Just as you must know yourself before you begin an interview, so too must you know your prospective employer. Knowledge of the company helps you tailor your responses to questions and gives you confidence. It shows the interviewer that you care about the company and want to make a well-informed decision, and it gives you fodder for posing impressive questions to the interviewer. All of the information you gather will help you anticipate the company culture and gauge the expectations that they will have of you.
Understanding the Mission
At a minimum, you need to discover the company's purpose and trajectory. The employer will be convinced that you do not care about the job if you have to ask what they do. Look on the company website to discover how the company presents itself. Make sure you can articulate what the company mission statement is. If the company has a tag line, memorize that as well. If available, request a copy of its annual report. For newsworthy companies, check media sources like newspapers and business magazines to find out where the company is going and what its challenges are. Discover if they have any specific goals for the near future, like the production of new products or new partnerships. Talk with someone who works there or has worked there to find out whether the company fulfills its mission.
Study the Market
You also must familiarize yourself with the company's market. If they sell a product, who are their target customers? If they provide a service, to whom is it rendered? What is the nature of the products or services? These are the kinds of things you should be conversant in when you sit down for an interview. In addition, it is useful to know who are the company's competitors. Is it a business down the street, a conglomerate, a new or established company?
Find out what the structure and scope of the company is. Besides identifying whether the company is small, medium, large, or enormous, you need to know its configuration. Is it a division of a larger company or owned by a parent company? Does it own other companies? What are its strategic alliances? Is it a local, national, or international company? Also discover whether the company has divisions and what they are. It is also useful to know at what stage of growth the company is. Have they recently grown or laid off employees? At what rate? Using your internet, media, and personal sources, uncover as much as you can about the internal workings of the company.
Know the Customer
Moreover, it is useful to know how the company makes its money. Who are its clients or customers and how many of them are there? Is it a family-owned business or a start-up company funded by angels? Getting your hands on a share-holders report could be very illuminating as you determine what the company's earnings or losses are. Are their profits increasing or are they mired in debt? Is there another company funding them for a period of time at a loss? Compiling this information will enable you to assess the financial stability of the company.
Finally, you will benefit from knowing how the company treats its employees. Interviewing current or former employees will give you the information you need to determine whether you are likely to receive the kind of treatment you desire or require. How much of the company earnings are shared by employees? What are the salary ranges for various positions? Gaining this kind of information will help you assess a compensation packet that you can feasibly negotiate. Do not forget to uncover the benefits package offered by the company when you consider the attractiveness of compensation. In addition to compensation, discover whether employees receive training or mentoring, how many hours a week the employees tend to work, and how long employees tend to stay at the company. Finally, you might check to see if any complaints have been filed against the company.
Since you need to connect with the person responsible for the interview, it is helpful to discover as much as you can about that person as well. Is this your prospective boss or someone screening applicants? If possible, discover what the person is interested in and where he or she previously worked or went to college. Gather information that will help you establish an easy rapport.
Your quest for information can seem elusive without the ability to conduct an audit of the company's financial statements or at least interview employees of the company. With a bit of networking, the latter might be more feasible than you would initially think. Several other resources will help you:
The company website
Company statements and brochures
Newspaper and magazine articles
Reviews of best and worst companies
Employees of the company
Information held at local job search agencies