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Pre-Interview Planning – Researching the Job, Industry, and Yourself

Before you show up for an interview, you should be thoroughly prepared. This generally means have a strong understanding of the following 3 things:

  • The Job or Position
  • The industry in which you are applying, and
  • Yourself

Let’s discuss each of these individually.

Research Information About the Job

The first step is to thoroughly study all of the required and preferred qualifications of the position. All of this will be present within the job description. If you were referred to for an interview without a written job description, you will have to research other job postings for similar positions. Even if you have a job description, researching other similar postings within the company and outside of the company is a good idea. It will help you understand the general functions of such a position, the necessary and advantageous skills, the relevant technology or software applicable. You will quickly find that there are numerous skills, knowledge, and proficiencies that are required in one posting and not in another. If you have these attributes (and they are not listed in your job description), these can be additional selling points to bring up on your resume, during the interview, and during negotiation of employment benefits.

Some of the other things you need to research include the industry-wide salary range for this type of position. It will help you deal with the question of “What is your desired salary?”. You will be able to refer to this range. To the extent you have additional industry skills, this can be a justification for higher compensation. LinkedIn.com and glassdoor.com are great references for the salary range. You can also speak with other industry professionals or connections you have within the target company. All of these are great sources for identifying the company’s available salary range.

Finally, you want to understand what a career path to the job or following the job looks like. Basically, you want to have an idea of what experience the company expects before hiring in this position. Also, you want to understand where this job will lead in terms of a career path. What is the next promotable position? Are there multiple career paths within the field? This information will be highly valuable if asked what are your career aspirations. The best answer picks a career path that exists within the company. For example, if you are applying for a marketing analysts position, a reasonable career aspiration (this is for interview purposes – you can privately aspire to whatever you wish) is two positions above you within the organization. This would generally be a product or brand management position.

Research the Company

The next research task is to learn everything possible about the company. An employer will expect that you have done research on the company. You should begin by researching the sector or area of the company in which you are applying. From there, you will explore the other operational segments of the business. Ultimately, you should develop a working understanding of what the does. Below is some of the major company information that you should identify.

  • Core Value Offerings – What products or services does the company offer? This can be very complicated if the company offers a wide variety or products and/or services that are in diverse business lines.
  • Business Model – How does the company deliver value and (in turn) receive value from its customers, clients, or end users. There are many different models for carrying on a business. The extent to which you understand a company’s unique business model can be impressive to an employer.
  • Status in Industry – What position does the company hold within the competitive industry? Are they the only notable value provider, the biggest, or a small provider? Who are the primary competitors?
  • Strategy – What differentiates the company from other industry competitors. Generally, a company will explain its unique value proposition on their websites. This is a major selling point for customer or clients. So, you should understand this as well.
  • Recent Stock Market Performance (If Applicable) – If the company is a large, publicly-traded company, you can get a sense of what is going on with the company by simply looking at the company’s stock history. If you search this history on any popular finance sights, you will also be directed to recent information about the company.
  • Recent News and Developments – Any time that there are major happenings or developments within a company, it is generally published publicly. You can find out recent news and information by searching the company’s name in Google and selecting the “news” filter. Having this knowledge will help you develop interesting questions or points of discussion with the interviewer or other individuals you meet in the company.
  • Organizational Structure – How are the company’s operational segments organized. This may be simple within a small or medium-sized company; but, it can be very complex inside a larger company. You need to know what is the scope of the company (National, International). What are the major Divisions? Who are the major corporate officers (CEO, CFO, COO) and any executive-level managers within your career field? For example, an applicant for a marketing analyst position should know who is the vice president of marketing.

Study Yourself

The final step in your research process is to understand yourself. In a separate article, we discuss “Personal Motivation and Careers”. In addition to understanding what motivates you, you also need to be able to translate your knowledge, experience, and skills into how they will benefit the company. Use a systematic comparison of your qualifications and the job requirements. If you have problems seeing the relationship between you and the job or the company, you may have difficulty demonstrating the interest or sincerity needed to sell yourself during the interview.

Once armed with an understanding of how your knowledge, experience, and skills relate to the employer’s position and industry, you will be able to develop your selling pitch. Developing your pitch is not as easy as developing a 2-minute elevator pitch about yourself. During the interview, you will be asked questions about you, your experience, your skills, hypothetical situation, etc. You will disclose things about yourself by answering these questions. For this reason, you will need to be able to explain how your skills, experience, and personal disposition will create value for the company. This is normally done by telling about situations or scenarios in which you dealt with a problem or accomplished a task.

  • See our article on How to Practice for an Interview for more information on developing selling points about yourself by answering common interview questions.

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