We all know writing job applications and getting ready for interviews is a daunting process. As Benjamin Franklin once said: ‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’ All employers want to know you have done your research on them and can demonstrate a genuine interest in working for their organisation. In an increasingly competitive job market, you need to make a great first impression in order to stand out from the crowd and land that highly sought-after job.
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If you have not invested the time in researching your employer beforehand, you run the real risk of having your job application rejected or underperforming at interview. Don’t sell yourself short! Put in the hours ahead of time and give yourself the best chance of succeeding.
That said, spending days and nights reading non-essential information about your potential employer can also harm your prospects on interview day. This article will walk you through strategies to help navigate the research process.
Your first resource for finding out about a company will be their website. Spend some time on their site, reading through each section to gain a sound overview. Take notes while browsing the site so that you can recall the key points. We have broken out company research into three sections:
(I) Company Overview (II) Operations and (III) Financial Performance.
Learn the organisation’s vital statistics: How long have they been in existence? How many locations do they have? How many people do they employ? Who are the key management personnel such as the CEO and heads of the relevant division(s) you are applying to? If company management is not available on the website, these days you’ll probably find profiles of these professionals on LinkedIn. In fact having a brief biography of key personnel and also the person(s) interviewing you can bring to light
the potential career path that lies ahead of you. You may or may not have a chance to work these facts into your interview, but even if you don’t, you will answer interview questions more intelligently if you have background context.
You’ll really want to have a firm grasp of the company’s full selection of products / services before you meet an employer. It will also help you address how the company’s products / services are differentiated from its competitors. knowing the company’s unique selling points (USPs) really answers the bigger question of why do you want to work for us?
Company Financial Performance
Building a picture of the company’s financial performance will help answer questions such as which products/services and regions are growing quickly? Depending on the level of competition in industry, is the company’s strategy to focus more on revenue growth or cost management? How the company views its sources of growth can translate into an entirely different corporate culture and job specification. For larger companies, you will find company financial information from the ‘Annual Report’ in the ‘Investor Relations’ section of the company website.
In understanding the industry and its market, we need to get a sense for the general market conditions faced by industry. Economic, political, legal and technology factors are all at play in influencing the overall market and its profitability potential. Be able to answer questions such as is it a cyclical industry or non-cyclical – ie. is the industry sensitive to the business cycle and so as economic activity increases, the industry in turn benefits and vice versa. Does the industry come up with new products constantly or is it slow to change or develop? What are the current or future regulatory issues which might affect the industry? Within the same industry, certain geographies may outperform others. Is the industry strong or weak domestically vs overseas?
You’ll want to form a view on news, trends and forecasts in the industry. Be able to answer questions such as where is the industry now? Where do you think it is heading in the next 2-5 years and why? The granularity of your findings will no doubt be influenced by the availability of high quality (ideally free!) industry information. The following are starting points for sources of industry information:
• Trade Publications
• Industry Associations or Organizations
• Governmental Information
• Major PR & Media firms, newswires, etc
To demonstrate you have researched the role and your fit within the organisation, you may be asked what do you know about the position for which you are applying? It’s important not to ask questions so obvious that they could be answered by a glance at the company’s home page. Also, it’s not considered appropriate to ask about salary until the interviewer brings up the subject. Finally, avoid inquiring about vacation or time off; you’re supposed to sound like you’re interested in working, not in being at home!
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