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“So what do you know about our company?”

You are almost guaranteed to be asked the above question one or more times during an interview process. And nearly every interview preparation guide advises to research the company. So everyone should have a great answer. Right? Then you might imagine my consistent disappointment at how poorly most candidates answer this question when I ask it in an initial phone screen.

The answer I most frequently receive: “Well, I’ve used your software, and I know you’re based in Seattle. . .” and that’s it.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: The interview is the final exam of your job search–but in almost all cases the only two grades given are A or F. I recommend preparing accordingly.

How? There are a lot of potential information sources:

  • The Company Website(I’m using my friends at Oracle for this example): This can provide information on the company’s history, mission, strategy, products, locations, and be sure to check out the massive amount of information about the Execs and Board of Directors, information on their Press and Social Media channels, about their Corporate Citizenship…it’s a vast ocean of knowledge. You could  (and should) spend a LOT of time on just this site alone.
  • Google and Google News: Google allows you to search for information about the company, while Google News aggregates any news articles about the company. I highly recommend setting up Google Alerts for all companies you are targeting, and set it to send you daily digests.
  • LinkedIn: Review the Company page on LinkedIn for basic company information, recent updates by the company and its employees, an overview of key products/services, and–whatever you do–ensure you Follow the company–because good recruiters look to see if you are. Look through your contacts: Do you have any either 1st or 2nd level connections that list your target company as a current or past employer? It is worth reaching out to gain their insight on the company (and who knows, maybe they know the hiring manager). I also highly recommend learning what you can about the recruiter who contacted you and–if possible–each member of the interview team. (It gives you an opportunity to understand their background and gives you a way to potentially build rapport through a shared prior employer/alma mater.)
  • Yahoo! Finance: Especially useful for Public companies. Provides a snapshot of market performance and financials. Also links to recent news stories.
  • Twitter: Follow the company on Twitter, and search for the company being mentioned. What are people saying about it?
  • Facebook: Same thing–like the company page and ‘passively listen’ to what people are commenting about. Are they happy with the products or services?
  • Glassdoor: Glassdoor is a crowdsourced company information and review site. Current/prior employees may volunteer salary information for various job titles–useful in potential offer negotiation. Additionally, current/prior employees can provide company ratings/reviews. I highly recommend applying a critical thinking filter to these as you might a product/service review on Yelp. Many of the people that post to Glassdoor are those that have left the company on poor terms–for instance through a RIF or due to what they perceive as a poor work/management situation.  Consider the feedback–then make up your own mind.
  • Hoovers: Significant amounts of information available here–for a fee.
  • Main/PandoDaily/GeekWire: Looking for a job at a startup or in tech? In Seattle or the Bay Area? Follow these three sites. Daily. Subscribe to them. Follow their leaders on Twitter.

That’s just a few resources of the multitude available to you. So what do you with with all of that information once you have it?

Well, first off–study it. Learn it–at least the basics. Understand the financials; they are key to the health of the company. Know who the key players and products are. Understand what’s going on with the company, and with their key competitors. This will help you not only be able to blow away the interviewer, but you should also be unlocking questions you’d like to have answered in the interview process about the company, product, leaders, financials, etc.

Again, I repeat: This is the final exam of your job search. Do you want an A? Or an F?

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