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You’ve heard it time and again when preparing for an interview: Research the company!  But are you asking the right questions and looking in the right places to gather the information you need? Are you making an informed decision about your next career move?  Have you really done the necessary homework to know your potential employer inside and out?  And are you developing thoughtful questions to pose to the interviewer that showcases you’ve done your research?

There are five main areas you should be prepared to uncover more information about in order to make the most of your next interview:

General Information

First and foremost, you should always understand the basic information surrounding your future employer. Some questions to start with can be: Is the company public or private?  How large or small is the company?  Are they local, do they have several locations, or would you be working for a subsidiary or division of a larger company?

Basic information, usually derived from a company’s website, is the minimum amount of data any candidate should be prepared to collect.

For smaller companies or those that do not have a large web presence, you can utilize other online search tools focused on private companies or you can contact organizations such as the Better Business Bureau for more information.

Don’t be surprised when you’re asked in an interview what you know about a company. Just a few minutes of research can showcase your interest in the position and set you a part from other candidates.

Products or Services

While products and services may seem to fall under the General Information category, you should delve into this topic more thoroughly.  Do you know what this company does or makes?  Is it something you are interested in or have experience with?  If you are in a sales or customer service role, finding out more about the products and services is crucial to your future career.  If you’re not a supporter of what the company is selling, you’re probably not going to be very successful in your position.  And if you’re not familiar with what they do, it may be important to ask what type of training or orientation is provided to new hires to get them up to speed on their services.

Competitor Information

Chances are whether direct or indirect, the company you’re interviewing with has competition.  You should compare the competitive landscape and where your prospective employer stands.  Are they strong, innovative, and staying leaps and bounds ahead of other companies?  Are they struggling to compete or using outdated processes to run the business? What are the key differences between the company and its main competitors? Is the industry growing as a whole? Does the company have a great brand or household name? It’s vital you have an understanding of the landscape to know what you should be prepared for in accepting a position.

You should also note, it could be worth submitting your resume to the competitors you’ve identified.  Chances are they have similar roles available and it doesn’t hurt to keep your options open.

Culture and Reputation

Most people desire to fit in where they work.  It’s important to understand if an employer’s culture is in line with your core values.  If you like fast paced environments and competing against others, an easy-going, team oriented environment may not be the best fit.  If you’re interested in working for an employer who values their social responsibility, you should research what types of social programs they’ve implemented or what their community involvement entails.

And if a company has a bad reputation around town, have you asked yourself if you’re thick skinned enough to handle dirty looks or empathetic apologies every time you introduce where you work?

A great place to start researching a company’s culture is by checking your network to see if you have connections to anyone who works at the company or if an introduction can be made.  This can allow you a first hand perspective into the inner workings of the organization to understand what values the company holds in high regard.

Direction and Planning

Do you know the company’s strengths and weaknesses? If you can identify these, you can be more proactive in the interview speaking to how your specific skills can address them or contribute to change.

Is the company growth oriented or looking to be acquired in a few years?  Researching the company’s history can also give you insights to how it’s grown and the challenges it may face.  Checking for recent articles in the news can also inform you of the company’s fiscal situation and stability.  If a company has recently declared bankruptcy or went through massive rounds of layoffs, you may want to find out more information or inquire further in the interview before being faced with being out of work again in a few weeks or months after accepting a position.  Skimming company announcements and press releases can also provide information on growth, backgrounds of individuals they’ve recently hired, and other snippets of useful information.

Delving into these five areas and arming yourself with more in depth company research not only benefits you to make better informed decisions about your potential employer, it saves valuable time in the interview not having to cover rudimentary information, highlights your desire for the position, and it provides for more in depth discussions in the interview process.  Preparing the necessary company research will set you a part from the other applicants, and you can feel better about making the right decision for yourself when an offer has been made.

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