How Much Targeted Employer Research Is Enough?

Picture this: You have successfully networked into your number-one target organization. After many emails and a serious round of telephone tag, you’ve finally received confirmation of a date and time for an informational meeting or for an interview with the head of the group you hope to join.  The date arrives and you settle in to the visitor’s chair in the executive’s office.  After the initial pleasantries, she squares her shoulders, looks you directly in the eyes, and asks, “What do you know about our company?”.

What do you say?  Where do you begin?  How much detail do you include?  Do you mention the problem they had with their most recent new product introduction?  Do you refer to the favorable analyst’s report that was in the Wall Street Journal?  Do you discuss what their competitors are doing?  Do you say you watched the video stream of the speech the company CEO delivered at the latest industry conference in which he discussed an overview of the company’s new strategic direction for emerging markets?

If you have not given a lot of thought to your response to this question, you may not have conducted sufficient research on the company.  Or, you might have done so much research that now you’re overwhelmed with facts and figures and don’t know where to begin. At the very least, you may become a bit flustered or anxious.  At worst, you may appear not to have the pertinent knowledge or keen level of interest in the company to be considered a viable candidate.

There is a solution: Do your research and be conversant in what you find. In other words, prepare, prepare, prepare.  It is almost impossible to do too much company research, so you can err on the side of more research rather than less, as long as you prioritize key points to bring up in a networking meeting or interview.  Here is a sampling of the multiple resources available to you:

  • > Any and all databases and resource listings included in your program’s view in RightEverywhere. These may include: OneSource, CareerSearch, and/or Career Links.
  • Current and former employees of the company
  • The company’s own website
  • Recruiters
  • Public filings
  • Annual reports
  • Executive profiles
  • News releases and media coverage
  • Industry analyst reports
  • Annual reports
  • Current and former employees of competitive firms
  • Customers, vendors, and suppliers
  • Social networking sites such as LinkedIn

Candidates are reporting to us that virtually every interviewer is asking them some version of the question, “What do you know about our company?”  It may be worded somewhat differently, but the intent is the same.  Interviewers want to determine if candidates have a sincere interest in the organization, if they are willing to put forth serious effort to complete their “due diligence,” and if they have the business savvy to recognize priority issues that the company has publicly articulated.

Individuals who arm themselves with company knowledge, both figuratively and literally, are likely to make a better first impression and can provide more conversational “hooks” onto which the interviewer can hang questions and comments, leading to a more engaging meeting for both parties.  A recently landed marketing candidate who made a significant shift from one industry sector to another, compiled folders with pertinent information on each of her target companies. Each folder included this basic information:

  • Company mission/strategy statement
  • Annual sales
  • Number of employees
  • Number of locations, in which countries, and locations of any recent expansions
  • Comprehensive list of products/services marketed
  • Primary brands
  • Major competitors
  • Brief company history
  • Acquisitions/divestitures
  • Profiles of key executives
  • Recent major news events

She carried completed folders with her to each interview and mentioned that she had done some research, highlighting a fact or two that was pertinent to the position under discussion.  She found that interviewers were impressed with her knowledge. One even commented that she knew more about the company than some “insiders.”  When she returned for her call-back interviews, one manager referred to the blue folder she had with her initially and said she had made quite an impression on his colleague with her grasp of the current state of the business. The story had a happy ending. She got the position she was hoping for and was well prepared for a successful on-boarding.

Now picture this: You are about thirty minutes into a scheduled one-hour interview for a senior IT project manager role at your number one target company, and you and the hiring manager are engaged in a lively discussion of how the industry has changed over the past ten years in ways that are evolving almost day by day.

You have your company research folder with you, including some press releases from competitive firms announcing their new technology approaches.  You point to some information from a particular competitive company website that could be relevant to a situation faced by your target company.  The manager asks how you might approach the challenge of enhancing their global technology resources, and you are able to answer with some history of what his company has done and some thoughts about lessons learned from the competitor’s approach.  You suggest some modified approaches to align with the strategy discussed in the CIO’s recent article in an industry publication.  The interview continues, more as a conversation than an interview, and you leave feeling that you and the manager truly connected and completed much more than a review your resume.

So, when the question is “How much research should you complete on your target employers?” the answer is always “Complete whatever it takes!” Be prepared to answer topical questions, to discuss important challenges a company is currently facing, to converse about the state of the industry, to discuss company strategy, and to sincerely demonstrate to the interviewer that you are already committed to helping the organization succeed.  If you do this, you are well on your way to creating a win-win situation.

By: Sharon W. Salling