Where I mix career information and career decision making in a test tube and see what happens

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Researching an Employer Before an Interview

Many inexperienced job seekers don’t realize how important it is to research the employer before you walk into an interview.  Here are some reasons:
  
The interviewer might ask: “Why should we hire you?”
You need to research: The focus and needs of the business.
Advantage you gain: You can explain why you’re the person who can fill the employer’s needs. (This can also be helpful in tailoring your resume and cover letter.)

The interviewer might ask: “Why do you want to work for us?”
You need to research: Advantages of working there, such as chances for job growth, good work/life balance, leadership in the industry, etc.
Advantage you gain: You can convince the interviewer that you’ll be a loyal worker.

The interviewer might ask: “What else can I tell you about working here?”
You need to research: Disadvantages of working there, such as long hours, high pressure, too much bureaucracy, and so forth.
Advantage you gain: You can ask whether these disadvantages apply to the particular job you seek. You also may be able to anticipate questions about how you would cope with stress or with demands for long work hours.

The interviewer might ask: “How do you see your future in this job?”
You need to research: The long-term goals of the business.
Advantage you gain: You can explain how you’ll serve future needs.

(What about how much the employer pays? You’ll need to know that eventually, when the interviewer offers you the job, but not for the initial interview.)

As you conduct research, for each question you investigate about the employer, you’ll need to ask a corresponding question of yourself. Your answer to the latter question will help you prepare for the interview in two ways: (1) You’ll be better able to answer the employer’s questions about you. (2) You’ll have a clearer notion of whether this employer is really where you want to work.

About the employer: What is the employer’s main purpose for being in business?
About you: How do you intend to contribute to this purpose? What qualifies you to serve this purpose? (Hint: For ideas, look at your resume.)

About the employer: What industry is the employer in?
About you: Do you have any experience in it? Are you interested in this industry?

About the employer: What kind of product or service does the business offer its customers/clients/patients?
About you: What training or work experience do you have with this (or a similar) kind of product or service? Do you like working with this kind of product or service?

About the employer: What kinds of customers/clients/patients does the business serve?
About you: What training or work experience do you have with these (or similar) kinds of customers/clients/patients? Do you like working with them?

About the employer: What is the employer’s role in the industry? (Leader, major player, strong competitor, small fry, newcomer?)
About you: What industry role for your employer would you like best?

About the employer: How many people work for the company? (If there are multiple sites, try to get a figure for the site where the job is.)
About you: What size employer would you be most comfortable with?

About the employer: What is the financial condition of the employer? Does it seem stable?
About you: If the employer seems stable, fine. Otherwise, are you willing to take a risk?

About the employer: What is the work/life balance like for workers at this employer? Are work hours long? Is there enough vacation time? Can workers get flexible time, daycare, or other arrangements for a better balance?
About you: What work/life conditions would you prefer (or tolerate)?

About the employer: What are your chances for career advancement at this employer? In this department?
About you: What are your plans for career advancement? Are you okay with the opportunities that the position is likely to lead to?

You may be unable to answer some of these questions about the employer. Don’t give up without a serious effort to answer them. But if the information is very hard to get, that’s okay, because then you have intelligent questions to ask at the interview.

You may also be unable to answer some of these questions about yourself—for example, what size employer you’d be most comfortable with. If you’re uncertain because you haven’t given enough thought to the question, take the time to do so now. On the other hand, maybe you don’t yet have enough work experience to have formed preferences. In that case, give the employer the benefit of the doubt, and express a willing-to-try attitude if the topic comes up in the interview.

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