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What to research before a job interview

It can be easy to forget that a job interview should be a two-way street – not only is the employer trying to determine whether you fit their needs, but you should also be evaluating whether they fit yours.

Many job seekers don't view the interview this way, and as a result, put themselves at a disadvantage. After all, most companies research candidates online before hiring them – and even if they don't, you sent them an overview of relevant information about yourself – your resume.

Not only does researching an employer help even the playing field in the interview, but it also shows that you're committed to getting hired. Here are some key things you should know about a company before sitting down for an interview.

What do they do?

First and foremost, you should understand what the company does. It may sound obvious, but not being able to supply a clear answer to this question in an interview will severely hurt your chances of being hired.

The best way to find this information is often a combination of the company's website – where you can learn how they view what they do – and Wikipedia – where you can usually get a much more clearly worded, bare-bones definition.

What will you do?

Again, this may sound obvious, but not knowing what the job they're interviewing for entails is one of the biggest mistakes a candidate can make. Your goal in the interview is to demonstrate and explain what makes you the best candidate to carry out the duties of the position – how can you expect to successfully do that if you don't know what those duties entail?

What are their values?

Most interviewees will be able to explain what the company does, but you can really impress your interviewer by demonstrating an understanding of why they do it. This can usually be gleaned from the company's mission and values – both of which can typically be found on their website. This type of information is also usually found on their social media accounts and in interviews with company leadership.

Not only is this a great way to show your commitment to getting this job, but assessing a business's mission and values and how they align with your own personal values can be a great indicator of whether this company is a good fit for you.

What's new and noteworthy?

A company's function and mission are typically somewhat broad in scope and relatively unchanging. But what have they been up to recently to better achieve their goals? Are they offering any new products or services? Opening offices in new markets? Have they recently taken up a new cause or started any new initiatives?

This is all great information with which to arm yourself before entering an interview. It shows that you did more than a quick look at their homepage, and that you're genuinely interested in what they do as a company. Start by looking at the company's press room, where you can find information they've prepared for reporters and the media. A Google news search for the company or the names of company leaders can also provide useful information.

Who are the leaders?

As mentioned above, knowing a bit about the company's leadership team can be helpful in researching and preparing for an interview. Many corporate websites include brief bios on a number of their key leaders, and in some cases you can even find them on social media.

Depending on the size of the company and the position you're applying for, it's not unheard of for managers or executives to get involved in the hiring process.

Who is your interviewer?

As we mentioned, going into the interview, they already know a lot about you, so it can't hurt to find out what you can about them. Often, your interviewer will be the person to contact you to schedule the interview. However, if this isn't the case, ask your contact for the name of the person you should ask for when you arrive for the interview.

While knowing the interviewer's title and work history can potentially help you prepare for what kind of questions to expect, it's often more useful to simply get a feel for their personality. After all, employers often use interviews to gauge how well you'd fit with the team culture. Look for shared interests and other potential conversation topics that you can use to build a rapport.

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Everything You Need to Know About Video Interviews

The emergence of video interviews in recruiting practices and job search strategies is inescapable.  While the use of video interviewing is gaining steam and becoming a popular strategy for both job seekers and employers, we’ve found that over 50% of the companies […]...

3 benefits to using a staffing firm in your job search

Sometimes a job search can feel isolating. You're spending hours upon hours searching for opportunities, working on your resume and applying to job openings, often without having any outside feedback about what you're doing right or wrong. That isolation can add a lot of emotional stress to an already nerve-wracking experience.

What you may not realize is that you don't have to go it alone. "Psychologists tell us that next to death of a spouse, death of a child and death of a parent, the fourth most emotional experience we have, coupled with divorce, is searching for a job. It is emotionally stressful," says Tony Beshara, owner and president of Babich & Associates, the oldest placement and recruitment service in Texas. "A professional staffing firm can help eliminate that emotional stress. Staffing firms are in the trenches on a daily basis with candidates and employers."

Beshara says the three key advantages of using a staffing firm are experience, insights and confidential opportunities. Read on to learn more about these benefits and how staffing firms can play a crucial role in helping you find your next career:

1. Experience
According to Beshara, the average U.S. professional changes jobs every two and a half to three years. So that means a worker may go a long stretch of time before needing to engage in a job search. Staffing firm recruiters, on the other hand, live and breathe the job-search process daily.

Beshara points out that within the period of time between job searches, the job market can change – sometimes drastically. "The staffing professional is current on exactly what is going on in the immediate market. They have a unique perspective that the job seeker will not have. The market for a particular skill or experience is never the same as it was three years ago. It isn't likely any job candidate is going to be aware of that change. So, the 'new' candidate may think that finding a job is going to be like 'last time,' but it's not."

A knowledgeable staffing professional can help navigate a job seeker through the market changes, so the job seeker is less likely to encounter any surprises or challenges along the way. "The experienced staffing pro doesn't give theoretical or abstract advice, but practical 'this is the way it is ... this is what you should expect ... this is what we should do' advice," Beshara says.

2. Insights
One of the often frustrating parts about job searching is not getting any feedback from employers as to why you aren't the right fit for a role. When working with a staffing firm, you get access to that kind of information, which can help improve your search now and down the line.

"Staffing professionals have insights that candidates can't get anywhere else," Beshara says. "Since the majority of us work the same clients and the same hiring mangers over many years, we know what they like and how they like it, what they will hire and what they won't. Since we get to know them personally, we not only understand the job they are trying to fill but we know their personalities and personal likes and dislikes. We give those insights to our candidates to be sure both parties have the best chance of success not in just getting a job, but [in having] a long, solid employment relationship."

3. Confidential opportunities
According to a 2014 study conducted by CareerBuilder and Inavero, the attribute job seekers value the most in staffing sales representatives or recruiters is that they can find opportunities job seekers wouldn't be able to find themselves. Not only is that because staffing professionals are skilled at knowing which jobs might be the right fit, but it's also because they are privy to opportunities that job seekers wouldn't normally have access to.

"Because our clients trust us, they come to us with confidential job opportunities before they go to the general market," Beshara says. "We have access to the 'hidden' job market. Hiring authorities will often ask us to fill positions that even people in their own organization don't know about."

Sometimes, there doesn't even need to be a job opening for a staffing firm to get you a job. "Again, because of trust and insight, we know the kinds of employers that are interested in certain types of experience, whether or not they are 'actively looking' for a candidate," Beshara notes. "One-third of the positions we fill don't exist before we call a hiring authority representing a candidate we know they would be interested in speaking with. Employers will hire exceptional candidates when they come along even if they don't have a formal opening. A good staffing professional knows his or her hiring authorities well enough to know the kind of candidate they'd be interested in even if they aren't formally 'looking.'"

Have you had a positive experience working with a staffing firm? Tweet us at @CareerBuilder and let us know!

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5 tricky questions your boss will ask (and how to answer them)

Landing a job doesn't mean your days of navigating difficult questions are over. You should be prepared to handle sticky queries if and when your boss lobs them your way.

You may face one or more of these awkward questions at some point in your career. Here are ways you can respond to them professionally so you don't damage the relationship with your boss.

1. "Are you looking for a new job?"
If you're putting yourself back on the job market, tell the truth. Chances are that your boss has a good reason for asking, so a denial will only make you look bad. But don't overshare. This question isn't an invitation to air all your complaints about the position or the company. When responding, keep the focus on you and your career. And keep the answer short and to the point:

  • "I'm interested in exploring positions in a different industry."
  • "I'm thinking about relocating to another city."
  • "A former colleague contacted me about an exciting opportunity, and I feel I should look into it."
  • "I'm looking for a position with more flexibility."
  • "I don't feel I'm making much progress here."

If your boss presses for details, be polite and reiterate the reason you just gave. Then, emphasize that you're committed to doing your job to the best of your ability.

2. "Have you heard the latest about Jamie?"
Co-workers who spread rumors are difficult enough to deal with, but having a boss who engages in office gossip is a potential nightmare. The trick is declining to participate without sounding like a scold or Goody Two-shoes. Your best option is to give a noncommittal response such as, "I really haven't heard," and then either change the topic or leave the conversation. Maintain an attitude of polite disinterest. Once your boss realizes you're not a gossiper, he will drop the subject.

3. "How would you rate my performance as a manager?"
This question is particularly tricky because you might not know your boss's motivation. Has upper management requested that she seek feedback from employees, or is she genuinely interested in constructive criticism? Maybe she's just fishing for compliments. If the latter, an honest critique could hurt the relationship with your boss.

To stay on safe ground, lead with positive feedback. If she presses for ways on how she could improve, there's no need to make a laundry list. Choose one aspect of her managerial style that could use some work, and make it actionable. For example, you could tell her, "The next time there's a new project, I'd like a little more guidance so I don't go in the wrong direction."

4. "How would you rate your performance during Q3?"
Balance is the key when it comes to this sticky question. Start by outlining what you did well, and reference tangible results such as exceeding goals or meeting tight deadlines. Then discuss a few ways you might do better next time. To show you're serious about self-improvement, ask your boss for his assessment — and any tips for Q4.

5. "Can you take on this project (that no one else will do)?"
You may feel that you have to say yes to every request in order to maintain a good relationship with your boss. While it's occasionally necessary to "take one for the team," you need to be honest about how Project X will affect your present workload and whether it's within the scope of your job description.

If you're genuinely reluctant to lead this project, tell your manager that you simply don't have the bandwidth to do it justice and get all of your regular assignments done on time. But also think about what may happen if you agree: If leading Project X will win you points with the boss and prove your leadership skills, it might be worth the extra work to say yes — this time.

Sticky questions can catch you off guard. And depending on how you answer them, you could risk jeopardizing an otherwise healthy relationship with your boss. Tact, honesty and careful wording are strategies that will serve you well in smoothing over potentially awkward situations.

Robert Half is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 400 staffing and consulting locations worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit roberthalf.com. For additional career advice, read our blog at blog.roberthalf.com or follow us on social media at roberthalf.com/follow-us.

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