Every candidate has access to the easy, one-click methods of researching a company when it comes time to prep for an interview. Whether they be Glassdoor for company reviews, Google for news articles, or Salary.com for salary information, these are easy sources to scout without much thought or effort. But to succeed as an interviewee, you need to go deeper beneath the surface and gain some insights that will catch the interviewer’s attention.
Here are a few interview insights about themselves, the company, and the interviewer that no other candidate will put in the effort to gain:
Dig into less obvious information
Want to be a sales clerk for clothing store? Try on their various fits, learn about their latest clothing lines, and observe floor sales tactics from current employees. Want to work as a software engineer for a hot tech company? Dig through their public API or GitHub documentation. Find inaccuracies and inconsistencies - ways you can improve their process. Want to become a mechanical engineer for a government defense contractor? Read through public records of their latest defense contracts for insights on their upcoming projects.
This is the type of attention to detail you can bring to the interview table. Augment your prior retail experience by talking about your familiarity with the store’s sales process. Point out discrepancies or holes in strategies and how you would approach fixing them. Don’t just talk about having read a press release about an upcoming product. Come ready with ideas on how to act on marketing it, where your skillset can be supremely helpful, and what your vision is for the end product.
This type of approach doesn’t just impress - it sparks the interviewer’s imagination about how valuable you can be.
Study prior successful candidates
While most of your competition will be over-preparing for how to answer “What’s your biggest weakness?” you should take a look at the people who have already gotten to where you want to be at the company. A simple LinkedIn search will get you a list of people who currently work or have worked the job you’re applying to. Look for the common threads and patterns, both among the different people and between yourself and them.
Did you find that education is a key aspect of the prior successful candidates’ backgrounds? Maybe they came from the same university you did, or maybe they all have impressive volunteer experience. You landed the interview for a reason and looking at these profiles can give you a strong idea of what that reason was. Once you find the right pattern, you can focus your interview prep on the aspect of your background that is most attractive to the team. Don’t take that as an excuse to skimp on prep in other areas, but play to your strengths and you’ll stand out.
Research their competitors
What better way to understand the ups and downs of a company than by understanding their competitors and the industry they serve? When doing company research, most candidates focus on the company itself, ignoring the realities of the business world around them. Researching the competition will tell you whether the company is beating or losing to other players. Understanding the industry can show you the health and potential of the company’s business model and product.
This insight will help you frame smart questions during the Q&A portion of the interview. Bring your research up. Competitor has an interesting new innovation? How is the company responding to it? Is the industry in the middle of a fast growth period? Ask about growing pains and how the company is staying grounded. Provide your own solutions and ideas to problems and challenges to sweeten the pot and raise some eyebrows.
These types of questions show the interviewer two things. First, they display your interest in going deeper than just the baseline information to understand their company’s business challenges, successes, and failures. Second, it show an analytical approach, determining challenges the company is facing, working through their causes, and coming up with solutions. Even if your ideas don’t get implemented, you’ve gone a long way toward showing what you can bring to the table if you land the gig.
Look for culture clues
Many candidates will focus far too much on themselves and their own performance and ignore the people on the other side of the table. Looking up the interviewer and the team you want to join will give you an important look at the profile of people you’d be working with. It’s a great way to get a sense of the company culture and see if you’d be a strong fit.
A great source is social media - look for work-related pictures and posts from as many team members as you can find. Another is the company’s careers page, which is designed to signal their culture. Most importantly, look to social media to see the general tone and interests of employees -- if they don’t fit your own, you might not be a fit for the job.
Candidates who understand the culture of a team they’re interviewing with can better adapt their style to fit the people they’re speaking to. For example, it’s a highly ineffective tactic to speak in a proper and businesslike tone to a company that values more casual conversation and individuality. On the other hand, being too familiar with a company that prefers formality can also make you look bad in the eyes of the interviewer. Finally, understanding the culture of the team will also help you evaluate them and decide if they’re the right employer for you.
Many of the best candidates prepare for interviews by practicing with a friend. Few think to record themselves during those practice sessions. Take a hint from actors and actresses who do often record themselves when practicing lines for an audition. They do it so they can see get a sense of what’s actually being displayed on their face and perfect the right persona of the character they’re auditioning for.
The key insight to look for here is a combination of how your words come across when you say them and how your body language changes during each question you answer. Set up your phone to record your interview practice, even if it’s alone. It doesn’t have to be a super-long video - just a few answered questions can give you a good look at your behavior. Take the practice seriously, as though it’s the real thing.
Afterwards, look through the video in detail. Keep an eye out for negative body language signs like shifty eyes, slouched posture, and stiffness. Watch for sentences that get too long or bogged down in detail. Listen to your voice for monotony and uncertainty. If you catch yourself saying or doing things you don’t mean, your interviewer will, too.
Make adjustments as necessary and record yourself again. Keep doing this until you’re happy with how you come across to yourself and your practice partner. Carry over that confidence into your interview and you’ll impress with your poise and preparedness.
Really want to stand out from the crowd of other candidates? Do what they don’t do. Cursory interview prep can only get you so far, but a deep dive into some of the more intricate details of the interview process will get you some awesome and effective talking points. Treat your interview as a performance - smart improvisation guided by careful preparation - and you’ll be able to ace it.
Image courtesy of K2 Space.