The importance of doing your research before an interview cannot be stressed enough. Most job seekers fall short in this area, spending just a half hour the morning of the interview and not doing a thorough enough job.
Important: Don't start your research the morning of the interview.
At a minimum, prepare to spend 1-2 hours doing research on the people/company and preparing questions for your interviewers. This is in addition to any technical interview prep you’re doing (e.g. practicing algorithms, whiteboarding etc.).
While your resume may get your foot in the door, know that you’ll be expected to answer really specific questions about the company and the role and why you would add value. As you’re doing research you're going to go into the interview more confident because you’ll feel more prepared and informed about the conversation ahead of you.
When you do research on a company it’ll help you answer questions that might come up for you, like “Is this company a fit for me?”
In the following sections, we'll cover the three main categories of interview research: Job, People, and Company.
The day before your interview, re-read EVERY LINE of the job description you were sent (if applicable). The higher up in the job description something is listed, the more important it probably is in the day-to-day work of the job.
You will probably be asked questions related to the bullet points on a job description. These bullet points will likely cover very specific responsibilities of the role in addition to qualities/skills they’re looking for in a candidate.
If bullets mention work with APIs, scraping, or working with large teams, be prepared to talk about that stuff.
If bullets mention “you like sharing knowledge and are comfortable working in ambiguity” make sure you have specific examples that demonstrate this.
If the jobs says it requires 5 years of Ruby experience (and you don’t have that) does that mean you’re not qualified? No. Not at all.
Remember that job descriptions are a wishlist for employers and are a guide for you to get a sense of what a company is looking for in an ideal candidate and the range of expectations the company has for the person taking on this role.
If you’re not sent a job description (or there isn’t one posted for the role you’re interviewing for), look at other job descriptions on the site that can give you a sense of company culture and values. And do all the other research below.
If you have more than one interviewer, research all of them. Researching your interviewer enables you to learn who they are as a person first and also aim to develop a rapport/connection with them as soon as you walk in the door.
Keep an eye out for the following:
The more you know about your interviewer, the less nervous you will likely feel, and the more you can be yourself.
Keep in mind that anything you may reference in an interview that comes as a result of your research should be professional (not that you like the same bar they liked on Facebook).
Type your interviewer’s name in quotes [“FirstName LastName”] to get the best matched results. View not just the first page of hits, but the first five. This is being thorough.
Here are the things you should be looking for:
Have they built apps similar to yours, worked on similar initiatives, used similar technologies?
This helps you get a sense of what is important to your interviewer and ways you can make conversation with him/her and what you can highlight in your answer.
For example, and if appropriate, it’s okay to reference a few posts of theirs that you‘ve read, in interviews and in your follow up/thank you notes.
Finding and watching online videos of your interviewer is especially valuable, as they give you a much more real, ‘high definition’ experience of them and their personality than by just reading a blog post. Take advantage of this to tailor your communication style with them.
Don’t think that “stalking” your interviewer on LinkedIn is a bad thing. “Stalking” your interviewer on LinkedIn is a must! Use LinkedIn to research items such as their alma mater, their previous employer, noteworthy projects they’ve worked on, technologies they use in their role, etc.
Having this knowledge and articulating it is actually flattering, and shows that you are serious and did your research.
Researching your interviewer’s colleagues gives you a sense of the size of the team, who your new colleagues might be, the team structure, what each member does in their role, and what technologies they’re building with.
Additionally, if you’ve read the profiles of 10 of your interviewers colleagues, and you happen to be asked to meet “a few other people in the office” after your initial interview you’ll feel more comfortable because you’ve done your research!
Once you have looked up your interviewer and their colleagues, look for trends among them. Trends can help you gain a better sense of the sort of environment you’re going into. For example: Do most of the devs on the team have Computer Science degrees? If so, you should most definitely be ready to answer some algorithm or logic problems.
(Sidenote: Knowing where their colleagues previously worked also gives you ideas of other companies that might interest you that you should research as well for potential pursuit.)
Today, employers expect you to have scoured the internet for information about them. After all, how can you truly ‘give your all’ to a company if you don’t understand (and can’t articulate) what they’re about?
If you haven’t done thorough company research, then you’re not prepared, and that is a strike against you.
This is common sense basic information that out of respect you should be aware of. Smart interviewers might ask you this, helping them weed out insincere or lazy candidates. If you’re not asked and there is no reason for you to bring it up in an interview, then don’t mention it.
Look up the company thoroughly across the internet to get a big-picture view of them. The stuff to look out for is below:
Having this information only helps you better tailor your message/communications with them. You can find this information in various places such as:
View the company’s LinkedIn Company Page, follow them to get relevant company updates in your daily news feed, and as mentioned above, research their employees themselves to get a sense of their organizational structure and size, as well as the general education and skills they value and seek in candidates.
Reaching out to a current or former employee of a company is a super savvy practice that most candidates bypass completely. There is no better place to get a true inside look at an organization than by people who are working there/have worked there.
This is not the time to reach out to strangers who work at the company. If you reach out to someone you don’t know at a company and ask for advice on how to approach their interview process, they’re likely to alert a hiring manager and that could jeopardize your candidacy. The only appropriate way to do this is to reach out to someone you know who currently works at or who previously worked at the company, tell them you’ve secured an interview at their current/previous company and ask if they have a few minutes to chat about their experiences working there and if they have any advice for how to approach the interview process. What you’re mainly going to glean from these kinds of conversations is a better sense of the company culture and how you can tailor your message appropriately.
At start-ups and small companies, cultivating a very specific type of company culture is often one of their biggest priorities, with the soft skills of employees being just as valued as (if not more than) their actual technical skills.
In turn, make sure you are doing adequate research on such elements for these types of companies, so you can best ‘speak their language’, ask strong questions (we address this in a future lesson), and market yourself accordingly.
Keep in mind when you’re researching that questions will pop up in your mind. In a future lesson we will talk about the types of questions to ask in the interview and how to formulate them, based on the research you’ve done ahead of time.
Doing thorough research before an interview as detailed above not only helps you prepare and be more confident, but also helps you build a strong first impression.
The more time and effort you put into your research the more you will appear as a genuinely interested, responsible, and valuable professional, with a strong work ethic.
After all, if you aren’t showing a company that you’re willing to go all out to prepare and capture their attention and interest for a job interview, there is no reason for them to think that you’d do this as an employee.
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