There are plenty of ways to blow a job interview, but being unprepared is probably the most common. Despite knowing that, I once lost out on a great job in marketing communications at a hospital because I didn't bother to do my research before the interview.
Why did I pull such a dumbass move? Well, I thought the commute would be too long so I wrote the opportunity off before I gave it a chance. I went to the interview feeling 99% sure I didn't want the job. But, as Murphy's Law would have it, it took me a perfectly reasonable 30 minutes to get to the interview. Plus I liked the hiring manager a lot and the job seemed ideal.
Naturally, the hiring manager began the interview by asking what I knew about the hospital. But having failed to do any research, all I could come up with was: "Um, I know it has an excellent reputation."
Hint: This is a bad answer for anyone to give, but it's a REALLY bad answer for a marketing person whose job would be to promote the hospital.
She just stared at me in silence for a moment, then said, "OK, then I'll start by telling you a little bit about us." Ouch. That was the moment I knew the job opportunity ship had sailed and I wasn't on it.
To illustrate how truly inexcusable it was to be so unprepared, here's what I found out in literally two minutes on the hospital's web site:
This hospital has centers specializing in musculoskeletal disorders, cancer, children's health, women's health, and emergency/trauma, but it's probably best known for its cardiac programs. It ranks #1 in the state and #2 in the country for surviving a heart attack. It earned the Society of Thoracic Surgeons' highest designation. It also earned awards for programs to prevent medication errors and promote patient safety. And it offers a range of health education programs and services to the community.
Now THAT would have been a good answer to the hiring manager's question!
How to Research the Company
Doing research on an organization is really quite simple. Just check the employer's web site and Google the company name and management team to see what comes up. If you're applying to the one business on earth that doesn't yet have a web site, look for their advertisements in newspapers or in the yellow pages. Public records, annual reports, and industry periodicals might have helpful information. If possible, ask current employees about the company. If you have a LinkedIn account (which you should), query your contacts to see who might know someone there.
Basically, you should find out the following about your would-be employer:
- What do they do?
Do they manufacture products? Distribute products? Provide services? Exactly what kind?
- Who are their customers?
Do they target individual consumers or other businesses? If they market to consumers, is there a specific group they target? (Families? Nurses? Retirees? Heart patients? Sports fans? Pet owners? Coffee drinkers?) If they sell to other businesses, what kind? (Factories? Financial institutions? Schools? Insurance companies? Hospitals? High-tech laboratories? Restaurant chains? Dairy farms?) Who are their main competitors?
- How big are they?
How many employees? How much money do they make? Are they local? National? Global?
- What are they known for?
Are they the best at something? Have they received awards or recognition? Have they been in the news? What do they brag about?
With a little homework and a little web research, you'll be well prepared to stand out among all the job candidates who think they can just wing it in their interviews.
Did your level of preparedness ever make or break your interview success? Managers, have you ever hired someone who was less-skilled but better-prepared for the interview? Share your comments below.