My new-grad correspondent, Emily, wrote to ask me about company research. I always tell job-seekers to research the companies they are approaching. It’s ESSENTIAL. I don’t think that there is any better or clearer differentiator between average candidates and outstanding ones, than the level of understanding of the company’s business that each candidate brings.
Let me be more specific. Here are ten things you should find out about a company BEFORE you go on a job interview (and in the best case, before you compose a written overture to the company):
1) what their business is - not at the level that you can spout it back to them (like, “SAP makes enterprise software”) but at the level that you can EXPLAIN it in layman’s terms. What is enterprise software, exactly? You’d better be able to answer that question if you want to get a second interview with SAP.
2) who their competitors are.
3) approximately how large the company is (in dollar sales) and where its major plants/office are located.
4) the ownership of the company - is it private, is it publicly traded?
5) the leadership of the company - at least a little bit of knowledge about the CEO and other chief officers - bring notes to the interview if you need to.
6) BIG NEWS that the company has experienced in the last 12 or 18 months - especially acquisitions, mergers, big product launches and other major initiatives.
7) The major divisions or other organizational splits in the company.
8) A bit about the company’s history. Was it founded last year, or in 1877?
9) Industry news that’s not specific to this employer: for instance, a big regulatory change or a big merger that didn’t include “your” company.
10) Some sense, however elementary, of how the company competes in the marketplace: on cost? product features? what does your research tell you?
You'll find that it's very helpful to create a document (an Excel spreadsheet if you're a rows-and-columns type, a Word document if you're more comfortable with a paragraph format) to capture this information. Your storehouse of company knowledge will be invaluable not only ON the job interview, but in GETTING the job interview in the first place - if you interject some relevant datapoints into your cover letter, too.
Liz Ryan is a former Fortune 500 HR VP, an entrepreneur and workplace expert, and the founder and CEO of WorldWIT, the world's largest online network for professional women (http://www.worldwit.org ). Liz's Job Jungle blog is full of job-search wisdom and advice (http://www.worldwit.org/blogs.aspx ). Liz lives in Boulder, Colorado.