TAO Self-help

Title:Job Interview Success - Know the Employer Before the Interview

Author:Susan P. Joyce, © All rights reserved

Date:November 2014


In the military (and in marketing), a fundamental strategy for success in any battle is often called, "Know the Enemy." It's logical because you can't usually succeed in battle without knowing as much as possible about "the other side" of the conflict — who they are, what they want, how they behave.

In a job search, "Know the Enemy" morphs into "Know the Employer," and it means collecting information on potential employers so that you can focus your job search efforts on organizations where you will have the best opportunities. And making an informed decision when you accept a job offer — NOT a fingers-crossed, please-let-this-work-out decision!

5 Important Sources of Information About Employers

In a job search, your adversary (hopefully not your enemy) is the employer — the hiring manager, the recruiter, everyone who interviews you, and everyone who works there. Find out all you can about them.

When the interview is scheduled, ask the names of the people who will be interviewing you. Hopefully, that information is known to the people scheduling the interviews, and you have a right to know it too. Ask politely. If the information is not forthcoming, move on.

We have tons of information available online now, and ignoring that information is ignoring an excellent opportunity to pick the best potential employers as your job search targets while avoiding the worst, to stand out from the competition by leveraging that information, and to land that job.

  1. Employer's website

    Visit their website, and learn as much as possible from it. What they do? Where they are (local, national, or international)? Who leads the company? Who else works there? What are the products and/or services? How big is it (employees, sales, profits or losses)? What do they show as "news"? You won't find all of those answers on the employer's website, but hopefully you will find some of them.

  2. LinkedIn Research
    • Check for a Company Profile on LinkedIn. LinkedIn shows: number of employees, industry, headquarters location, your connections to anyone who works there, possibly job postings, and more.
    • Check the LinkedIn Profiles of the people who are interviewing you. Look for clues about them — their job titles, experience, education — anything else that will help you find a "common ground" with them in the job interview and help you understand their perspective and goals.
    • If the employer website has indicated some major clients, business partners, and suppliers, look for LinkedIn Company Profiles on those organizations. LinkedIn will show you any connections you may have.
    • Check the LinkedIn Profiles of company employees. Look for any commonalities with you — same degree in college, same home town, same military service, etc. See what LinkedIn Groups they belong to. If possible, join those Groups. You may pick up interesting information from those observations, and you may also be able to ask questions to elicit responses directly from employees of your target (or possible target) employers.
  3. Google (Bing, DuckDuckGo, etc.) the Employer

    Put search engines to use.

    • If they sell products or services, search for reviews of those products or services.
    • If you find the names of a parent organization, business partners, major customers, or contracts on their website or in news about them, search for information about those organizations, too.
    • What does Google "suggest" about them when you start a query with the company name?
    • Does Google Maps show you a "street view" of the organization's location? Is it large or small? Does it look well-maintained and prosperous or in disrepair? Good neighborhood or bad? What you want/expect, or not?
    • Look for signs of prosperity or decline. New or pending contracts, product roll outs, and/or locations could mean new hires. A contract loss or closure of a location could mean the opposite. What's in the news section of the website and in Google's news search?
  4. Yahoo Finance

    If the employer is a publicly-traded company, Yahoo Finance is a treasure trove of information about the company. Most of it is aimed at investors, but that information is very helpful for job seekers as well. Profits going down — maybe a cutback (with layoffs) is pending? Sales skyrocketing — maybe a big increase in staff is pending?

    Look at the stock performance. If the stock price is jumping much higher than competitors, the market is expecting some good news. But, be careful — good news to the stock market may not be good news for your job search. The news could be a hot new product or service being introduced, OR it could mean the company is being sold and investors expect to make a killing. See what the stock analysts think.

  5. Direct information collection

    If possible, talk to current and former employees about the organization (LinkedIn Advanced Search) and what it's like to work there. Which are the best departments/divisions, best locations, best products/services, etc. Who are the best managers? And, conversely, what are the worst departments/divisions, etc.

    How long do people stay? Why do they leave? Where do they go when the leave?

Applying the Intelligence

Once you have gathered and analyzed the information, apply it for your job search:

  • Focus your efforts on the most positive employers and the most successful sections of those organizations as well as the managers with the best reputations.
  • Develop good questions for the formal job interview process.
  • Consider what accomplishments, skills, and experiences you have that would be of value to that employer, and how to package them for that culture. How can you help them?
  • Discard the employers who appear shaky, have poor reviews, or don't "feel" right to you. Or, go to the job interview to practice and improve your job interviewing skills.

Bottom Line

Once you have collected the information, you will find more ways than I can describe to use that information for your job search. Use it in networking, cover letters, and other correspondence with the employers. Mention it in your job interviews — employers want to know you didn't just click the "Apply" button. Just take the time to collect the information, analyze it, and consider how to apply it.

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff "graduate" who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased WorkCoachCafe.com, and Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then. Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org, is a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and a columnist on HuffingtonPost. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.

Featured Employers all