Beyond the basics: advanced strategies for researching a company before an interview

Mar 29, 2023

6 mins

Beyond the basics: advanced strategies for researching a company before an interview

Have you ever drawn a blank when asked a question about the company you’re interviewing for? Embarrassing, right? Employers favor applicants who are familiar with their business, and if you fumble over a basic question like, “Why do you want to work here?” you’ll likely be out of consideration. According to an American Staffing Association survey, only 73% of women and 66% of men agree that researching the company before an interview is essential. In such a competitive labor market, job hunters can’t afford to skip this step.

To help you prepare, human resource professional Natalyn McCants shares her expert advice on what to research, where to find information, and how to use it during your interview. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just starting your career, these interview prep strategies are sure to help you make a lasting impression.

How to research a company for an interview

McCants first points out that the more senior the role, the more information she expects the candidate to know. But no matter the level of seniority, here’s where you should start.

The About Us page

The About Us page is the gateway to the company’s DNA. It has all the information about the company, McCants explains. It will have its history and story, which McCants says is important to know. “You want to learn as much as possible about the organization,” she says, and the About Us page will have it all. So go ahead and learn as much as possible from this page.

However, two sections are particularly important, adding McCants: the company’s mission and values. According to a 2022 Qualtrics study, 72% of workers feel personal accomplishment at work when they align with their company’s mission, vision, and values, and 70% are likely to recommend their employer as a great place to work.

Company mission

Effective mission statements summarize and convey the company’s goals and what it represents. It not only tells the world what the company is about, but it’s also a tool the company can use to recruit the right type of candidates. For McCants, finding alignment with yourself and the mission statement is important. Mission statements can distinguish where the company plans to go in the future, and the more their future goals align with yours, the better. McCants also notes that it’s crucial to show this alignment during the interview.

Company values

Ensuring that the company’s values align with your personal values is key, according to McCants. This creates increased synergy between you and the company leading to a better work relationship. “For example, if work-life balance is important in your life, then you don’t want to apply for a company where balance isn’t something they value or provide employees with,” McCants explains. You want a company that allows you to achieve your goals, she adds. Create, practice, and deliver a pitch explaining this connection for the interview.

Of course, it’s not entirely possible to understand the ins and outs of a company’s mission and values just by looking at its website. However, taking note of how they phrase things and how they talk about their workforce can give you some insights. Keep an eye out for these keywords throughout the company website.

Beyond the website

Want to impress the recruiter with more than what’s shared on the website? There’s a whole digital world out there, which means there are a whole lot of resources for you to check out before your interview.

Financial statements

Financial statements are written records illustrating a company’s business activities and financial performance. Some companies make them public, and some don’t. But make sure you check and study up if they’re available, McCants encourages. “I would be impressed if they had looked into the company’s financials,” she adds. “Especially for a more senior role or a position close to business operations.”

Find out where the business is now, and work it into your conversation. To get really specific, McCants recommends going deeper. If the company is publicly traded, the SEC’s EDGAR database provides free public access to corporate financial information and operations.

Latest news and events

Find out what new developments are happening in the company. Most companies have a page on their website dedicated to press releases and events. However, McCants suggests doing your own digging on Google. “If the industry or company is going through a shift, it’s essential to know,” she recommends. Take a look at what they’ve posted on social media lately, especially news and announcements that you can work into your conversation with the interviewer. “You want to learn as much as possible about the organization,” she adds.

Look at the department and role

Depending on the role you’re interviewing for, you should look up past initiatives. For example, “for a marketing position, you want to be aware of what they’ve done in the past, what they missed, and what [you] can bring to the team,” explains McCants. Look at what skills they value most and what skills they’re missing. “Show them what experience you can bring to the table,” she adds. Try to find information relevant to the role you’re applying for, find where they are trying to go, and tell them how you can contribute to the team’s future, McCants recommends.

Customer and employee reviews

Social media platforms and sites like Glassdoor are good ways to discover how the company is perceived from the outside and inside. “This is important for people in marketing or HR roles, as they need insight into this data,” McCants suggests. Look at the feedback, find solutions, and use it in your interview strategy and when preparing your answers.

When it comes to social media, looking at the comments section can be useful, but proceed with caution—disgruntled ex-employees or internet trolls are never far!

Is it stalking or just interview prep?

When it comes to researching the person interviewing you, “I always do,” says McCants. Some interviewers care, while others don’t. “We’re all different people,” she adds. “I personally look people up on LinkedIn where they can’t see me.” You can adjust your LinkedIn settings to browse profiles in private or semi-private mode.

Looking up the interviewer’s profile isn’t about being nosy; you’re learning about their interests. But most importantly, McCants says, you’re looking for similarities between you and the interviewer. “Maybe you like the same sports team, worked at the same company, or went to the same school, anything that might connect the two of you.” You can bring it up during the early introductions, McCants recommends. You want to relate to them, build connections and make yourself memorable. Don’t forget to ask the recruiter who you will speak with for the following interview. “Usually, the recruiter will give you that information,” McCants says.

How to prove you’ve done your research

McCants doesn’t quiz her candidates on company information. She expects the candidate to show their knowledge when answering scenario-based questions.

Slide it into the conversation

“It’s important to be consistent and not sound pompous when answering these questions,” she adds. To know the best time and information to slide into the discussion, you really need to know your facts before the interview. “Catch the opportunity and say it,” she adds. “But this is only possible with the right preparation.” McCants advises against giving their website a quick skim, but rather immersing yourself in their world until you’re comfortably familiar. The more you know, the more opportunities you’ll have to slip your knowledge into conversation.

Showing your values align

When the interviewer asks you a scenario-based question like, “Tell me about a time when X, Y, Z,” McCants says. “You should have a story prepared using the wording in their values.” For example, if teamwork is important to the company, ensure your story shows you’re a team player. This displays, without directly saying, that you have similar values to the company.

Showing you know the business and financials

It can be as simple as congratulating the interviewer on a publicly shared achievement. Or, if the company is a startup, and they have achieved Unicorn status, bring that into the conversation, McCants adds. She gives an example: “If you’re discussing navigating the chaotic startup environment, but you researched that a large company recently acquired them, you can mention how this acquisition benefits them. Then congratulate them.”

How can you tell if your research served you?

Do you want to know if your approach was the right one? Just ask! Recruiters want you to succeed, and they can be valuable resources. Ask the recruiters if they have any additional information and tips, McCants recommends. “They don’t always offer the information, but I have never had a negative response. It’s a smart tactic,” she adds.

McCants always asks for feedback after an interview. However, the feedback will only be useful if you apply it to your future strategies. Early in her career, McCants received input to learn more about the organization, which she had done but hadn’t presented correctly. Now she’s an expert in weaving information into conversations seamlessly!

Remember, you’re only human

Another piece of advice McCants received after an interview was to be more human. “They told me my interview was textbook, but when I asked for feedback, the recruiter hadn’t seen my personality until the last question.” You want to be able to connect with them and be memorable, so if you sound like a robot just reciting their website, the recruiter can’t see who you truly are as a candidate. She adds, “There’s that additional feeling you get when you’re having a real conversation, so make sure you keep your personality in your answers.”

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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