TAO Self-help

Title:Have You Done Your Homework?

Author:© Tom Wolfe, author; all rights reserved; excerpts from Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition; used with the permission of the author and publisher, potomacbooksinc.com.

Date:March 2014


Those of you who have read my book know that one of the central themes is the impact that knowledge has on the success or failure of an interview: knowledge of self, knowledge of the position, and knowledge of the company. Today's column focuses on the third of the three.

You must research a company before an interview. There are two important reasons for this. The first reason should be obvious. An interview is a two-way street. Yes, the interviewer tries to figure out if you are the kind of person the company wants on the team, but you must also determine whether or not you would want to work for that company if an offer is made. Researching a company is all about answering questions and gaining information. You learn many things about the organization-people, mission, products, history, leadership, and culture, to name a few.

The second reason is often overlooked. Thorough company research will also improve the odds of a successful interview. To get an offer requires four things:

  • The company has verified that you are indeed qualified for the job.
  • You come across as likeable and the kind of person the company wants on the team.
  • You stand out as the favored candidate among your competition.
  • Your level of interest in the company and the opportunity is beyond doubt.

The last one on that list trumps the first three combined. No matter how qualified you are, no matter how likeable you appear, no matter how well you stack up against the competition, if you fail to express a high level of interest, you are doomed to failure.

The interviewer must know that you care and that you worked hard to prepare. Simply accepting the invitation to interview and showing up is not good enough. Of course you can, and should, express interest in a direct way by simply coming out and saying the words I am interested but you also need to back up those words with enthusiasm, body language, personality, empathy, and attitude. You will also show interest indirectly by asking good questions-questions about the job, the opportunity, the company, the people, and the interviewer. Thorough company research-your homework-will also give you the background to ask more and better questions.

Properly researching a company takes time and may be tedious, but it is not difficult. What may be difficult is learning how to research a company. You would be wise to master the art of company research well in advance of your first interview. Once you are aware of the resources and how to use them, the process is fairly simple. What will take you many hours to do the first time, you will be able to accomplish in less than an hour when you have to do it for real. Here is an exercise to help you develop this skill.

Select an actual company as the subject of this exercise and do the research as if an interview was coming up soon. Why? It would be a shame to waste all of this hard work and valuable information. By selecting a company with which you know you will be interviewing or one where you hope to do so, you may be able to actually use the results of this practice.

Let's get started. It is not that hard to research an American company that is publicly traded on a stock exchange. Privately held companies, companies headquartered overseas, and start-ups are more difficult. Although the Internet has simplified the process, it has also created an issue. Yes, doing the research is easier, but with that ease comes an expectation of thoroughness and accuracy. Speaking of accuracy, resist the temptation to believe everything you read on the Internet, especially when it comes to blogs and open sources like Wikipedia. When Internet research was not an option, an interviewer might forgive an inadequate effort, especially if the company was in the difficult to research category. That forgiveness is now much less likely to occur.

There are three angles of attack to keep in mind as you do your research:

  • What does the company want you to know?
  • What do the business analysts have to say?
  • What information is available in the public print, digital, and social media?

To answer the first, visit the company's website. Here you will find information about products, sales, profitability, corporate officers, subsidiaries, locations, and press releases. You should also read the company's annual report, especially the cover letter from the president or CEO.

The answer to the second is easy to find if the company is publicly traded. There are dozens of investment-oriented websites at your disposal. Perhaps you use an investment advisor who would share with you his or her research or steer you in the right direction.

The answer to the last exists in print and digital media. The popular search engines are a good place to start. For more targeted information you might use private sources. One excellent resource is the on-line research tool available through the Wall Street Journal. Although this is a paid subscription, the fee is modest when you consider the wealth of accessible information. You would be hard pressed to find any company, foreign or domestic, public or private, start-up or Fortune 500, which the Wall Street Journal has not researched or profiled to some degree. Publications such as Business Week, Fortune, and Forbes are helpful, as are web-based magazines like Slate. Business-oriented social media sites such as LinkedIn can be a wealth of information.

To summarize, researching a company in advance of your interview will pay double dividends. Not only will you get a sense of whether or not it is the right kind of company for you, but you will also enter the interview armed with valuable information necessary to demonstrate your level of interest in that company-a critical element of interview success.

By Tom Wolfe, Career Coach
© Tom Wolfe is an author, columnist, career coach, veteran, and an expert in the field of military-to-civilian career transition. During his career he assisted thousands of service members in their searches for employment, placing more than 3000 in their new jobs. Prior to civilian life, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served as a surface warfare officer. He teaches transition courses, gives seminars on career and job change, writes about the career transition process, and continues to counsel current and former military personnel. His book, Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition, was published by Potomac Books in 2011. Tom lives on the North Carolina coast with his wife, Julie, and their Chesapeake Bay retriever, Maggie.

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