We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training. — Archilochus
Do these things and it will be impossible to fail!
Many of you who work with me know that I like to create a background document to help my candidates prepare for their interviews. It contains a brief overview of the company, job description, relevant recent news and social posts, bios for key decision-makers, case studies and suggestions for questions to ask.
Here’s how I go about my research:
- Who is the company? I start by Googling them. I want to see what rises to the top in search, and how others describe the company and its service offering. What I can find on Crunchbase or Owler (PharmaLive or Medical Marketing & Media for healthcare agencies) provides a good snapshot of their history, size, financial health and business growth, leadership and competitive standing before I read the more nuanced marketing language on their web site. I’ll also see what Glassdoor and their social channels have to say. LinkedIn offers good insights about recent hiring trends and average employee tenure. I’m looking for the reasons why I want to work for them; selling points that I can get excited about.
- Who are their clients? In the advertising and PR industries, a huge part of job satisfaction can rely on clients and the work they do. I look for case studies on the company’s web site, as well as awards shows and industry publications. Reading about sample engagements gives me a stronger fix on their service offering. Then I start to jot down relevant work I’ve done for similar clients or industry verticals so I can bring it up during the interview.
- Job descriptions. I find it useful to read the description for the job you’re pursuing, as well as ones for the level above and below. I want a sense of what’s expected at each level and career path. Job profiles are typically available on the Careers section of the company’s web site or as job postings on LinkedIn or Indeed. I make notes about skills or responsibilities I want to qualify. Job descriptions are born from cut & paste templates or wish lists, so it’s helpful to hear what’s essential vs. nice to have. Then I go into LinkedIn and pick out people with the same job titles at the company. I want to compare their qualifications to my own, and understand where they’re hiring their employees from. Finally, I check Glassdoor for salary ranges for these job titles. This self-reported data is not always accurate, but it gives me an initial ballpark before I get firmer numbers from the hiring team.
- Key decision-makers. We’ve focused on the company and role so far, but let’s face it: You’re interviewing with a person. You need to build a rapport with them. What are they all about? Back to Google and the socials. You should know what they’re talking about and what’s important to them now. I’ll look for a bio on the company web site, though I really like the details I can find on LinkedIn: How long they’ve been with the company, where they worked before, what school they went to and who we have in common. Not only do these things inform small talk and speed a sense of connection, they give me hints about how to guide the conversation and what questions to ask. I do this for every person on the interview agenda, and additionally scout LinkedIn for anyone that works on their team or otherwise interacts with this role. That way, I have context for names that are casually mentioned in the interview. I also make sure I’m familiar with the executive leadership team.
- Questions. Don’t be the person that says “I don’t have any questions” during the interview. That’s a signal to your interviewer that you’re really not interested or haven’t done your homework. In addition to helping you evaluate the opportunity, questions are another way to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise. To that end, choose them wisely, with respect to your interviewer’s role and time commitments. Vision and mission questions for agency executives, growth opportunities, daily responsibilities and success metrics for immediate supervisors, culture and benefits questions for HR.
If you incorporate all these tips into your own research, you’re well on your way to crushing the interview! It’s also critically important to rehearse your own talking points and anticipate the questions the hiring team will ask. Read over your resume and be certain you can speak to every word and achievement. Quantify your accomplishments by dollars saved or brought in, people managed, services introduced or improved. Have work samples and concise case studies ready: Objective, solution, tactics, results. Write down the five things you absolutely want your interviewer to remember and resist straying to tangents. Think about your word choice and how to make your answers more riveting. Be prepared for the questions that can lead into dangerous territory, e.g. rationale for job moves or why you want to leave your current role. Despite all your preparations, interviews can veer off-script. Personally, I occasionally make the mistake of assuming things will go one way based on my research, then I find myself not listening deeply or being unable to pivot.
Finally, be able to articulate why you want this job. Prepping for interviews is a lot of work! If you’re going to put in this much effort, you should be absolutely buzzing with excitement and curiosity.
Hope these tips have given you more interview confidence. Now go out there and kill it!