooveBat*

          Yes! It’s really not that hard to find *something* nice to say about a company you’re applying to. Granted, some of the things you listed might not be readily apparent from a quick scan of the website, but you can always find a testimonial or positive mention somewhere to mention, e.g., “I really liked that you emphasize XYZ on your career page” or “I was impressed to see all the positive references that came up when I Googled you.”

      8. a clockwork lemon*

        So, as someone who has a lot of genuine enthusiasm for the Internal Revenue Code and whose enthusiasm for it has, in fact, been explicitly a deciding factor in getting at least two jobs (I am not a tax preparer) I think you’re kind of misunderstanding what “enthusiasm” here means.

        I’m starting a new job in two weeks that’s a big transition, but my enthusiasm for the tax code meant that I was also able to talk about extremely niche and specific stuff that’s NOT relevant to my current role, or the role they were actually hiring for, and the end result is that I’m getting a different and much more interesting job than the one I applied for, and is exactly the role I wanted instead of the one I thought would be a good stepping stone.

        It’s about conveying that you give a shit about the work that you do, and that the company isn’t going to deal with you dragging your feet on learning new stuff as situations develop just because you think it’s boring.

    2. Krabby*

      Yes! I used to work for a tech company that was in a very niche space. Our name made us sound like we did something very specific, but we actually only made software to support that very specific thing (think, a company called Lama Groomers, Inc. who makes scheduling software for lama groomers but does no actual grooming). We were well known in our industry, but so many candidates just went off the name and made no attempt to learn what we did.

      I actually didn’t mind the people who said, “I honestly couldn’t figure it out,” because our product was very complicated. But, I got to cut a lot of interviews short when I had someone just meander on about all the things “your company does” that had clearly just been guessed by the name.

      1. Just Another Techie*

        Yupppp. I worked for a company that made consumer electronics products. Not a super big/household name in the industry (like not Samsung or Apple) but it would have taken thirty seconds to look at our website and see what products we made. And soooo many job candidates, when I got to “And do you have any questions for me?” they would ask “So what does [company] make?” *sigh*

        1. TechWorker*

          Lol we interview on campus and I’ve had multiple grad applicants ask me where the office is. Like… they’re grads, and I forgive it if the candidate is good otherwise but also a) that was in the job description and b) it takes two seconds to google. It’s a clear sign they applied to stuff and barely remember which company is which :p

      2. Sleeve McQueen*

        Yes. I need people who understand what sort of clients they are working with and want to do that. I work in an industry that has some glamour attached, so I need to know that they want to do what we do, say, cleaning llama hooves and that if they want to comb llama tails and put ribbons in them there’s really not that much of that in our line of work.

    3. Alexander Graham Yell*

      Yeah, when we’re interviewing candidates, we usually have a, “So what do you know about COMPANY/what we do?” and it gives us a chance to see if they’ve done research, if they understood what they saw (we’re a niche industry, not getting it won’t be a mark against them in any way, but it helps us gauge familiarity with the industry), and if anything caught their interest to see if that is relevant to the role or if they’re interested in something the role won’t touch.

      We did have one candidate say they really liked our values.
      “Oh? Which one stood out to you?”
      “Oh, just that like…you have them.”

      1. The New Wanderer*

        The values thing is funny. I started with this company 17 years ago and probably had a review of our corporate values in the new employee orientation. I re-started with this same company 3 years ago and the employee orientation covered what were apparently our new values. The moderators made a big deal about how these values were New and Important. I haven’t a clue how they differ from the previous set. You can probably guess what most of them are by just tossing out typical positive nouns related to business. (Innovation! Quality! Leadership!)

        However, some companies are extremely serious about their values and it’s nice when they let you know that up front. In one well-known company’s case, they send pre-interview material so that you are fully aware of the expectations around being able to cite chapter and verse from their value statements.

        1. Alexander Graham Yell*

          Ah yes, I interviewed for a major company that did that. The heads up was very useful!

          In our case really there’s only one value that we talk about internally a lot, and we do really care about it, but it’s not usually the one that interviewees pick up on – which honestly really helps us guide the conversation, because it gives us a way to talk about what we do and how we differentiate ourselves.

    4. MyySharona*

      Agreed. I vividly remember hiring for my proofreading/quality check team at a digital publishing company, and an applicant saying during an interview that “it sounded really dull, but that’s fine.” Despite her qualifications, I put her in the no pile. We had other qualified applicants who at least faked being interested in what we did and what the process was.
      Was I expecting people to be super excited about that work? Nah. But at the bare minimum, don’t be openly disdainful of the work or the people doing it. During an interview.

      1. Kaze*

        That’s just objectively true though. Proofreading is dull. Some people want a dull job. I’d be more bothered by the people lying to my face saying their passion is proofing.

        1. Em*

          For what it’s worth — I really enjoy proofreading! There’s something so satisfying about polishing up a document and making sure it presents itself well. It’s methodical and something I can point at to say “look, I did this, this, and this, and now things are better and also consistent with our other publications, which makes us look good.”

          1. Betteauroan*

            I enjoy proofreading, too. I love doing it for other people. Most people don’t like it at all. I must be a weird-o.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          When you’re talking about preferences and interests, nothing can be objective. So as a proofreader, I’d edit that bit right out of your comment. Then there’d be nothing left and I’d be saying “OK Kaze looks like we can just delete that whole bit there”.

          It’s not the most exciting bit of my translation job but it’s essential. Doing the translation then flaking on the proofreading would be like building a beautiful palace but not cleaning it once the builders have finished. The client won’t care that the terminology is all correct, they’ll just see that typo in the second heading and scream that you’ve delivered crap, just like nobody cares that the electric wiring is perfect when the whole place is covered in dust.

          It’s just like cleaning in that nobody notices or remarks on it except when it hasn’t been done.

  2. pammat*

    Don’t forget the useful resources of your local library! They probably have databases to help you find out pretty in-depth company information as well as databases of news articles that could help as well.

    (And librarians who can help you out as well!)

    1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Seconding that. Come by and see your local librarians – we’re happy to help you try and prepare for an interview.

      Just don’t expect us to be more engaged in your job search than you are yourself.

    2. Drago Cucina*

      Yes. Though I have to chuckle at the job applications I received around 2010. One of the application questions was on the role of the public library in the community. It only have to be one or two lines.

      Sooooo many people wrote that the library should start embracing technology and get computers in the library. It told me right away that the person hadn’t actually been in the library. Hadn’t looked at the website with the listing of computer classes, eBooks, etc.

      1. Yorick*

        I typed up high school papers on the computers in the public library (in a small town) years before that!

        1. Drago Cucina*

          It was painful. For aide positions I asked about hobbies (it’s good to have a mix of knowledge), but instructed “Do not list reading.” Because you don’t really have much time to read in a public library. I’d rather have someone who is does quilting, someone else who does cos-play, etc. It’s good to know books. It’s better to know beyond your personal interest.

          There was the guy who came in and asked for books for his 80+ mother. Her favorite author is known for lots of sex scenes. I could tell he didn’t know this. I picked out books with sedate covers, but more risqué story lines. It we had only gone by my tastes it would have been mysteries and sci-fi.

    3. Middle Aged Lady*

      Thanks for this. Retired librarian here: on my own and my spouse’s job hunts, the info could be used as a conversation starter that could lead the interview in a very positive direction! “I see your school is planning to add another graduate degree in business. What is your library’s process for adding resources for its support?” You can learn a lot about how they work with faculty and their budget process, and they can visualize you in the role.

    4. Ponytail*

      Two points to add – we use our library’s business information databases not just for the Business students, but to ALL students, to help them prepare for placements and interviews. It’s gone down really well, especially with the careers team, as they offer it up to students as one way to prepare their applications.
      Second point – it can take as little as five minutes on a web site to find a nugget of info. One interview, I literally saw the point at which I was going to be offered the job – they were talking about the various responsibilities I’d have and I pointed out that I assumed Task C would be on hold, seeing as they’d closed that service down for the summer, for renovating the lab. Much furious note taking on the interviewers’ parts and I assumed I’d impressed them. A simple bit of information that was on their website under ‘news’ and I got offered the job the next day!
      (An extra point for the OP – most jobs I’ve applied for have the values in the application pack, so it shouldn’t be a hardship to a) read the listing and b) ask a question based on one of the values.)

  3. introverted af*

    Disappointed that the link about an interview cheat sheet didn’t lead to ways to use the company’s values as a primer for interview prep and instead went to someone who talked about using an actual cheat sheet of their answers to questions (although that was interesting and it’s good to see your perspective on why not to do that). I would love to read it if you wrote it Alison!

  4. Carrie Oakie*

    Our company has a profile on ZR now, so that applicants can learn more about our company when applying. Because we are an adult oriented business as well, we hope people read the job posting (which clearly states mature content producers are our primary clients) but it also gives an additional opportunity for applicants to see that information. This way we’re up front about our clientele and candidates have the option to still apply or not. (We also now have a mandatory “I understand this job is in relation to mature content and am OK with this” screening question which has helped!)

    I like when a candidate knows about our company and ask questions based off info they found online, simply because it tells me they’re not just applying for any job, they’re taking an interest in us as a company. I take that as a sign that they put thought into applying beforehand, which I appreciate.

    1. FG*

      See, I’ve never even heard of “ZR” – how would I know to look there?

      Sure, if I google the company the listing might come up, but you can’t assume applicants know about specific sites on which to do research.

  5. TotesMaGoats*

    My first question for YEARS has been “tell me what you know about X university and why you think you are interested in this position?” When working in a state system where almost every school has the same jumble of letters for an abbreviation, it tells me you know where you are applying.

    It hasn’t failed me yet. Everything you need to know to answer that question you can find out in about 5 minutes. Take that time to do the research. I count this research in with figuring out who the hiring manager is and looking them up on Linked In. It’s just due diligence.

    It’s even more important for internal clients to do this kind of research. I interviewed someone who had worked in a different role at a previous university and wanted to move into one of my open positions. Same university but different role. I asked that question and they couldn’t answer it at all. Previous role was customer/visitor facing.

    Just have a couple bullet points of things that stuck out to you. It’s that straightforward.

    1. OhNo*

      Interesting! I also work for a university, and this question has never come up when we interview people. Instead, we usually start off by telling the applicant what we need them to know – the basics of our student body demographics, degrees, and programs offered. Most of our actual interview questions focus on how the applicant plans to work with our students, rather than checking them on how much prior research they’ve done.

      1. Yorick*

        This is a much better way. I may not have been able to tell that you have a lot of non-traditional students or first-generation students or whatever from the website and other online sources, and certainly not in 5 minutes.

        1. TotesMaGoats*

          If you can’t tell those things from a university website then it’s an awful website. Most places are going to have that front and center in the about us section or a facts and figures section.

    2. Yorick*

      I hated that question. It’s so vague. I read lots of things about the university before this campus interview but I don’t know which ones to recite to the dean? Suddenly everything is gone.

      And honestly, universities are so much the same on their websites that I don’t really know anything unique about the university. I may know unique things about the specific department, but not if they don’t stand out.

      1. Yorick*

        “Suddenly everything is gone” is meant to convey that I forgot everything that I knew about the university. Weird phrasing.

      2. TotesMaGoats*

        I am a dean (not THE dean) of a business school. You should be able to tell me the top programs, accreditation (AACSB) and other highlights…which are all on our get to know us page for the business school. We are required to post that kind of stuff. It’s not hidden that our MBA is highly diverse.

    3. Mannequin*

      “why you think you are interested in this position?”

      I really like this phrasing. It sounds like a genuine inquiry, where the standard “why do you want to work for us?” sounds like they want you to perform enthusiasm.

    4. ferrina*

      This is similar to a question I asked for a tech start-up. I didn’t use it as a Gotcha! It was a good starting place to make sure that we were on the same page as the candidate. It was really hard to tell what our department did from the companies website. Based on what the candidate replied, we could correct any initial misconceptions (which was really common, even with our top candidates) and within 5 minutes of starting the interview, we’d be on the same page.

      However, for higher level positions, you should have a sense of what the position is and what the company does (and if you can’t find out from the website, bring some clarifying questions). I was recently asked this in an interview for a department head position, and my ability to read between the lines and correctly outline the job really impressed the interviewers. (I phrased it as “My understanding is …… is that correct?” I’ve found that this phrasing turns the conversation in to a dialogue and invites my interviewer to tell me more, rather than me giving answers like I’m taking a quiz)

    5. Chocoholic*

      I’ve asked a version of this question too, and it is really interesting to hear responses. I ask “What was it about X company and about the position that made you interested and want to apply?”

      I also usually ask if someone has had a chance to look at our website and just see if they say yes or no. That gives me a bit of an idea if someone has even googled us to see who we are.

  6. Lucious*

    In a way, this topic is an unintentional litmus test for the actual values the company operates by.

    If a company holds unrealistic expectations of an interviewee’s corporate knowledge (“candidate is expected to hav researched the name of the founders dog”) , then that dynamic is likely in everything else that company does. Including how they manage the staff.

    1. Greg*

      I recently hired a project manager and I asked, “From your limited knowledge of our company, what’s a project you think you could come in and spearhead?” The answers were fascinating from a few different factors, but it showed that they had at least looked at what little was publicly available and had a thought process about it.

      One person said, “Your website is clunky and out of date, so I would start with that.” It was awesome.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      On the other hand, I would like to believe it could be just bad recruiting and not necessarily an overall bad sign. I once had an HR recruiter really berate me about the company, which I knew a lot about! Even after going home and doing more research, I could never figure out what answers she was looking for that I didn’t give. Obviously I didn’t get that job, but I don’t have the impression that the place overall was terrible to work for.

      1. starsaphire*

        I had a similar experience once, in a terrible onsite interview once where every single person I spoke to used “tell me what you know about our company” as a gotcha.

        Before the interview, I spent not fifteen minutes but over TWO HOURS reading every word of their extensive, glossy, buzzword-laden website, and gleaned absolutely no sense of what the company actually did. I even asked the person who tipped me off about the opening (she knew someone who worked there) and she said, “Oh, well, you know, buzzword buzzword, but I really don’t know.”

        I prepared my material and hoped fervently they wouldn’t ask me how much I knew about the company, and prepared a couple of questions about specific things I saw on the website.

        And then came the long series of gotchas. And I do mean gotchas. As in, one dude leaned back, put his hands behind his head, gave me an absolutely smarm-laden smile, and said, “So tell me, what does our company do?”

        I said, “Actually, I was going to ask you that; from your website, it looks like –” and he basically cut me off and ended the segment. Next person who came in the room asked me the same question, in the same way. So I regurgitated a bunch of buzzwords in a panic, and she leaned in (with a big self-satisfied grin) and kept digging until I was tripping over my words.

        When I asked another interviewer my carefully prepared questions about the website, she looked confused and told me that (specific thing) wasn’t on their website at all, and “was I sure I’d been looking at the right company? And, by the way, what does our company do?” Cue cheesy grin.

        Between that and the fact that none of the furniture was comfortable — from the modernist “chairs” in the lobby that were about 1″ from the ground, to the super high tiny-seat bar stools in the conference room where they parked me for my interview, I was in so much pain I could barely walk by the time I left — I’d never been so relieved to get a rejection email in my life. (Not to mention that they sent it before I actually left the building, according to the time stamp on the email.)

        I still have no idea what that company does, btw…

        1. Mannequin*

          How bizarre. It’s like you were on a hidden camera show and they forgot to jump out& yell SURPRISE!

        2. Betteauroan*

          Those people sound disturbed. Why would they treat interviewees like that? It’s just rude and condescending. I would not want to work at a place that plays mind games with me.

  7. NoviceManagerGuy*

    Some people take this advice way too far and pepper the whole interview with what they’ve seen on the website. My employer has tens of thousands of employees and is active in hundreds of different markets. Whatever recent projects you see on the website aren’t what we’re interviewing you for.

    1. Emma*

      I have a bit in my cover letter template where I always fill in a brief line about a project/initiative/area of the organisation’s work that I’m particularly interested in, but I’m generally applying at small local organisations, so they’re very much always relevant. I think I probably got the advice to do this from AAM, in fact.

  8. MassMatt*

    My cynical side had to smile at the references to platitudes and anodyne maxims, but yes I think some time spent on the company website is well spent. Some company websites are quite substantive, and even those that are not often contain material about the company that they expect everyone to know.

    Googling the company can turn up more unexpected dirt–scandals, major purchases, etc. and of course the best thing is when you have a network connection you can use–not to try to get the job, but to try to get you the info to GET the job. Is this department new? Expanding? What challenges are they facing? Someone demonstrating they have already thought about these things is going to have a big leg up compared to someone just thinking to ask about it in the interview.

  9. Gary*

    Why do you want to work in THAT job, at THAT company, as versus any generic job in that town that would pay your rent and bills? That’s what having done some research will let you answer, and it will make all the difference in the world to distinguish you from other, unprepared applicants.

    1. Lacey*

      Indeed. If you think they’re the same as every other company they’re going to think you don’t understand their specific needs and goals.

      I’m also kinda surprised that the OP thinks those core values and mission statements never come up. I’ve always worked for companies that were obsessed with them.

      1. Yorick*

        My previous academic department created key values, and they got so watered down during the process that they were things like “student success.” Every department cares about student success, or at least thinks it does.

      2. GS*

        Exactly – I work for a corporate GIANT and we care a lot about why you want to work there, but you could also argue we’re identical to our peers. It would take about five minutes to find what we considered to be important about our company if you go to our website.

      3. nonegiven*

        I worked in a factory once, they had a list of, I think, 5 things they wanted everyone to know about their efforts to take care of the environment, stamped on a metal tag attached to every machine in the department. If anyone asked, we were supposed to point one out.

    2. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Yup – this is the thing I find that I get the most push back from when helping people who are job searching in the library. Their response to why they want to work somewhere is “I need a job”. As I always try and tell them, that statement does nothing to distinguish them from any other candidate out there, and therefore it is not compelling in making anyone want to hire them.

      Take the time to do a little bit of research about the company and position and trends, find something about the company that you actually can sounded interested in, and you will be able to actually write a cover letter and talk in the interview in such a way that I will be convinced to give you a job. If you can’t be bothered to do that bit of work yourself, I’m going to hire someone who will.

    3. BlueAnon*

      But that begs the question, why do we care that it’s not just a job that pays the rent and bills? I very much enjoy my job but I’ve never loved any job I’ve ever had or company I’ve ever worked for. I was ready to move on in my career, this job was open, available, I was qualified and the work seemed interesting. This obsession with “we want you to have a passion for *US* as a corporate entity” is just silly.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        You might not care! And that’s fine. But from their side of things, candidates who are enthused about working with them specifically will be more appealing. So if you want to be competitive on that front, it’s smart to find things you can connect to.

        1. Lucious*

          Good point.

          So from the employers side, how should one distinguish between the truly passionate candidate vs one who views it as “just a job” but realizes they won’t be hired unless they mislead the interviewer into seeing them as a passionate candidate too?

          1. goducks*

            There’s always an element of risk in interviewing. The candidate could be misrepresenting their experience or interest. The company could be misrepresenting their culture or what the job actually looks like day to day.
            Showing enthusiasm for the company/role isn’t sure path to getting hired, but not showing it is often a sure path to not being hired.

          2. Lars the Real Girl*

            Honestly? Most people are terrible liars/actors.

            It can be really easy to tell someone who lights up when they talk about the newest llama grooming tools on the market, or who tells you about how they deeply respect the inclusion work your company has published.

            And all other things being equal, someone who can “fake” the enthusiasm better (I would say play-up, not really fake) will probably continue to be good at playing it up during the job itself – and often that’s really the point.

            1. JRR*

              Whenever I’ve managed to convincingly fake enthusiasm, I’ve ended up feeling it for real. I’m not sure if that makes me a terrible liar or a good one.

            2. Mannequin*

              Most people are terrible liars & actors, true, but most people are pretty bad at being able to detect when they are being even terribly lied to/acted at.

              I’m ND, and many, MANY times in my life have been able to tell someone is lying or putting on a false act while the NT people right next to me are falling for it completely. It’s the most surreal experience, because to ME, it’s like watching someone doing “Tommy Wiseau in ‘The Room’” level bad acting IRL and having everyone around you take them 100% sincerely.

          3. Lacey*

            I don’t think AAM’s advice is to mislead employers. It’s to find something you can be passionate about.

            I don’t care two flips about farm machinery, but I am passionate about great design no matter who it’s for, so I happily put together nice advertising and catalogs for local farm equipment stores for years. I didn’t need to pretend to care about farming to help my former employer understand that I was an asset to the team.

            1. Foofoo*

              Same! I work in a tech sector that supports retail. I honestly don’t care about retail or 3/4 of the products that we deal with. I don’t care about the clients that much (lots of big name companies, etc) and I’m not that excited about “selling stuff”.

              But you ask me what I do on a daily basis (writing applications and user interfaces to sell stuff) and I will talk your ear off over what I do, how the applications work, what makes a good user experience for shopping and interacting with our product, and what new features clients want and how I’m going to approach solving them.

              It’s *what* I do that I love, not necessarily what it supports. I’d happily move over to a company developing tax software if it means I could write applications and UIs for it.

          4. RussianInTexas*

            I mean, I will absolutely fake the passion I absolutely do not feel, because I work to have money for rent and food, and not for passion.
            I will not lie about my skills or experience, or whatever, but I will tell the employers what they want to hear. And write what they want to see in the cover letter.

          5. meyer lemon*

            I would think that someone with sincere interest in the job or company probably can come up with some specifics about why they think it’s a good fit for their background or interests. Even if this job isn’t necessarily your life’s passion, there are likely to be elements of it that appeal to you in some way, and if you can draw on those, you can formulate a more compelling answer than just repeating their mission statement back at them. Personally I think “passion” is asking too much for most jobs, but “some degree of sincere interest” seems like a fair thing to screen for.

          6. Seacalliope*

            I’d argue that when it’s hard to tell the difference, it ultimately doesn’t matter and you shouldn’t try to distinguish between those candidates. Someone not being passionate about a non-profit, but faking it with probably be visible. Someone not being passionate about your particular consultancy firm but showing credentials and interest in the work itself… why do you want to dismiss them?

            1. Tali*

              Agree with this. If they can successfully fake it then it’s as good as having it. It means they will be that good at faking interest day-to-day. And honestly very few people are genuinely passionate about most jobs.

      2. Viette*

        Yes, but you can want to work at one job more than another job. You say in your historical reasons for applying “the work seemed interesting”! That’s all it is.

        I don’t think anyone here is advocating for companies that want hyperactive passion for their corporate values. But it’s totally reasonable for them to be holding out for an applicant who finds the work interesting and is able to elucidate that. It’s so achievable, and it makes the office a much nicer place to work if people find the work interesting, as opposed to straight up not caring and only showing up for the paycheck.

        To paraphrase Marilyn Monroe — you wouldn’t work at a job *just* because it’s interesting, but my goodness, doesn’t it help?

        1. RussianInTexas*

          It helps, but what if you really have no interest in ANY job?
          My interests all lie really outside of any job I can do. Or would want to do. Or would care to do.
          There is no industry, process, software, company goals or culture, that enthuse me.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            You either accept that it will put you at a disadvantage against other candidates, or you find something about a job you can connect with.

            1. RussianInTexas*

              Good hours, decent salary, good benefits?
              I am joking, but not really. I couldn’t care less what mission statement or values the company has (ok, up to a point, I wouldn’t work for political campaigns of specific people, or some such), or what they manufacture or what service they provide.
              I understand I would have to fake the connection, sigh.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Surely though you can see this from the employer’s point of view. All else being equal, why *wouldn’t* they prefer the candidate who’s excited to work there? I mean, if you were hiring for, say, a nanny for your child, wouldn’t you prefer someone who seemed interested/engaged in doing this particular job than someone who didn’t?

                1. RussianInTexas*

                  No, I understand why employers would prefer it, I just can’t muster myself to be excited or interested in anything of the sort. Which sucks, because I really need to look for a new job, mine is terrible.
                  But also I think people who work as a nanny, or a teacher, or in a similar capacity, where they work directly with people, especially with children, are a whole another category.

                2. Renata Ricotta*

                  @RussianInTexas, my guess is that you would still want some level of investment from the providers any goods or services you get, childcare or not. If I’m picking a landscaper or a taco truck or a bed & breakfast, the difference between a mediocre service/product and a great one that I’ll return to and recommend to my friends is often a workforce that’s invested in doing a great job, and people tend to bring their best work to things they find interesting and engaging.

                3. RJ*

                  Yeah, but it kind of goes back to the OP’s point, which is that this fake enthusiasm is a ritualistic lie. You have to pretend to be enthusiastic so you can compete with other people who are pretending to be enthusiastic.

                  One of the myths of capitalism is that there are some people who want to do grunt work and they’re personally fulfilled by it and it’s their dream. There is literally no one like that, and we shouldn’t be collectively pretending that there is.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Nah, lots of people are genuinely enthusiastic about their work. I’ve been enthusiastic about most of my jobs. I’ve worked with lots of people who are. Lots of people here are. Take a look at the post from No Handwritten Financials, Please for an example of things people get enthused about. You can feel that way and still look forward to retiring once you no longer need to work for money.

                5. Kevin Sours*

                  You don’t have to pretend it’s your dream job. I have a cousin who slings supermarket stock for a living. She likes it because it’s active, allows her to zone out mentally relax, and allows time and schedule flexibility for her hobby (MMA). You can definitely articulate why you want a job beyond cashing a paycheck even for grunt work jobs.

                6. Mannequin*

                  I would prefer they be genuinely enthusiastic about it, but how would you even *know* when it’s customary in our society to have to perform fake enthusiasm for almost EVERY job?

                  And it’s so *gross* too… We think our society is oh so progressive because people don’t have to literally get down on their knees and grovel for them anymore, but being required to falsify the correct amount of passion so you can get hired instead of oh, I dunno, having all the right qualifications and/or experience…what else can you call that EXCEPT groveling?

              2. Cthulhu's Librarian*

                If you don’t care about the company at all, why should they care about you enough to employ you? After all, you’re being strictly mercenary in your rationale for job searching – and that’s reasonable from the sense of your self interests – but it also implies that you will abandon the company, or betray it, for sufficient pecuniary rewards.

                And really, you’re actually citing reasons why you would care about the position – you want something that offers benefits and decent work hours and a decent wage. If you see a company offering that, you should be able to find some way to say “I’m excited to apply for your company because you have a reputation for all these things I don’t currently have and am seeking. Here’s my skills and knowledge in the field, why I am interested in it, and why I think your company would benefit from my services.”

                1. Lobsterman*

                  Onoz “abandon” the company for “pecuniary rewards.”

                  Also known as “getting another job for more money.”

                2. Cthulhu's Librarian*

                  While you’re correct, Lobsterman, and every employee should recognize that they need to do what is right for them and leave for more money when necessary – if I’m hiring for a position, and someone seems completely mercenary and unlikely to stop their job search after getting the role? If I have to worry that they’ll leave because a competitor is offering $0.05 more per hour? Yeah, I don’t want to expend the time and effort on training that person.

                  Go to your boss and say “I’m leaving for someone who will give me a 25% raise”? No one reasonable is going to hold it against you. Go to them and say “I’m leaving for strictly monetary reasons that amount to a 0.5% raise?” You’re going to engender feelings of betrayal.

                3. NeutralJanet*

                  Someone who is ready and willing to leave a job for a $.05 per hour raise either really, truly despises their job or doesn’t understand that a job is pretty much always going to be the worst when you’re new at it, meaning that they likely haven’t learned much about any job they’ve ever done and thus are probably very bad at their job–either way, that person is probably not someone who I’d want working for me. This is also a pretty thin and obvious strawman, so I’m not sure why you’re digging in to that point. You don’t have to care about a company to realize that it’s in your best interest not to leave on a whim for a new job that you don’t actually know will be better in any meaningful way.

                4. Mannequin*

                  It’s not “mercenary” to put your own/your families own best interests before that of your employer, it is literally the ONLY sane and ethical choice! Anyone who cares more about the company than themselves is going to get SCREWED, because a faceless corporation isn’t going to think twice if they need to “downsize” that person, fire them as a scapegoat for someone else’s f-up, or whatever.

                  I mean really- BETRAY it? You don’t “betray” a business by leaving for another job…FFS it’s not like abandoning your spouse & kids and running off with a new lover! What an unhealthy attitude to have towards a job!

                  My rationale for applying at any job was “I need money to eat & pay my rent, and this seems interesting/like something I can deal with doing 8+ hours a day”. I have always been a hard and conscientious worker and an asset to every company I worked for, and I went interviews letting them know the reasons it would be good for them to hire ME, not to act like a performing monkey doing some kind of weird pick me dance.

              3. LC*

                That’s pretty close to what I was looking for in my recent job search, and I tried to be upfront about it, to hopefully weed out companies that wouldn’t mesh with what I was looking for.

                I framed it as “the company and the environment and how they treat their employees are the most more important part for me.” As long as the work is vaguely interesting, or at least not awful, I would have been fine with a ton of different types of jobs. But I wanted a company that a) wasn’t evil, b) treated their employees well in terms of pay, benefits, work/life balance, general atmosphere (which, for me, means not super high stress, not a lot of office politics, etc.), and c) involved some sort of work that I’m already good at or wouldn’t mind learning, that wouldn’t leave my bored to tears.

                I was lucky to be in a position of having some time to be picky, which I know so often isn’t the case, but it gave me the freedom to never fake anything or oversell myself. One of the first things I learned from this site was that you should be interviewing them just as much as they’re interviewing you, and I was very deliberate about doing that.

                1. LC*

                  Oh, and I’m about six weeks into my new job, and so far so good. I don’t feel like there was a bait and switch on either side. They seem to be what I was looking for and thought I saw while interviewing, and what they’ve expected of me so far is where I think it should be (not mind numbingly dull, but not beyond what I can and want to do).

                  So at least for me, at least this time, my approach seems to have been successful. (Although it’s still new, so let’s see how it’s going in a few months/a year.)

              4. Mannequin*

                I despise this kind of performative enthusiasm with the fire of ten billion suns! Being ND may have something to do with this, I’ve always hated fakeness, falsity, and pretense.

                How “rah rah” I can pretend to be in an interview will tell you literally NOTHING about my skills or ability to get the job done.
                If they want enthusiasm, they can hire a cheerleader. If they want a capable and competent worker, they can hire me.

          2. RagingADHD*

            Well, when I’ve worked at boring, underpaid, soul-crushing jobs, I got pretty authentically enthusiastic about working with nice, competent people for good pay doing work I thought was both good and useful.

            Connecting with a job doesn’t have to be rah-rah, jump up and down excitement. It can be about satisfaction and contentment. Maybe finding a challenge, making a positive contribution, or just having coworkers who are a positive influence and make a pleasant environment.

            If you can’t think of any kind of work at all that would give you a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day, maybe you’re so burnt out that you’re getting a little depressed.

      3. anon e mouse*

        I think this is a “world as it is” vs. “world as we wish it were” issue. In the world that I (and maybe you?) wish it were, most employers would recognize that a large fraction of their employees will only ever really care specifically about who they work for to the extent that the specific employer makes their jobs tolerable and sets their salary and benefits at acceptable levels. In the world as it is, most employers either have unrealistic expectations in this regard or don’t see how the question is emblematic of the unhealthy relationship with work we demand of workers. So my view is that we can be annoyed about the incongruence between the world as we wish it were and the world as it is, but ultimately we live in, and have to deal with, the world as it is.

      4. Kevin Sours*

        Enthusiasm doesn’t need to be gushing over the top excitement. I don’t expect you to tell me that this is your dream job and you’d do it for free if you had to. But if you can’t articulate a reason for wanting to take the position beyond the desire to cash a paycheck I’m going to start wondering if you’ve thought about the role, how you’ll fit into it, and even if it’s something you are going to actually want to do. The last thing I want is to be interviewing again in three months.

        But the key thing here: “the work seemed interesting”. Explain why you think that in a little detail and you’re good.

      5. Mannequin*

        I agree BlueAnon. It’s needlessly performative and just seems like another way to abuse the power differential between management & employees. When you are judged not just on your skills but on how well you can perform enthusiasm for their particular company (when for many people, paying the bills and/or having benefits is what they REALLY care about, and they might be much more enthusiastic working a different job but it doesn’t pay) puts a bad taste in my mouth.

  10. Renata Ricotta*

    I think it’s a pretty decent proxy for a person’s general proclivity to show up to a meeting reasonably prepared. When your employee shows up to a work meeting, a good one will have taken a few minutes to read the agenda, look up any unfamiliar attendees to see what their role is, review any relevant notes to brush up on the status of the project, etc. Someone who takes 20 minutes to review the website so as not to be caught flat footed is often a similar type of person.

    It also reveals who is likely to try to confidently BS their way through things — a couple times I’ve interviewed candidates who said stuff like “I’m just SO ENTHUSIASTIC about your firm’s well regarded bad faith insurance defense practice” when it was a very findable fact that we only represent policyholders. Clearly they were just saying stuff and hoped to be correct.

    1. Pants*

      I’ve always done a little research on the companies I interview for simply because I expect them to ask me something company-related. Sometimes it’s as simple as “have you looked at our website?” They may not care what you saw there but it does say something about the person that at least took a few minutes to look at the company’s site.

      For my current job (which I simply adore!), I did pretty extensive research because I wanted so badly to join the company. Platforms were mentioned in some of the research and I wasn’t familiar with them (JIRA, Asana) so I looked those up as well so I’d know if any of my skills would transfer over. I didn’t vomit all this info in the interview but I was able to have a little bit of substance to back up my software platform answers. I received an offer 30 minutes after my second interview. So… I think it helps.

  11. Raine*

    The last job I interviewed for did this to me – I knew the company casually already, but I sat down and researched to see what had changed, how they’d expanded, and so on. Then I went to the interview, fully prepared to show my knowledge, and got hit with the discovery that it’s actually a little-known branch from the main company that has a different specialization (although my knowledge of the job itself was still spot on) that wasn’t at all mentioned in the job listing. I ended up looking like a fool, and despite the fact I was still very interested in the work itself, I couldn’t shake the feeling I’d already doomed my own chances. I didn’t get the job, so I suppose I’ll never know for sure.

    1. PT*

      I worked somewhere that had a standardized interview form that served to quiz candidates on the company’s values (which could not easily be found on the website) for even our entry-level part time jobs that seemingly had nothing to do with them. Say I was hiring a llama handler, and it had to do with “What are our core values? How would our core values apply to llama handling? How would you apply the core values in your position of llama handler?” When the person applying was applying for a probationary llama handler role: we’d be enrolling them in a llama handling course, and then hiring them if they passed. So we really needed to know how familiar they were with llamas (and thus, could they pass the llama handling course) and they didn’t really know what the job of llama handling was even going to fully entail yet beyond the vague (and inaccurate, thanks HR) description in the application.

      We’d get a lot of confused people in the interview, and then we’d have to be like, “OK so this is what the job actually is and this is what you’d actually have to know and do,” afterwards. It was a waste of everyone’s time.

    2. Clemgo3165*

      I had something similar happen to me. The questions about the organization as it related to the job were all inside baseball, nothing that could be gleaned from 20-30 minutes spent on the website/internet. That information just wasn’t there. I rarely say “um” in an interview, but I sure did that day!

      I studied, but I didn’t know anyone there. The person who got the job did though.

    3. quill*

      I bombed an interview a while back because of a similar thing: the company was in the process of splitting off a subsidiary and the site did not make the distinction between their main products and their new subsidiary clear in any way (And they were still so conjoined that they were going through the same HR, so I feel that if they judged me for that they were a little off base…)

  12. Guacamole Bob*

    This is one of those things that really varies by industry and type of work, too. There is a huge amount of public information out there on the government agency I work for and the services we provide, but it’s pretty much a black box in terms of internal workings – or at least that was how I felt when I was interviewing. Some other types of businesses are much harder to find info on, or the information is of a very different kind.

    I don’t expect huge amounts of research from candidates – all our board meetings are archived on youtube and the materials are on our website, and I don’t expect anyone to touch that stuff. But it’s also a bit of a yellow flag when someone interviewing for a job at the Beverage Administration has no idea whether we provide coffee, when it’s very apparent from even a cursory glance at our website or social media presence that we do. It makes it seem like they were probably applying scattershot and haven’t put any thought at all into whether they’d actually want to work for our agency or even in our industry.

  13. Lizy*

    Oooohhh I hear ya.

    I prepared for an interview for a role I really wanted. Like, I REALLY wanted it. I had an answer in the bag – “I’ve worked with non-profits before and I enjoy non-profit work” (or whatever it was I said – it was years ago). Totally got it wrong. Yes, they were technically a non-profit, but I was thinking more like “this is a charity for struggling women” when they were a networking/professional membership organization. So I failed that quiz.

    I think it boils down to – did you even check out their website at all? To be fair to myself, their website was beyond horrible and it’s not at all surprising that I wasn’t sure on what the company did. Membership with the organization increased dramatically once they put out a new website and marketing materials that actually explained that it’s a networking/professional membership organization. I know this because they hired me to handle membership with the organization, and you bet your behind I recounted the interview “fail” when we were brainstorming about new website ideas. ;)

    1. Elizabeth West*

      This is a good point. I always look at their website—so many have jargon like, “We leverage the synergistic output of your business to collaboratively enable multifunctional results.” This tells me nothing about what they actually do all day.

      A horrible one tells me a lot about the company, or at least the boss. In one interview with a company whose website was packed with long repetitive essays about their work, the interviewer told me that the big boss wrote all that garbage and would not let anyone in marketing edit or remove any of his material. Translation: this guy would be a nightmare to work for.

      Another red flag would be a website that looks like it debuted in the mid-1990s. This = cheap and/or you’ll be working on very old computers. Also, if it’s that old, I might assume they’re not even in business anymore or I have the wrong URL.

      1. ThatGirl*

        I had a lead on jobs at Accenture the last time I was job searching, and I looked around their website for a good 20-30 minutes and I’ll be honest…. I still don’t know what they actually DO.

        OTOH, the company I ended up with – I didn’t know all the details, but they’re a manufacturer, so I was easily able to say “I like product X because…”

        1. Anonymous because I talk about my company*

          Hah! I’m currently at Accenture. We do lots of things in the consulting space and internal and other things so it can be a … real challenge to figure out exactly what we do as a company as a whole etc. This is often where I might Google a company’s name and white paper to see if I can get any ideas that way.

      2. Middle Aged Lady*

        I took a great job that I didn’t understand why their website—newly launched—was so bad. Until I met their IT guy who took all their careful work and decided he wanted to recreate their 1990s website. No one seemed to have any control over this guy. He retired soon after I left. I would openly tell students and faculty that I knew the site sucked but we had a stubborn old dinosaur heading up our IT.

  14. Another Anonymous Federal Employee*

    As someone who does applicant interviews, I (and my supervisor and colleagues) believe it is very important to know about the agency that you are applying to. It is soooo frustrating to waste my time interviewing someone who when asked why are you applying to XX and they answer because you are hiring and have NO knowledge of what we do!!!!! I have also had applicants give incorrect information on what we do and then argue when corrected!!!

    1. KayDeeAye*

      I work for a non-profit that is the parent organization of a for-profit company. I don’t want to make it too identifiable, so let’s say that the non-profit is a membership organization for…camel breeders, and the for-profit offers camel-oriented insurance. (Which is probably not a bad idea, since I used to know one camel breeder, and he claimed they were about the most ill-tempered beasts that ever wore a bridle.) Anyway, when we advertise job openings, we are always very careful to say that it’s for the membership organization, not the camel insurance company. And yet at least 50-60% of applicants nonetheless talk about their enthusiasm for camel insurance, and if they’d spent even 5 minutes on our website, they’d know that isn’t what we do.

      It’s so annoying. And – though I hate to say it – pretty sloppy, too.

    2. Gumby*

      My favorite was the *scheduled* phone interview that started with the applicant saying, “Could you remind me again which company this is for?” And when give the name, went on to “and you do…?” She did not go to the next round.

  15. goducks*

    I’ve interviewed more than a few candidates that when I’ve asked, “what do you know about (our company)” expecting that they know a little tiny bit, but wanting to also correct any misconceptions about our products and markets, only to receive essentially blank stares, and people who don’t have the slightest bit of a clue about what products we build. Like can’t even come up with, “I know that you manufacture teapots, and it looks like you sell them to big tea houses in Europe” or something.
    I certainly don’t expect any candidate to be an expert on our company, but when they show up seeming like they have no idea who we are in the most general sense, it does reflect poorly on them as a candidate.

    1. green bean*

      I totally agree! I’ve only very recently been on the interviewing side but it’s been very surprising how some candidates just… show up with their metaphorical hands in their pockets! I don’t expect them to know all the in & outs but not being able to describe the wider industry or domain our company works in, yikes. It’s such a strong lack of due diligence & conscientiousness that we’ve basically decided to stop the interview immediately if the candidate has zero prep, no need to waste both our times. All our interviews are via video call, so I’m also *baffled* that none of these people even sneakily opened our website to take a peak: I wouldn’t even hold it against that much: you’re caught short but at least you’re improvising with the tools on hand…
      All in all, I feel like it’s a good objective measure of the quality of a candidate.

    2. BluntBunny*

      Yes when preparing for interviews I look back at the history of the company who they merged with name changes and the locations of their headquarters and departments for example manufacturing sites in US, UK, Sweden, China, Japan etc. Awards they won, sustainability targets are also things I meant mention in a cover letter. Most companies have an about us, locations, news/press release sections that contain the key info. Can also get a lot on LinkedIn and glass door

    3. Susan Calvin*

      I very recently punted a candidate from our queue after the phone screen because he appeared to have applied based off some name recognition of the company name, but didn’t take the two minutes to google the (sub-) brand, which appears at several points in the ad, or even read the ad particularly carefully. Imagine applying to Yamaha’s piano division with a vague idea of wanting to build motorbikes. (He only got the screen because someone from sales referred him. Still gotta have Words with that guy.)

  16. NomadiCat*

    As a candidate, I do a half page dossier on the company and another half page on anyone I’ll be interviewing with. It’s part of my interview prep before the 1st round and I find it really helps me in keeping track of WHICH place I’m interviewing when I have multiple irons in the fire, and it’s an invaluable reference as the process progresses.

    Like Alison says, it only takes about 20 minutes, and it’s just a few bullet points in each section. For companies I try to come up with:

    – Date founded
    – Current leadership
    – Flagship product/project + 2 or 3 legacy or new products/projects
    – Recent news coverage
    – Other cool details
    – Public Mission/Vision/ Values
    – Links to website/ Wikipedia/ Company LinkedIn page

    And then for people it’s usually what is available on their LinkedIn or the company’s website:

    – Name and pronouns
    – Relevant work history (specifically, have they held this role? are they familiar with the industry? how did they get where they are today?)
    – Educational background (some people are really proud of their degrees, schools, or certifications/licenses)
    – Do we share any contacts?

    1. Chairman of the Bored*

      This is a good example of why interviewers want to see some preparation/research on the part of the candidate.

      All other things being equal, I’d want to hire the candidate who bothered to take 20 minutes to put this info together in an organized way over the competing candidate who did not; as it’s very likely that this tendency for planning ahead and extra effort will carry through to their actual work.

      I care less about the fact that a candidate knows about the flagship product specifically than I do about the fact that they bothered to look it up beforehand at all.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      My favorite interview technique is when the internal recruiter sends out the list of interviewer names ahead of time with encouragement to look them up on LinkedIn. It’s only happened a few times but it’s really handy and the expectation to do a little homework is clear. Sometimes there are last minute ‘cast changes’ but it helps get a bigger picture of the backgrounds of people who I’d be working with/for.

  17. JI*

    I once went to an interview where I had been unable to get any information on their differentiators, despite my best efforts (hypergrowth startup). Get to interview, the guy’s first questions is “Why do you want to work for Unqork?”
    I couldn’t really answer as I wasn’t sure I did yet.
    And they had approached *me*.
    Other people didn’t show up, no one could explain the technology or why they thought I would be a good fit.
    The entire afternoon was a waste of time.
    The next week, I had a meeting with my boss, who said “So, I heard you interviewed at Unqork?”
    Some idiot had blabbed.
    Bunch of clowns.

  18. Gal Friday*

    Digging a little further than the website, you can often find information on current and future initiatives in an organization’s annual report (now widely available online) or by doing a search for news about the company in the LexisNexis database (free at my local public library).

  19. kevin*

    It matters because they’re telling you what’s on the test. If you can’t pass a test where they’ve given you the answer beforehand, it’s because you’re incompetent, and that’s helpful information for the hiring manager to know.

    1. bubbleon*

      This feels a little harsh. I just had a look around my own company’s website and wasn’t really able to find a lot of information I think would be useful in an interview. We’re also not in an industry that shows up in the news a lot, so there isn’t much to go off outside of our own published materials. I could easily see this letter being written about my company or another in our industry, where already being a part of the industry would be a huge advantage to anyone job searching.

      1. Cobol*

        It is harsh, but people I see who struggle with this question seem to be looking for something profound. That’s not what’s being asked with this question.
        “Why do I want to work here? I saw the CEO’s post about space teapot manufacturing, and really want to work at a company with that kind of vision.”

        1. bubbleon*

          If the question is “why do you want to work here,” sure. I know there’s someone at my company who specifically asks people “tell me what you know about us,” which it sounds like is closer to OP’s question.

          1. Cobol*

            Honestly, I think they’re the same question. Someone above said an interview is like a first date. I agree with that. These questions are really show me you’ve done done research

          2. Jack Straw*

            Yep, they are the exact same question. “Why do you want to work here, at this specific company?” is the same as “What do you know about this specific company that makes you want to work here/in this role?”

          3. Ellie*

            I ask the ‘tell me what you know about us’ question not to see how invested they are in the company (I don’t expect them to be), but so that when I launch into a description of what we do as a business, I’m not covering material that they already know. Maybe different professions are different, but when I’m hiring, its generally for software engineering positions, and I want to see enthusiasm about coding and development, and developer tools, and possibly the field we’re in, but not so much for the company. Fact is, it’s one of the biggest in our field in the world, so they’re probably either looking for cool projects to work on, or job security, and there’s no point in judging them for that.

            To the OP, I think it might just be a standard interview question. I doubt its going to be a deal breaker in most fields. Maybe it would be important for a non-profit? But I don’t put any weight on that answer.

    2. Lucious*

      Yes and no. If the firms mission is easily accessible & the advertised role is what it says, then you’re right.

      Where things get unfair is when the position is supporting a different job, subsidiary, or function no one could reasonably know from public sources. Example scenario- Stark Industries advertises a Teapot Analyst role. Applicant researches and applies at Stark Industries to find out the role is in fact a cost analyst role at subsidiary Wayne Enterprises, since Bruce Wayne bought the division after the job ad went up.

    3. RussianInTexas*

      I just checked my company’s public website. My company, lets say, manufacturers tiny single use plastic llama teeth, llama hooves, llama ears.
      The website is basically a catalogue of the things we manufacture and sell. The mission statement is a blurb. The company is a 50 people family company. They are not on LinkedIn. The Glassdoor is very minimal. They are in an industry that everyone uses and no one knows names of.
      What I am saying is, good luck?

  20. Akcipitrokulo*

    One (successful) interview asked me what I’d found interesting on their website, and I talked for a few sentences on one of their minor products, having missed their main one. But that was ok – I had shown an interest and caring enough about the job to look into them – and all of their products were important :)

    So it isn’t wanting to know every last detail of what the ceo takes in their tea – it’s showing you’ve thought about it. And you have done some preparation.

  21. Suzy Q*

    I once told an interviewer something even*he* didn’t know about the company, which I learned from closely reviewing their website. Research is useful.

  22. Julia*

    There are actually some differences between company website descriptions. Some employers tout their commitment to diversity (and list awards they’ve won in that area). Some websites will talk about a recent successful project, which can give you some insight into their priorities. Sometimes they’ll spotlight an employee; you can mention how that shows they value individual contributions. Sometimes they have an org chart, or customer testimonials.

    It’s not all “at Acme Corp we believe in determination and excellence” – there’s some variability there.

  23. Anon Museum Worker*

    As a real life example of “Do Your Research,” we interviewed a great on paper candidate for a senior curator role, and asked them what artists he didn’t see in our collection, but would like to accession. He cited artists that are in our collection, are highlighted in our digital content, and are easily accessible via a quick keyword search. We would’ve been more forgiving in an entry level role, but this was someone who was seasoned enough that he should’ve done research and not simply assumed our holdings based on geography.

    Conversely, we had an entry-level candidate who researched the hell out of us before even applying, and I liked how clear-eyed she was with her questions, none of which could be answered by the website or research. Things like reporting structures, internal views on mission and culture, how we form working partnerships, our views on the Very Problematic Things happening in the field.

  24. RC Rascal*

    Here is a quick and dirty tip for interview prep. This only applies to publicly traded companies, and especially if you have 5+ years work experience:

    Listen to the most recent Investor Relations call. Typically it will take 60-90 minutes, and can be found on the Investors section of the company home page. You can glean lots of high level information here, and frame several good questions to ask higher level managers, especially Director/VP and above.

    I started doing this in B-school; it was the fastest way to prepare quality questions, especially for the upper level managers I was interviewing. Usually it is easier to prepare to talk to the hiring manager because a thoughtful candidate will have lots of questions about the role and the hiring manager is the right person to ask about these sorts of things.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Excellent advice. Except for finance or C-level roles, I don’t expect candidates to talk about our P/E ratios. But those IR calls are very informative. You learn a lot beyond the financial health of a firm.

  25. Ama*

    When I was hired at my current employer, I knew from the job posting that one of the major components of the job duties was running the quarterly newsletter, so I looked at the website and checked out the newsletter, so I’d have a sense of what I would be doing, the kind of content they ran, what the design looked like, etc. These days I’m looking more for grant administration jobs, so when I apply to organizations I look at anything on their website that says what they fund — especially if the job description specifies a particular grant program the job is in charge of. I was really bummed recently to not get an interview for an org that had funded a local museum exhibit I’d really loved — I was excited to have something cool to talk about in the interview.

    Now that I’ve worked my way into a hiring manager job myself, I mostly want to see if people have spent enough time getting familiar with the basics of what we do and read the job description carefully enough to ask questions about it — I work in the grantmaking department of a nonprofit (as in the people who give out the money) and you wouldn’t believe the number of times I got on a phone interview with a seemingly good candidate who kept talking about how they were interested in our job because they wanted more grant writing experience (the exact opposite of what my department does) or mixed us up with a larger organization that works in a similar (but not exactly the same) area. I don’t expect anyone to know everything about our org, but if you are making mistakes that five minutes on our website or a careful reading of the job description could clear up, you’re going to have to be absolutely outstanding in other ways to overcome that poor impression.

  26. LTL*

    Quite honestly, I think companies measure a number of things during the hiring process that don’t make a difference to how good of an employee you’ll be. Someone can be excellent at their job without caring for the business, and someone can be very excited without being good at the job. But Alison’s right that your job search will suffer if you don’t show some level of interest.

    1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Sure, it can be the case, but a lot of times, someone who isn’t stellar can be taught to be better, IF they care enough about the position to learn. Where as someone who doesn’t care often won’t put in the effort to improve.

      Every hire is a gamble. The one who I think will be willing to work at improving if their skills are lacking is a better gamble than one who seems uninterested and unmotivated about the position.

    2. PT*

      And to that, I have worked with a lot of people who got hired with a ton of enthusiasm, because they talked a good game during the interview. They have all these skills! They have all these plans! They’re going to implement all these new exciting things!

      And they were all fired within the year because they were bullshitting and it was all lies and they couldn’t even do the basic core functionalities to tread water in the job.

      1. tra la la*

        Yeah, I’ve seen a bit of this, and I think sometimes it’s because the hiring manager is more interested in hearing the right buzzwords rather than really probing into skills (or even thinking in more grounded ways about what skills they need). We have some higher ups who pride themselves on being “vision guys” and they seem more at risk of hiring this kind of bullshit artist.

  27. So sleepy*

    Yeah, and not every company is focused on what you know about their values, though they might be focused on whether their best practices are a priority for you. I know at my employee, we want/expect potential employees to have done a cursory amount of research on us…. if you spend the entire interview talking about the role as if it’s in vehicle manufacturing when our organization mainly does safety reviews of already-manufactured vehicles, that’s going to come across as a glaring emission, especially if a 5 minute review of our website would make the difference obvious (not a great example, I know, but I’d be weirdly identifiable if I used my actual organization’s work as the example… hopefully this gets the point across).

    Other than that, for many roles we are going to want to know that the person will prioritize safety, accessibility, and transparency, so while you don’t need to have read our website to understand that, anyone who has is going to know to highlight those aspects in their responses (and anyone who doesn’t mention prioritizing safety in a question about how they would handle a situation isn’t likely to be considered further because it’s just so integral to our operations and business model).

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is where I fall on preparation as well. At a former job, I would get candidates who’d tell me how excited to work in a particular area of law…. that our firm did not practice. The practice groups were listed on the website, which is very common for most law firms. If one’s interested in a particular type of law, this is easy info to find. If you’re applying somewhere that doesn’t practice in that field, maybe pick another one to profess interest in for for that particular interview? (I don’t even really care about the profession of interest in a specific area, either, but if one’s going that route, make sure to pick an area the employer offers.)

      I don’t quiz candidates on our corporate values/mission, but I find a lot of candidates ask me about them. I prefer to talk about how specifically they’re reflected in our work and priorities rather than just listing them out as they might appear generally – I actually have no idea if they’re on our website or not.

  28. JRR*

    I once applied for a job at a company that designed and manufactured specialized equipment that I used in my previous job. They didn’t expected applicants to be familiar with their products, but the fact that I was put me at an advantage over other candidates, and I was offered the job.

    Was my advantage “unfair” because I had access to knowledge not available to other candidates? I don’t know. Maybe.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Maybe, but maybe not. I’ve been turned down for jobs I would have rocked at, even after clearly nailing the interview. They might have liked another candidate whom they figured they could train. There’s no telling—hiring is weird.

    2. Anonym*

      I don’t think that’s unfair at all, just a matter of circumstance. Your knowledge is part of the package you offer as a candidate. If it makes you more valuable as a hire, then they were right to hire you. They got lucky, and you had a perfectly fair and reasonable advantage.

    3. PollyQ*

      Not at all unfair, just the way the world works. You didn’t steal that knowledge or even inherit it. You legitimately gained it while working. People’s qualifications for jobs are part personal characteristics, part education, and part experience. And look at it this way: those other candidates probably had experience that would’ve put them ahead of you for other job openings.

  29. Fernie*

    Also, you have to learn some specifics about the company, or at least the industry they are in, to be able to speak in an interview to how you, with your skills and experience, could bring value to that company and help them succeed. Doing some research ahead of time is a great reminder to sell your skills by speaking to their relevance for the company achieving its goals.

  30. learnedthehardway*

    The level of preparation expected from candidates will be a reflection of the level of the role, generally. For junior level roles, some awareness of the company from reading the website would be expected. The interviewer wants to see that the candidates are genuinely interested in the company and the role, have a bit of business knowledge or familiarity with what the business unit or functional department does, etc. Cultural fit questions are always difficult to ask for junior levels – the baseline is that you’re looking for someone who will work well with teammates, be reliable and dedicated, and take constructive criticism (and act on it).

    Sometimes companies spend a good deal of time on their cultural values simply BECAUSE they aren’t talked about a whole lot after the person is hired – it’s important to ensure that the candidate knows what they are and that they’re going to be expected to abide by them, before you make the offer. It’s pretty pointless to ask, “Are you going to behave like a bigot at work?” and a lot easier and more productive to ask “How would you show your teammates that you embrace our company’s commitment to an inclusive workplace?”

    (Of course, there are the explicitly spelled out values and the actual values, but it could be that HR is trying to shift the values of the organization more to the ideals and away from the actual ones, which could be why there’s a lot of focus on them.)

    For mid-level roles, you’d expect someone to have done more homework – maybe have some perspective on company products and services relative to competitors. For senior level roles, you’d normally expect the person to have extensive industry insights, perspectives on the competition, and to have done some pretty in-depth knowledge of the company’s services and even publicly available financial information.

    1. RussianInTexas*

      “How would you show your teammates that you embrace our company’s commitment to an inclusive workplace?”
      I honestly don’t know how to answer this question outside of “treating all my colleagues equally”. Is there something else that should be added to the answer?

      1. Chairman of the Bored*

        “Is there something else that should be added to the answer?”

        Here are a few ideas:
        1) Commit ahead of time to not remaining passive if somebody else is saying things that are offensive or inappropriate, even if they’re “just joking” or if the person who might be most directly bothered by those statements isn’t around. Be the person who tells the jerk that it’s not OK to be a jerk.
        2) If in a management role, default to providing the greatest amount of scheduling flexibility possible for things like caregiving responsibilities and religious observances
        3) If in a hiring role, actively recruit and interview candidates who would make the demographics of your team more closely resemble those of society at large

        There are many, many other ways to do this beyond just not actively being a bigot yourself – which is really the most basic and unimpressive version of embracing inclusivity.

        If an organization really cares about these things, it’s reasonable for them to reward candidates who also do and can demonstrate that with concrete examples.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          Guess I never really had to think on this question because I’ve never been nor ever be a manager or a hiring person, and usually on the receiving end of comments myself. The supposedly funny non-funny ones.
          Or ever been asked such questions at interviews,

      2. BookMom*

        Yep, I was interviewing for a new peer team member and something close to this was in our list of questions. A couple candidates had a look of horror when asked about fostering a diverse workplace and serving diverse clients. It wasn’t great, given the dynamics of our workplace.

  31. Knope Knope Knope*

    These questions usually help me spot candidates who are A.) genuine fans of my company. This is a big, public company so it’s not unusual to find people who are genuinely enthusiastic about our content. It’s not a requirement, but it tends to correlate to enthusiasm for the job. B.) Not necessarily genuine fans, but conscientious and do their due diligence, which also tends to translate into work ethic and is a plus. C.) Just not that familiar with or interested in the company. Could someone in category C end up being great at a job? Sure. But interviews don’t happen in a vacuum. They are quite literally a competition, so all other things being equal someone in category A or B will always win out. But to be honest, things are usually not equal, because people in categories A and B tend to give more tailored answers overall and it can be easier to have a more conversational and nuanced interview with a candidate who has thought about how the role will function practically. The same job can vary wildly at different companies, so I would like to think this kind of research helps candidates think about how happy they would actually be in the role and what they want to get out of it. I want to hire someone who will be engaged and enjoy their work.

  32. Pumpkin215*

    I spend a short amount of time reviewing the website and reading any “about us” section. Googling the news on them can be fun as I’ve found a lot of scandals. Wikipedia can give some good info too, depending on the company size. I’ll pick one or two talking points “I see you’ve purchased XYZ company recently” and that is about it. I’m in finance so I’ll always look for revenue and number of employees.

    I abhor the question “why are you interested in this role?”. This is especially irritating when their recruiter has reached out to me. “I’m interested in the role because I can no longer stand my current job. You pay money and I need money to pay my mortgage. You need someone to count widgets and I have experience counting widgets”. That’s not an acceptable answer but most of the time accounting is accounting is accounting. The software and end product is different but the method is the same.

    Companies like that come across like they want their ego stroked. They want to hear how great they are and that people WANT to work for them over somewhere else. The truth is that I don’t care about your mission statement any more than the other guy. I’m going to the highest bidder. But that is me! Obviously not everyone feels that way.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I hate that “Why are you interested?” question when it’s asked at the beginning of the interview. At that point, I don’t know that much about it yet; I’m interested because I need money. They might have a really cool company or product, but that doesn’t mean I’d want the job after we’re done talking.

      1. Anon for this*

        I like it because it can frame the questions and answers, particularly with broad roles that could go in various directions depending on the successful candidate. Personally I’ve only interviewed with jobs I’m interested in – the interview is what makes me decide on the role, but if I’m not interested I don’t apply. If someone was there to see if the role interested them at all, I’d think of it more as an informational interview or a networking meeting.

      2. nnn*

        I’ve been thinking lately that all of us – literally every single job-seeker in the world – needs to start responding with “I don’t know, why am I interested?”

        There seem to be all too many employers out there who aren’t even thinking about the question of why people might want to work for them as opposed to literally any other job. In other words, they think employees should accept this job because it’s a job, but they still want to make employees go through the hoops of coming up with a reason why they want this job.

        Now that I think about it, the jobs I’ve had that actually had decent management and working conditions never asked why I was interested in the job. They took as a given that I want the job because it’s a good job, and interviewed to see if I had what it took to do the job.

    2. voluptuousfire*

      Nope, I agree. I always do the prep on the company so I at least have a basic understanding of what they do. Otherwise, even though I applied to the company, I’m still not necessarily sure I actually want to work at the company. I’ve had some interviews where I was so excited and did all the prep and I met with the recruiter or hiring manager and it ended up being a horror show. Speaking as someone who works in recruitment, I’m quite often the first person a candidate will speak with and how can I really be excited about things when my own experience with the company was crappy?

      My favorite “why do you want this role?” question was recently from a company that found me on LinkedIn. I spoke with the recruiter and the first question she asked was “why do you want this role?” I told her I hadn’t yet formed an opinion since they reached out to me and needed to chat a little more to see if it was a fit. That didn’t go over well. I got rejected for not having experience with their not very well-known ATS. I cackled loudly when I got the rejection the next day since we didn’t even discuss my experience with ATS systems. The initial reach out to rejection was within 48 hours, so I give the recruiter kudos for responding in the time frame she gave me.

    3. tra la la*

      Pretty much every interview in my field begins with that question, and it has nothing to do with the organization wanting their ego stroked; they want to know that you’ve read their (usually fairly long) job posting carefully and thought about, well, what interests you about their position/organization. This isn’t especially hard for me because I only apply to jobs that interest me. So if I know that I’ve got a good clear answer to that question, which highlights my strengths and shows how they’d align with the position, that sets the tone of the interview for me. The rest of the interview usually flows from that.

  33. Sara without an H*

    This is particularly true when it comes to company values. Some HR professionals put a big emphasis on anodyne company values that are interchangeable with their competitors’ values. It feels like a pointless dance where the company acts like it has discovered the holy grail and the applicant memorizes and fakes enthusiasm for platitudes no sane person could possibly disagree with — and after the job interview those supposedly integral values never come up again on the job.

    OP, be very careful about this if you’re ever applying for a job at a mission-driven non-profit organization. I just retired from an educational institution with a very focused and clearly defined ethos. It’s clearly articulated on the web site and on all the prep materials we sent out to interview candidates. Candidates who said things like, “Well, yes, I wouldn’t have a problem with that,” or couldn’t talk about how our mission would relate to the subject they taught were not hired.

    Short version: What you think are “platitudes” may be essential to the organization’s identity. You need to know that going in.

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      100% agree. I work at a nonprofit that grooms llamas AND trains guide llamas. Someone who only cares about grooming can absolutely be hired because sometimes that’s the only type of person who applies, but if there is a candidate who can articulate why training guide llamas is important even when it’s not the area they’ll work on, that person will stand out and have a huge leg up.

  34. Semprini!*

    I find it frustrating when this whole wanting candidates to have thoroughly researched and be passionate about the company is paired with job postings and/or recruiters who don’t say at the outset who the company is!

  35. Annie J*

    I think it’s very industry specific, for example, I’m much more interested in people with experience who don’t know a lot about my company as opposed to people who have done a lot of research but don’t necessarily have experience because The people with experience can be taught to apply it to the new job role.
    But I work in a CallCenter, and one CallCenter is much like another really so there’s not much differentiation anyway.

    1. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

      This is where I’m at. I’m an accountant, and whether I’m working at a company that manages commercial property, manufactures adult toys, or sells home medical supplies, my job is more or less the same at each (with exceptions for specific industry and company quirks, of course).

    2. Cooper*

      Same. I’m a developer, and honestly, my work really doesn’t change much regardless of industry. I’m gonna sit in a corner and write code, and if I don’t know what the grand strategy is for it, it really doesn’t matter.

  36. GreenDoor*

    I work in public education an organization of about 15,000 employees. When we ask candidates to tell us what they know it give us a lot of insight. Are they excited about education and public service….or do they just want a foot in the door to a solid job? Do they value public education over private/faith-based education? Do they speak more as an administrator or more as someone with a passion for working with kids (and is that perspective in line with the role they’ve applied for)? We’re one of the largest school districts in my state and the media loves reporting on our bad news, so…does the candidate have a negatively biased view….or do they know what we’re really about from actually experiencing our school communities? These are the things we’re looking for when we ask “tell us what you know about us.”

  37. FormerAmazonmgr*

    I used to work at Amazon and the ENTIRE interview process (for salaried corporate anyway) is based around the leadership principles and how well the candidate could demonstrate with examples how they followed those principles. I’ve also since encountered this at other companies that model themselves after Amazon…so just be aware there are some pretty large employers where you really should spend at least a few hours really digging into their values or leadership principles if you want to be prepared for the interview

  38. Goose*

    I once had an interviewer ask me if I had reviewed their website–which I had, but I hadn’t noticed that they’d launched a new site the week of my interview. Whoops.

    On the other side of the table, I’m also curious how easy information is to find. If candidates aren’t sharing the right messaging back to us, we’re putting out the wrong messaging. Or the messaging is too hard to find.

  39. Jenny*

    I’ve never hired someone before, but one of the most aggravating things I have ever heard from my peers was “this isn’t what I pictured it to be”. Followed up by, “oh, I just drove past the place and it looked interesting”. A simple google search can bring you a vast amount of information.

    You *should* do enough research to where you’re bringing questions to the interview. Interviews are two way street – you’re also interviewing the company to see if you’re going to be a good fit there.

  40. anonamama*

    Back when I was recruiting I used to tell candidates to think of it like dating… do you want to go on a date with someone who just randomly asked you out, or with someone who wants to actually date YOU specifically? Companies want to hire people who want to work for them specifically, not just someone who wants a paycheck. It costs a lot of time and money to hire and train someone, we at least want to commit those resources to someone who wants to be there.

    Now that I work in internal HR, I still ask this question because it tells me that someone at least bothered to do a quick 5 minute review of our website. You should at least know what we do and have some interest in learning more.

    1. Nina*

      > I used to tell candidates to think of it like dating… do you want to go on a date with someone who just randomly asked you out, or with someone who wants to actually date YOU specifically?

      On the flip side of this… interviewing somewhere that the interviewer (as opposed to the HR person who set up the interview) is obviously reading my resume for the first time DURING THE INTERVIEW is also kind of a massive turn-off. If I take the trouble to research your company, specifically, and tailor a resume and cover letter to your company, specifically, then for the love of god spend three minutes to read it before you set up a meeting (at a time that almost certainly works better for you than it does for me) only to ask ‘so where did you go to college’ which is information presented in bold type in the middle of the page.

      I don’t expect them to google (despite the fact that they expect me to do precisely that… and in real life I have a VERY google-able name and the first like, three results are ‘oh wow that’s objectively impressive’ stuff and the fourth is my LinkedIn) but if I’m expected to do my homework for every place I interview, I expect them to at least read the resume ahead of time for every candidate they interview.

  41. EngGirl*

    Aside from gauging interior also lets me see what you retain. If our website say “We make class 3 yellow widgets using copper, pipe cleaners, and post it notes. We supply the blue thingamajig industry” and you come in and say that we make “blue thingamajigs” I know you’re the type of person who skims. If you say we make “widgets” you at least know what we do. The more details you add the more I know you retain (to a point), but if you got “yellow widgets” that usually enough for me.

  42. NewYork*

    I have not read all the comments, but if you are applying for a senior level position or a financial position, you should look at most recent annual report or quarterlies, if available (private companies generally do not publish).

  43. Hiring Mgr*

    I agree with the OP in the sense that in an initial phone screen/interview it can seem a little fake to seem too enthusiastic about a role or company which you don’t know much about yet. I certainly don’t expect it when I interview someone (again, they’re getting to know me/the company as much as the reverse)

    However, like it or not for some interviewers it does matter….so I’d suggest doing 20 min or so of research on the company’s site and LinkedIn, and make up some BS about how you love their emphasis on collaboration, or customer-first, etc..

  44. RagingADHD*

    I think your question points to two extremely important skills for many jobs.

    1) Taking notes and being able to find them later (organization, planning).
    2) Critical thinking: analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating and reflecting on information.

    No, interviewers don’t expect anyone to memorize a bunch of facts or values, or to fake enthusiasm. They do often expect people to take notes on their research, think about what they read, and be able to draw connections between the information they read and their own experiences, values, or prior knowledge.

    In other words, researching the company gives you talking points to discuss why you would be a good fit for the role, or ask intelligent questions about things you’d like to know that weren’t publicly available.

  45. Cooper*

    Ugh, I hate the company research thing. With a passion.
    I’m a software developer.
    It literally does not matter to me, beyond general industry, what your company does. If it’s medical, I know to expect FDA involvement. Other than that? I am going to sit behind a screen telling bits of data to go where you want me to put them.
    (I say this as someone who works in a field where I’ve got decent experience and expertise with the tools developers use in this industry, but knows less than nothing about the larger picture.)

    1. hellohello*

      In contrast, I’ve worked closely with software engineers at a number of mission driven organizations/companies, and the difference between engineers who understood/cared about the work we were doing vs those who didn’t was night and day. Being willing and invested in knowing what our typically workday looked like/what our clients did and what they needed/what the general tech competency of our clients was very much a differentiator between engineers who excelled at their jobs vs those who struggled and left us frustrated over miscommunications, unresponsiveness, and bugs. Everyone we hired for the engineering department needed to be competent at the actual coding side of things, but we would always prefer someone who was invested in the actual work over someone who didn’t care about the larger picture.

      1. ShowTime*

        This. Everyone at my job, including software engineers, is expected to know and care about our company mission. It definitely makes a difference to the company culture and our teamwork. (We work heavily in cross-functional teams, so collaboration is very important.)

        1. hellohello*

          Seriously, I lost count of the number of times our Best Engineer (who made a point to understand how, when, and why we used specific tools) would make a suggested update that was incredibly easy to implement, made our work way easier, but had been missed by everyone else because they weren’t familiar with out the tools were actually used instead of just how they had been originally specced for use. It really made a world of difference.

    2. Kevin Sours*

      As a software engineer you have to understand the problem space. You have to learn to speak your customer’s language because they will not learn to speak yours. You don’t need specific enthusiasm for a particular problem space, but it absolutely helps if you can show unfeigned enthusiasm for engaging your users and their specific needs. Both in the interview and in the job.

    3. iglwif*

      I work for a software company (not in dev), and I can assure you that it makes a HUGE difference that our dev team understands what our customers and prospective customers need, what they want, what their problems are, and the languages they speak. Our solutions are pretty niche, and you have to care about and understand their purpose in order to build or expand them effectively.

  46. RussianInTexas*

    Few years ago I was unemployed for few months, due to the main industry crash in the area.
    No, you are the 30th place I am applying to, I got none of the above, I want to pay my bills.

  47. OyHiOh*

    In the non-profit world, you can get some information about who is who and some basic financial information by plugging the org into Guidestar (or similar websites that track US form 990’s). Takes just a few minutes and can be more informative than the bare-bones websites many non-profits maintain.

    And if you know what state a for-profit OR non-profit is incorporated in, the secretary of state’s office can be rather enlightening as well. In my state, the search feature is intuitive and all documents are available to view free and on line. This varies considerably from state to state and may not be the sort of thing where you can spend a quick 20 minutes and find out all you wanted to know! But if the secretary of state’s website functions well, that can be a fast way to find out things that may not be easily discoverable on an org/company’s website.

  48. Jellyfish*

    This may be based on individual experiences more than broad trends.
    I interviewed for a job that I was very enthusiastic about, and I’d scoured their website many times in preparation. The interviewer asked me to guess their organizational values, which were not posted anywhere. I knew their mission statement and tried to extrapolate from that, but the values turned out to be based on an arbitrary acronym.

    The interviewer seemed rather disappointed that I only managed to guess one of their alleged values correctly, but I don’t know how I was supposed to magically know them. I even went back and checked their website later to see if I’d missed something, but found nothing approaching a values statement, much less their special acronym. The experience really turned me off to the whole organization, so I sympathize with the letter writer here.

  49. Jennifer Strange*

    Aside from why the company would expect you to research them, I think it’s in your interest to research them for your own benefit, to see if it’s an organization you’re going to want to work for.

    1. Gilmore67*

      Exactly. I was going to say the same thing. Why on earth would I even apply to a company without even knowing a little bit of what they do or sell etc.

      Maybe they sell perfume in which I wouldn’t want to work for as fragrances bother me. Or maybe they sell widgets in which a company that I previously worked for used that product or something similar.

      It is not about KNOWING what they do well. It is simply about being able to have a conversation saying.. ” Yes I understand you sell widgets and I worked for a company that used that item.” OR ” I see you help with advertising and I believe my background in XYZ would be helpful in this position”

      Even if there might not be a connection like above just saying.. Yes I went on your site and it looks interesting… or whatever.

      It is just called being prepared and taking a sincere interest in what they do. And like others have said you as the candidate need to weed out companies that might not be your thing.

    2. RagingADHD*

      Well, we’ve seen comments on this site from people who apparently start work without even knowing their pay schedule or when/how they will get holidays and PTO.

      So I guess there are folks who really don’t care whether they’re interviewing with Puppy Murderers Incorporated, or what.

    3. Paris Geller*

      Agreed, and this goes back to what I think is one of the golden rules of the modern workplace that Alison mentions often–interviewing should be a two-way street. You don’t have to have in-depth knowledge, but even a fifteen to twenty minute quick read should give you some information if you want to move forward or not. I saw someone in another comment mention it’s a bit like going on a first date–you don’t need to know everything about the person, but you should at least know enough to think you might be interested.

  50. RussianInTexas*

    This whole conversation reminded me of the Bridget Jones’ Diary:
    Boss: So, why do you want to work in television?
    Bridget: I’ve got to leave my current job because I’ve shagged my boss.
    Boss: Fair enough. Start Monday. We’ll see how we go. And, incidentally, at ‘Sit Up, Britain’, no one ever gets sacked for shaggin’ the boss.

  51. Happy*

    Yep, I absolutely use this a proxy for preparation, enthusiasm, and engagement. Saying, I looked at your website and saw X, can go a long way. Does it relate to the day-to-day job? Probably not. But I want to hire people who want to work here and are interested in what we do.

    If you say you haven’t done any research and don’t know anything about the company, it’s not disqualifying, but you do miss out on bonus points in that first impression.

  52. snarkarina*

    There are also places outside a website that can offer information on an org (e.g., Glassdoor for one) – and when I was interviewing last summer I also even looked up the people interviewing me on LinkedIn.

    One other tactic that I found really worked well in my interviews is NOT knowing everything, but knowing enough to ask a few pointed questions to show that you did your research. Continuing the member-org for camel breeders, I would ask “Are there different membership requirements for people who breed one-humped vs. the two-humped camels?” “How is your relationship with the other dromedary membership organizations – are they competitors or collaborators?” And then maybe something specific to my role, “And how exactly would I be interfacing with the camel breeders, would I be dealing with the camels themselves or would it all be on paper?”

  53. TooTiredToThink*

    I’m super amused right now because I was recruited by an outside recruiter who gave me the wrong company name when I signed the right to represent document and am really glad that this didn’t come up in the first interview at all. Thankfully I used context clues and put things together and figured out what the right company was before the second interview.

  54. Junior Assistant Peon*

    Company websites frustrate me because they’re really directed at investors, not customers. When I visit a website of a company whose products are relevant to my job, their website is often a bunch of fluff about how wonderful and “innovative” they are, but I can’t find the information I need. I can definitely understand how a job-seeker could become frustrated trying and failing to figure out what the heck the company actually does!

    1. Nanani*

      I know this pain well. Websites that look nice but hide information are horrible.
      In my translation work I often need to check how they phrase a slogan or what they call a widget in different territories, so any website that “helpfully” redirects me to the site for where it thinks I am or what language it thinks I want DESPITE the fact that I explicitly googled them in a different language is like stepping on a lego spider.

      1. Mannequin*

        That just seems like a bad idea anyway, because what if someone with legitimate business needs who speaks language X is trying to access the language X site from a place where they speak Y, and keeps getting directed to the Y language site?

  55. iamapatientgirl*

    I work at probably one of the most high profile companies on the planet right now – we are constantly in the news and have a few very high profile products and a few that are less famous but still pretty darn cool. The research expectation will vary pretty greatly depending on position – for an entry level position they’re looking for something like that our products are really cool and appealing to them, or that they want to do work to help the environment, etc – we can and will train for all the skills in those positions, but a general interest and motivation is definitely a good factor.
    I’d say for a high level engineering position, for example, yeah you’d want to show that you specifically have a high level of interest in Solar Energy or Battery technology or vehicle design – and hopefully the rest of your resume/interview showcases that skill at that level.
    But at least for us, information on the company and our products is just so readily available that if you can’t name anything it looks weird

  56. Junior Assistant Peon*

    If you suspect your company’s official values are baloney, Google them and you’ll see who else used the same consulting outfit that came up with them!

  57. DanniellaBee*

    The comment about “no reasonable” company expects hours of research regarding their business depends on your field. In tech, most marquee companies (Google, Netflix, Apple, Facebook) expect this, and skipping research on culture values (especially at Netflix) will result in no offer despite top technical skills. I expect Alison’s advice is in line with the vast majority of industries.

  58. ShowTime*

    This backfired on me once. I mentioned an industry award that the organization had won (and which was featured on their website), and the interviewer looked stumped and said, “Well, I don’t know what the criteria were for that award, so I can’t speak to it.” Awkward silence.

  59. Abogado Avocado*

    When I’m hiring, I want to know what you know about our org’s work and why you want to work here because I want to know if you’re willing to find answers to questions that come up in the line of work, even when those questions are unclear and the answers even more obscure. And I’m totally fine with an applicant who says, “I am not sure if I’ve got this right, but here’s what I understand about your workplace. . .” That, too, communicates the person takes initiative in seeking answers while also being willing to admit that they may not always be right, both of which are essential in a team environment.

    I understand that there are any number of readers here who say, “Meh, a job is just a job and don’t expect me to do any research about your workplace or how I’d contribute to the culture.” And I’m fine with that, as long as you know that it disqualifies you to work in our relatively well-compensated shop (and any number of other places) because our culture requires you to care about meeting the needs of our internal and external customers, and to take initiative in meeting those needs.

    There are plenty of jobs where work is handed to an employee who needn’t show initiative or enthusiasm in getting that work done. And if you’re seeking one of those jobs, good on you. But, again, if you are seeking employment in a place where initiative and some enthusiasm for the overall mission are valued, preparation for the interview includes, as Alison points out, a basic understanding of that place’s work and culture.

    1. Mannequin*

      It’s pretty rude to assume that people who simply want a job so they can pay the bills will not take initiative or meet the demands of the job, or even go over and above the requirements. “A job is a job” attitude does not = slacker.

      1. MCMonkeybean*

        It’s not just thinking “a job is a job,” but that in combination with not taking initiative to do research on the website before the interview. That is a point of data that the interviewer will take away. They have to make hiring decisions based on minimal information and making assumptions based on what the applicants say and do is just part of the hiring process. If you don’t want people to assume you are a slacker, then don’t slack on the interview prep because that is literally all they have to go on…

      2. Madame X*

        It’s not at all rude to assume that someone will not take the initiative to meet the demands of a job if in the interview they showed no interest or ability to do so. Researching what a company does, is literally the bare minimum to applying for a job. It is also beneficial to the applicant to gain some insight about what a company’s background so that they can better tailor their application. It would also give the applicant some idea as to whether or not you want the job.

  60. HereKittyKitty*

    I personally do a ton of research and have been able to dig up stuff even on the most bare minimum of websites and I have gotten a ton of positive feedback post-interview about how prepared I was! That doesn’t necessarily mean I can recite their “About Us’ page word from word and know the names of the CEO and everyone below, but it does mean I have looked at their blog, if they have been in the news lately and other info that might be specific to the position.

    For example, I work in marketing, so I make a note of every social media account they have and their followers. I look at their website and conversion pages and make notes of what I like and don’t like about these pages. I sign up for any and all emails to get into their automation funnel. I write down questions related to what I’m observing as well. That way when I’m being interviewed I can say things like “I loved the look of your welcome email” or “Why does this page function like this?” etc. Obviously, this is very specific to my role and it may be more difficult if you’re applying for say a payroll position, etc. But I just wanted to list some of the research I’ve done in the past.

    In the past I’ve had interviewers tell me they noticed I had followed them, signed up for their emails, etc and were impressed by that.

  61. CarCarJabar*

    Do people actually apply for jobs without researching the company first? I don’t want to work for a company that is so cheap they won’t pay for a well designed website, or that is owned by the Sultan of Oman, or that has a horrible environmental record. Reading the website and doing a quick google search is the bare minimum prerequisite for applying.

  62. Alexis Rosay*

    I have had candidates ask me the most basic information about our organization many times, questions such as “What type of llamas do you groom?” when that is clearly stated in both the job posting and the website. It’s frustrating and reflects a mind-blowing lack of preparation for the interview.

    Hoping to get better results, we actually started providing most of the interview questions to candidates ahead of time so they could put some thought into how they prepare. We let them know that they will be asked why they want to work with us, and we also state that we want to hear an answer that goes beyond “I like llamas and you work with llamas.” You would be surprised how many people are still not able to come up with a more convincing answer.

  63. Res Admin*

    I may be a bit jaded after having sifted through over a 100 resumes in the past 2 weeks (not my usual gig–I am filling in for the positions we are hiring for) in the middle of what is already an incredibly busy time even if when we are not missing 2 key people. I never expect someone to know all about us and what we do, however enough of the resumes I have been reviewing indicate absolutely no awareness of what they are applying for. A very clear description of our department and what we do is on multiple websites and very easy to find.

    For the first position, I actually included a question asking the interviewees to explain to me what they thought the job entailed so that we were all on the same page because I was concerned that the description may have been bad. Turns out, it wasn’t the question, it was the people. Our top candidates (even the ones coming from outside) actually complimented us on how clear the description was.

    Give then above, for the second position, I started automatically putting anyone who clearly has no concept of what we do in the “no” stack. I don’t have time to figure out what else might be going on with them. This position is for a mid-level HR person–not a part time position for a grad student in sports management or someone with no experience who seems to think that all HR does is recruit new people to hire (the position description posted has a detailed list of duties–and that is definitely NOT one of them).

    I never docked someone for having a bad cover letter (except the one who described their excitement for applying for a marketing position in NYC–we are not marketing and not near NYC), however, realistically, I paid a lot more attention to the few who had taken a moment to figure out who to address the letter to (the name and photo, etc. of our department head is all over our website–not to mention that this person is quite well-known in the field) and had some idea of what skills are needed.

    To be clear, the name of our department could *possibly* be misinterpreted to have an emphasis in other directions–if you only looked at the department name and ignored the job description (like mistaking “Big Lots” for a real estate firm instead of an overstock store). I still don’t know what volunteering for high schools sports has to do with being a Business Manager or HR professional!

    Sorry. Turned into a bit of a rant. But, bottom line, I don’t know anyone who expects an applicant to know chapter and verse about what our organization does or what our department does. I’d probably have a massive internal eye roll if they did come in as super-fans. We just want them to know what they applied for–and that should not take a lot of time to figure out. Do not need to show great passion or interest either–just a willingness to learn and grow in their job. We expect to train people to promote out within a few years (that’s why we have open positions right now).

    1. Mannequin*

      I wonder if the hiring rep for a marketing position in NYC got a resume with a cover letter that described their excitement for applying to [the open position at your work] in [your city] LOL

      1. Res Admin*

        I wondered the same thing. LOL. That would have been a peach–we are a a health related department at a large university in the south so absolutely nothing whatsoever in relationship to a marketing position in NYC!

  64. Another Anonymous Federal Worker*

    I agree it’s pretty sloppy too! We have one very well known mission, and then others that are not as well known, but very well explained on our website. If you can’t tell us more than one, you obviously don’t really want this job.
    I am also tired of applicants who don’t follow basic directions – if you are specifically told to wear a business suit, then wear one! (FYI – if you don’t, we won’t interview you and you will have to reapply) Also, it’s not a stupid requirement just for the interview, we wear business suits!

  65. YankeeDoodleExtraMacaroni*

    I have participated in interviews and recruited at career fairs. Particularly at career fairs, I like to ask, “What do you know about our company?” This is for two reasons. One, I’m looking to see if you’ve heard of us at all, and it helps me gauge what level of “elevator pitch” I use to describe my workplace. I’m only ever expecting a short response or a general “you’re in this line of work,” and I don’t use it as a comparison between candidates. Two, we have a name that is “vague” and I’d like to see if you at least glimpsed at our booth (our sole product is all over it). Think of a name like “Kitchen Appliances” when actually we only work on blenders (hey, I didn’t name it). This I am being a bit judgmental, but no deeper than “has this person bothered to observe the booth or read the provided career fair overview book (handed out to everyone!)”.

  66. Shapiroh*

    I would add look at sites like glassdoor to at least get a partial idea about things like office culture and the like

  67. Cranky lady*

    I worked for a company whose entire customer base was a particular niche market. We regularly hired people who didn’t know the first thing about that niche market because HR thought that a widget maker makes widgets and doesn’t need to know the market. Except that we ended up with lots of small purple widgets instead of large green ones. Simply asking what people knew about our company would have helped rule out people that just didn’t understand our market.

  68. Kevin Sours*

    I’m pretty sure I once got a job because I laid out to the head of HR the company’s technology stack, how it was changing, and what their strategy was. Granted I was wrong because they’d had a major shift in focus a few months back, but it visibly impressed her.

  69. Lobsterman*

    My experience is:
    1) employers who need you to be excited before meeting them are generally planning to be abusive.
    2) “this is work in my chosen field, I like being productive, and employer xxx is well-regarded for how employees are treated, so this is win-win” is a 100% acceptable answer to this question for most interviewers in most situations.
    3) as I’ve moved up, compensation has become more acceptable to discuss, I think because it’s one of the few ways employers can genuinely distinguish themselves from one another once you’re at the “in a decent office and doing meetings and spreadsheets all day” level.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      I’d add that for #2 explaining what “being productive” means in terms of what the company you are interviewing with does is somewhere between important and necessary but otherwise I disagree with you. Taking the time to understand the company and department you will be working with does — just helps the interview process in ways that help you. (And if there is essentially no information available being able to clearly state that shows something).

    2. Mannequin*

      1) 100% agreement

      2) if this isn’t an acceptable answer, I don’t want to work there

      3) n/a lol

  70. Nanani*

    It’s possible LW ran into an outlier interviewer who expects you to be a high-level fan of the company even though the job is one that exists in a lot of companies across industries.
    But I think LW might have misunderstood the research expectations as being way more than it is. Do you know what this business -does- and do you realize they are not (flashy competitor)? Why did you apply there and not at (flashy competitor)? That sort of thing.

    If they really expect you to be an acolyte of the CEO or something, and you aren’t, it’s a red flag that the job is not for you.

  71. Heidi*

    I interview both entry and middle management candidates. When I ask this question, I tend to look at

    1. if they candidate knows the very basics (like the “About Us” blurb) or if the candidate possibly even called the company/work site to ask some basic questions. But please, don’t give me the wrong information about my own company/work site (yes, that happened to one candidate)

    2. if the candidate hasn’t done a lot of research on the company, but thought on their feet when asked the question (for example, “I don’t know a lot about this particular company, but I’ve really liked X, Y and Z whenever I’ve used their products) or

    3. they show no interest at all. And yes, I have had candidates reply with “Nothing!” when I asked what they know. All in all, “Nothing!” is obviously the wrong answer

    1. Kevin Sours*

      For me it would depend on the nature of the error. If it was the result of phoning it then yes. But sometimes the public information is sketchy and it’s easy to jump the tracks. Like if your work site deals with vicuna and the candidate shows they did a bunch of research on the care and feeding of alpaca maybe you acknowledge the enthusiasm and don’t sweat the details.

  72. GraceRN*

    LW: Congrats on your great role! I feel bad for you because it seemed like you tried to prepare for your interviews. You did look at the websites ahead of time but somehow your efforts didn’t come through. Instead, you gave the impression that you did not prepare. But sorry I’m not quite understanding your concerns about websites listing anodyne values indistinguishable from other companies? As an interviewer, I am not looking for people to present an analysis of the values listed, nor am I looking for people to compare and contrast differences in org values between companies. I wouldn’t know if you went to interview at the 10 companies with similar values and said the exact same thing, so it’s not like you need to come up with unique answers at each interview? I don’t know exactly how you answered the questions but if you received feedback that you came across as not prepared, then that’s valuable information.

    I tend to ask “Tell me about your interest in our organization.” I don’t ask “tell me what you know about our organization” because I think the answers are not as informative for me as an interviewer. In any case, interviewers are usually not looking for people to say “This is the one, the only, the most uniquely amazing company and I must to work here.” I think interviewers can mostly see through feigned, lip-service enthusiasm. Instead, I am trying to get a sense of how resourceful the candidates might be. I’m hoping to see if they tend to go find out information on their own without having to be spoon-fed everything. If they are thoughtful about new situations. I also want to see how transparent the candidate are in their communications. Here are some answers that I received that worked well, for various job levels. These worked for me because they’re gave me a sense of how the candidates’ intent, they are willing to be transparent (as far as I can tell), and they gave this job some forethought:

    “I did take a look at your website, and I saw what you do with creative llama herding is interesting. I understand sustainable llama grazing is a growing field that can have a great impact on the economy, and I want to be part of it.”
    “My ultimate career goal is to become a llama husbandry expert in the future. I’m thinking what you do here with creative llama herding, I can learn a lot. I would like to get as much hands-on experience with llamas as I can, and this would be a great place for me as I work towards that goal.”
    “At one point, I was hoping to be a llama husbandry expert, however I wasn’t able to get into that path. But I still want to be a part of care of llamas in my career. When I saw the job posted, I decided this would be a chance to do that.”
    “I applied to different positions in the larger organization. The HR talent specialist called me and said this position might be a good fit for me. I took a look at your website and creative llama herding seemed interesting to me. I learned its a growing field. I thought with my experience in cat herding, I can contribute to your department. I am not afraid to try new things. So I told HR I would like to interview.”

    Companies generally know if their website has a lot of outside-facing information or not. If the company’s website info is scant, maybe a way to avoid coming across as unprepared/uninterested is to say: “I definitely wanted to come prepared for this interview. I spent quite some time looking at your website, I was looking to see if I can find your mission statement, your core values, and maybe some example of your clients, but I didn’t really see them. I am interested to know more. Could we talk about it?

    If the values are generic/hard to argue: “I was looking at your website when I prepared for this interview, and I saw that your values are Grazing Sustainability, Llama Autonomy, and Llama Keeper Experience-Focused. These are values I support. I hope as a llama grazing associate, I can help the company sustain those values.” No need to comment on how generic they are, or whether 10 other companies have the same values. In any case, you want to be clear that you made efforts to prepare.

  73. Onwardsandupwards*

    As a frequent interviewer/Hiring Manager, I, of course, agree with Alison’s response. Why not give yourself the advantage with a bit of research? It’s just a point of data for the Hiring Manager. I have recruited people who have the skill sets only who clearly hadn’t fired back stuff they’d read and, equally, I’ve had people who fired back the website at me who, when probed on skills, weren’t the best candidate. All hiring managers have their calibrations on this mix and the calibration will also depend on the role. My reaction to the question was (and I’m a Brit) “sounds a bit chippy”; of course that wasn’t going to be your interview demeanour and it was a safe space question but my advice would be to try to address both, as far as you can.

  74. Silicon Valley Girl*

    Every time I interview, I ask “why do you want to work at CompanyX?” It’s basic, but the point is to find out what about this company sets it apart in the candidate’s mind from other places they’re applying to. Do they know about CompanyX’s products, current place in the market, competitive edge? If they just say generic things about what they want from the job, it’s can make them a less higher ranked candidate than the one who can say something specific & concrete about CompanyX.

  75. Esmeralda*

    Depends on the employer. I work for a large state university. There’s a ton of info on my department’s webpage (academic adjacent). I expect candidates to have spent an hour or two looking it over and to have good questions about what they find, particularly as it relates to the job they’re interviewing for. If they ask questions that are easily answered by looking at the website, that’s a sign they haven’t done their homework.

    Lack of curiosity or preparation or resourcefulness— that’s not a good fit our jobs.

  76. Neil*

    I am of mixed thoughts about this. I am a temporary help worker who has worked on many contracts for Canadian federal government departments as well as for private businesses. I find that if the contract is for a private business, researching is a fantastic idea as it gives me a better sense of my skills will work within the business. On the other hand, government departments are trickier unless the department I will be working for has a single focus. For example, I worked on a contract for Correctional Service Canada (the federal government department that primarily manages federal prisons as well as aiding in offender rehabilitation) – there was no interview for this position but it helped me a lot on the job that I knew about the department. In other cases, I’ve worked in departments that are involved in many different activities and the work I was doing only related in a very small way to the overall activities – researching the overall department didn’t help.

  77. Erin*

    I love this Question, and I love that I’m not the only one who has the internal dialogue of “I’m super passionate about your 6 weeks of vacay time each year, and I also love that you pay my gym membership” when I’m asked about my enthusiasm for Company X

    1. BlueWolf*

      I don’t remember the specifics of the interview for my current job, but the reason I was looking for a new job was because I had aged out of my parents health insurance plan and my previous employer was small and didn’t offer health insurance. Also, getting paid more, having paid leave, etc. would be a bonus. Of course, I’m sure when asked about why I wanted to work there I gave some bland answer about wanting more opportunities to grow or something.

    2. Caboose*

      I had one interview where I really floundered trying to not just say “because your listed salary range would be a huge raise for me”. I almost always wind up falling back on talking about how much I love to solve problems and learn new things, and therefore I’m intrigued by this new situation. Tells them a bit about how I work, and turns my inability to ascertain any details from their buzzword-filled website into a positive.

  78. Nonke John*

    I’m puzzled by those who don’t think they should need to pretend they want the job for any reason other than that they have bills to pay. I’d never reject candidates for not having spent hours perusing our corporate site for information to regurgitate, but requiring that they use the mission statement to work up a convincing pretense of being interested in this role at our organization doesn’t seem unfair.

    After all, they’ll have to observe the forms once they’re hired, too. I don’t want them responding to tickets with a heartfelt “I’m not really in the mood to care about your stupid download problem today, but it’s in my queue and my metrics will suffer if I don’t answer it, so here you go!” or meeting requests with “I’m accepting, but this is gonna be another one of your half-hour calls with only ten minutes worth of actual substance, isn’t it?”

  79. AE*

    i actually had an interview last year that went exactly as the OP described. the interviewer basically spent the entire time “quizzing” me on exactly what the company did. i had gone way overboard preparing, so was able to answer. a normal amount of prep wouldn’t have cut it. she told me absolutely nothing about the company or the role, despite the fact that it was a small startup that she was pretty much running. she sucked. i was relieved when she rejected me (her feedback: she thought i didn’t have experience in things i actually did have experience in…). so these people really do exist.

  80. Bill Johnson*

    This topic brings back triggering memories of a brick and mortar District Manager level sales position I applied for 15ish years ago where the interviewer (Region level, I think) started grilling me in detail about their website after I said it seemed uncluttered and easy to use when I visited it. I may have said something to the effect that “I’m not a web designer” after the third or fourth question about the site! Needless to say, I didn’t get the job!

  81. That guy from the thing*

    I once told an interviewer that their website tells me nothing about what they do. The interview was for a software developer, and at least that told me something. SO I asked him, “what does this company actually do?” His answer: “Oh, pretty much everything.”

    I excused myself and left.

  82. Jane*

    This is such a trend in the UK Higher Education sector!!!

    “We are ‘leaders in student engagement’. What does this mean to you?”

    “Our values are ‘forward-looking’, ‘research-focused’ and ‘global’. How will you ensure you incorporate these values into your lectures on 18th century English agriculture?”

    Or a question that expects you to have memorised the buzzwords in advance eg “How will you embody the institute’s values in your role?”

    1. Jane*

      Just to explain what I mean here – they values are all completely interchangeable with each other, and none of them simply capture what the real value of a university is: educating people, doing research, and contributing to the local economy. But instead we’re expected to get exactly the correct buzzwords from the website. In online interviews it’s easy – you put them on a post-it next to your screen and just wait for that question to come up – but in face-to-face you’re expected to have memorised them and to be able to talk about why you are personnaly engaged with this specific choice of wording.

  83. Pie in the Sky*

    I understand Alison’s opinion that candidates need to have some understanding of the company they are applying to. I always do my homework and research the company so I am able to answer the question of “What do you know about our company”. Or so I have thought quite often in the past, but…. after the introductions at the interview, so far without fail, the next thing that happens is the interviewer starts with the statement that makes my heart sink; “Before we start let me tell you something about our company….”. Ugh! I then get treated to an potted history of the company, its products, any newsworthy recent stories (if applicable), awards it may have won etc….. in short, all information I had found during my research, leaving nothing else for me to mention as there is nothing more! So, then, after they have asked a few questions about myself, my past jobs etc we get back to (why!?) “I hope you have been able to have a peruse of our website and from that what do you know about the company” (I am paraphrasing the question here). I have been tempted more than once to answer “what I found is what you have told me already 5 minutes ago and there is nothing more” but I am normally too polite to do so and try to come up with something else I have found they have not yet mentioned, which then ends up either being extremely thin or I fail miserably and that does not give the best impression.

    Also, I understand that “showing enthusiasm for a job or company” is a positive thing in an interview and I can see how interviewers favour candidates who can do this versus the ones that cannot. I use the words “can” and “cannot” for a reason – just because someone is showing enthusiasm does not mean they are and vice versa. I have been told I am quite a good actress and the ability to feign this enthusiasm has helped greatly in the past. Now, I know that sounds like I am trying to deceive but is it is not. I will only do this if I am really, genuinely interested in the job and even then I do not consider this to be deceitful. But if my enthusiasm is mainly for the job and what it entails and I believe I can (and will do, given the chance) do an excellent job and will be happy doing it, then I do not see I why I have to have “enthusiasm for company” that I do not feel. Hell, I had a job where I was only interested in the job (loooooved the job), but the company, its product, its mission and its culture left me cold (it was a complete hell hole, but that is an entirely different issue!) and still did an excellent job and was told when I left 5 years later “we will miss you, you were the best we ever had in that role”. Now, I am also realistic enough to know that that may not necessarily be true and that I can be replaced like a broken pot but it still indicates I was highly thought of. In the end I left because I could no longer work in a hell hole but I still miss that job.

    Having said all that, I do understand that, in the limited time available, interviewers need some kind of criteria to “evaluate” candidates and that choosing one who is enthusiastic about the company over one who is not, is not the worst way of doing that. But, please, and I hope Alison will agree with me here, do not make the assumption that an “unenthusiastic” candidate will always make a bad employee, as that seems to be consensus and I disagree! The main evil of interviews is that is a communication between total strangers (mainly) and some of us are good actors…..

    Lastly, I can see Nonke John’s point:

    I’m puzzled by those who don’t think they should need to pretend they want the job for any reason other than that they have bills to pay. I’d never reject candidates for not having spent hours perusing our corporate site for information to regurgitate, but requiring that they use the mission statement to work up a convincing pretense of being interested in this role at our organization doesn’t seem unfair.

    But I do not entirely agree that making that pretense doesn’t seem unfair.

    I will leave you all with a conundrum – and it is one to ponder – so many companies now have “honesty and integrity” in their values in one form or another……. So……. What is more “honest”: an “unenthusiastic” candidate who in the interview shows genuine interest in the job itself and would do this job to the best of their abilities but does not have any feelings one way or another about the company and does not pretend they do OR an “enthusiastic” candidate who also has the same genuine interest in the job, who also may not have any feelings one way or another about the company, but “pretends” they do by showing “enthusiasm”?
    Hmmmmmm …… I know which one I would prefer

    1. Madame X*

      How can an interviewer determine that an “unenthusiastic” candidate is interested in the job? (other than having applied for it, obviously).

      I think a lot of people commenting here are getting hung up on the word enthusiasm and assuming that you have to act like this is the most exciting job you have ever heard of. For most positions, you do have to show *some* interest beyond “i have applied because i need a job”. Maybe replace the word enthusiastic with “interested” or “motivated”.

  84. Database Developer Dude*

    I once had an interview at Sybase Federal Services, where the interviewer expressed anger at me for not knowing much about the company beyond the fact that Sybase is where Microsoft SQL Server forked from. That’s the main motivation behind me wanting to work for them, and I knew all about that part, but I guess that wasn’t enough….

    The guy pretty much didn’t care how much I knew about databases and chastised me pretty severely. Needless to say I didn’t get the job, but at that point I didn’t want it.

  85. Rainy Cumbria*

    I think it’s useful for both parties if the person being interviewed has some knowledge of the company values (to the extent that Alison describes). It helps both sides to understand whether the interviewee might be a good cultural fit.

  86. I'm just here for the cats*

    I haven’t even read the other letters yet but #1! All I can say is I hope someone shows his GF and this letter and she runs for the hills. There are so many red flags and the LW seems a bit controlling texting a bunch, asking where she was, checking her Facebook. he knows the boss and GF aren’t friends on Facebook and knows that she has added passed lovers as friends? Except when I was looking for my Boyfriends sister to add to my friends I never looked at who he was connected with.

  87. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    What I’m not seeing in this conversation is the fact that researching the company is important before the interview even gets scheduled. Researching the company is my first step before tailoring my resume or writing a cover letter. Why would I apply to any position if I hadn’t bothered to target my description of skills and experience toward the company’s core values and needs? I have plenty of things to do that are more interesting than sending bland, unconsidered resumes to companies who won’t get excited about them and therefore may not give me the opportunity to get to the interview part.

    1. MCMonkeybean*

      Very true, I would definitely at look up what they list as their values and try to incorporate one or two of those into the cover letter.

  88. Annie J*

    The truth is, most people have jobs rather than careers and in many cases the truthful answer to why do you want to work here is because I need a job, your company came first on indeed and you’re the first people to call me for an interview.
    I disagree with most here I don’t think doing a Google search shows particular initiative and parroting inane company values that would apply to almost any company on the planet really doesn’t do much either, also you can just say that you’re glad the company respects diversity because no company is ever going to say they don’t or that it’s not a part of their value and culture.
    Given that, I take anyone with experience over someone who doesn’t have much, but can read a few lines off a website.

  89. Now In the Job*

    I once had an interview where I was asked what I knew about the firm, and when I started to answer with what was on their website (and planning to move to what recent news I saw and other information I had found *off* their website) I was interrupted with the principal rolling his eyes and saying “Well, I guess you read our website.” His tone/behavior basically indicated that the answer he was looking for was information that was NOT gleaned from their website. Which, what? Why? And also, why interrupt someone before they’ve finished answering the question assuming you know the answer?

    To be honest this was one of maaaaaaaaaaany many many many red flags about that job interview, so I definitely dodged a bullet there. (Other highlights include, “I don’t hire anyone who didn’t graduate from my law school”–which I hadn’t–and the interviewer being well over an hour late to the interview.)

  90. voluptuousfire*

    For myself, I do the basic research–check out the “about us” on the website, look at any stuff the recruiter may have sent, a quick google search, and even Wikipedia (which has been great when I had companies where I wasn’t quite sure what they did and Wikipedia made it easier to understand).

    IME, I find I rarely get asked about what the company does/what I know. They’ll give me info on the company and what they’re doing and how they’re looking to grow from x to y. That’s it 99% of the time.

    I honestly believe I was offered a job because I got to the interview 20 minutes ahead of time and took a few minutes to look at their Wikipedia page and jotted down some extra facts before I went in. Long story short, I put in what was minimum effort into a really meh (for me) job interview and was offered the job. I turned it down for a few reasons, but I was shocked that my little effort actually got me an offer. It felt false since I did IMO the bare minimum and was kinda offended that I didn’t get an offer based on my full efforts, just something a little more than what was probably the bare minimum.

  91. New Jack Karyn*

    I once had an interview to work at a school. I looked up their state ranking in academics, their % on Free/Reduced Lunch, their racial/ethnicity mix, size of student body, a few basics. When I was introduced to the vice principal, I said, “Go, Hornets!” That probably wasn’t the deciding factor, but I did get the job.

  92. Exhausted Trope*

    And sometimes it is a pointless dance.
    I’ve actually been mocked by a recruiter for answering their questions about the company using info I read online. I didn’t use the exact wording but they seemed displeased. I don’t know where they expected me to find the information. Perhaps tattooed on my butt?

  93. Crazy Dog Lady*

    I’m going to date myself, but image researching a company before the internet. For my first job out of college, I went it the library to research company’s and found articles, gasp, on microfiche! Much easier to find information now.

  94. Gerry L*

    Reading this letter I can see why some interviewers were so impressed with how much I often knew about a company when I came to interview. I’m retired now, and the last time I was looking for a job was before the internet was anything more than a little-known network for scientific research, but I always made an effort to learn as much as I could before going in for an interview — or even before writing a cover letter to request an interview.
    I had an MLS (library degree) and put my education to good use. I learned how to identify the company behind a “blind” ad in the newspaper want ads and would sometimes tailor my letter specifically to them. I researched publicly available info about the company and key personnel, and if the firm was small enough, addressed my application directly to one of them. I sometimes got the interview specifically because I made that effort. And this was all before the worldwide web was created, so, yeah, actual research.

  95. AspiringLibrarian*

    Why is it that interveiwees are generally expected to be enthusiastic about entry level jobs? For me, the jobs I’m enthusiastic about (and that relate directly to my degree) are few, far between, and very competitive in the city I’m trying not to leave. So it’s either interview for jobs I believe I can do (but don’t particularly love) or face months of unemployment. I’m not very good at faking enthusiasm. People like me can be just as capable of doing a basic entry-level job. And we also have bills to pay. So, why are we being weeded out in favor of people who can act excited about llama lead rope holding?

  96. CG*

    Yeah my standard prep for interviews with a company I’m not familiar with is
    1) look over their website
    2) look over their Wikipedia page if they have one
    3) do a quick Google News search and see if there’s anything

    This doesn’t have to take too long, and usually you can get some basic facts about the company, and also if anything newsworthy DID happen recently you can ask about it.

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