Job interviews. There must be a better way to prepare than hoping you get the questions you prepared for? Here is a great strategy to focus your research for your interview.
Part of the stress when applying for a position is not knowing what you need to know in the first place. Some of the questions that’ll probably be flying through your mind are:
- What will I be asked?
- What questions should I expect?
- What answers should I have prepared?
- Will I even be able to answer?
We’ve decided that the best way to help you prepare is to give you a simple strategy that you can use to help you focus your research. The less work the better, right? Whether it’s with a big company, a start-up or a non-profit organisation, this plan will (hopefully) have you ready for any interview.
Here’s the strategy in one bite-size chunk; big-picture thinking. Instead of just preparing for the expected questions, understand how you (and the organisation) fit together in the bigger picture. Every individual works in an organisation, and every organisation works in an industry (see the diagram below).
In your research, think about how these different levels fit into each other. Most candidates will be able to answer questions, but showing a deeper and broader understanding of the organisation will certainly impress your interviewers.
Every individual fits into an organisation, and every organisation fits into an industry.
Think about it like this: sports journalists need to be keeping tabs on major sportspeople and events. Thinking about a career in investment banking? You should be able to talk about the State of the Nation address. If you want to work for Pepsi, you should know what Coke is up to.
Big companies, start-ups, non-profit groups– every organisation has a context. You need to make sure that you understand that context and can answer questions about it.
- Look up major events in the industry. Just like Google can search for images, it can also search for news articles. Use this to keep up to date with events in your organisation’s industry.
- Read Business Day online. It’s a great news organisation and many of their stories cover a ton of industries. Check it out everyday before your interview.
- Thinking about your organisation. After researching the industry and your organisation (more on that in a bit), think about how they fit into each other. How big is this organisation? Who are its rivals or potential friends? Where is the industry going and how is the organisation set up for these changes? Don’t focus on small details and don’t worry about having concrete answers; thinking broadly about these questions will show your interviewer that you’re thinking about the bigger picture.
Let’s go one step smaller. You should spend most of your time focusing on the organisation itself. This part is much easier to research than the industry; the organisation has probably done a lot of this work for you already!
- Mission statement and values. Just about every organisation has its own website, and every one of these will have an About Page. This page will set out what the organisation aims to achieve, how they think about themselves and how they want to be seen. You should take some time to think about this statement in relation to the industry the organisation is in. This is the clearest way to understand what the organisation will look for in you.
- Clients, products and services. The organisation website will also give you information on what they do and who they work with. If not, Googling the organisation should give you that information very quickly. Your interviewers will be impressed if you can refer to their clients, products and services. It suggests that you have dedicated some time to researching the organisation and you’ve already thought about being in the position you are applying for (score for forward thinking!).
- Strengths and achievements. Most organisations are proud about what makes them special. Their homepage, their About page and almost all of their marketing will help you get a sense of the organisation’s strengths. The same thing goes for their achievements, but make sure you’re being factual. It’s easy to just tell your interviewer that you think the organisation is great, but what will set you apart is being able to talk about successful products, events or advertisements. Get specific when it comes to why you think the organisation is a good one.
Finally, you need to spend time thinking about yourself and your role in the organisation. An interview is, at its core, about you. Be prepared to talk about yourself. If you can use your knowledge of the organisation and the industry to do this, that’s a big bonus.
Your skills and value. What are you good at? What can you offer this organisation? This is the big question the interviewers will have, and you should be ready to sell yourself. You can focus your answers by having a good understanding of the organisation and what your interviewers want in an applicant. When thinking about your skills, try and relate them to what you learnt about the organisation. Interviewers want to learn more about you, but they are thinking about you in relation to their organisation and how you would be a valuable part of it.
Understanding how the industry, the organisation and your position all fit into each other will give you a strong sense of direction and context during the interview. If you’re asked about yourself, it will be easy to show how you relate to the organisation. If you’re asked about the industry, you can relate your ideas to the organisation and then to yourself.
This understanding of context will give you the confidence to answer questions at any level. It will also give your interviewers the impression that you are well-informed, competent and can apply knowledge in different contexts. With this strategy, you should be able to deal with any question thrown at you and impress your interviewers with your ability to see the bigger picture.
Here are some great sites to use to get extra information on your organisation.
Crunchbase is a great site to get financial information about organisations from around the world. You can find out about rounds of funding, acquisitions and recent hires, as well as press coverage, clients and senior staff.
LinkedIn is a major social network for professionals, almost like a Facebook page for your professional identity. You can use this to find information about the people in the organisation you are applying for, including your interviewers and your potential boss. Organisations also have their own Linkedin pages, which you can use to find out more about them.
Glassdoor is a site that hosts employee reviews of their companies. This is a useful site for you to use to find out more about what it is like to work for an organisation, from the mouths of people who worked there. This information may not come up in your interview, but it will give a better sense of the company in a way that you won’t get from their official website or news articles.
Google News will help you find news articles about your organisation. Being up to date with what an organisation has been doing and how it is represented in the media is very important for an interview. Use Google News to stay up to date with an organisation right up until the time of the interview.
A successful interview is about more than just being well researched. Don’t cram your research all in the day before. Do a little everyday to make sure you arrive at the interview feeling relaxed and confident. Check out our other articles on getting ready for an interview, like “Maintain a positive mental attitude” and “Prepare in Advance”.