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How to correctly research a company before an interview

Posted on 08 November 2023

How to correctly research a company before an interview

​6-minute read

You've likely heard countless times from both peers and recruiters that researching a company before an interview is essential. While this advice isn't new, it remains highly relevant, especially in today's job market, where many individuals seem to struggle with this crucial aspect.

After engaging in hundreds of discussions with hiring managers and talent teams, we've identified recurring issues that job seekers face, and one of the most prominent is inadequate company research before interviews. Recognising this challenge, we sat down with three exceptional guests to delve into the common mistakes to avoid when researching companies and practical strategies that can help you gain deeper insights, stand out during the interview process, and, most importantly, determine if the company aligns with your aspirations.

The techniques we'll explore may require only 15-30 minutes of your time when executed effectively—a small investment that could significantly enhance your application.

Before we explore these however, a special thank you to Jamie Fernández (Lovehoney Group), Olga Kuvshinova (Saucal), Alina Musuroaea (Seven Senders). Your valuable knowledge has played an instrumental role in shaping this article.

 

 

Applying with Intent

We've previously explored the importance of applying with purpose, and while it's not the central focus of this article today, it's a point worth reiterating.

The methods we're about to delve into are most effective when you're not spreading yourself too thin by applying to numerous companies simultaneously. There simply isn't enough time in a day, and you'll quickly find yourself overwhelmed by application fatigue.

As highlighted by Olga during our discussion, before hitting the submit button on any application, it's essential to research the company's website, core values, business proposition, and job description. This preliminary research helps you gauge, at a high level, whether the opportunity aligns with your goals.

This advice may seem straightforward, but it's evident, not just from our conversations with the three guests featured in this article, but from many others in hiring positions today, that a significant number of individuals are engaged in mass applying, and it's evident in the quality of their applications.

If your aim is to truly stand out, channel your efforts towards companies that genuinely align with your aspirations. Understand what you want from your career move, and remember, less can often be more impactful.

 

 

Minimum Expectations

The bar is set quite low for minimum expectations, so there really isn't any valid excuse for not having completed this research.

While Alina mentioned that she doesn't penalise candidates who haven't conducted basic research before their interviews, it does establish a specific impression that can sometimes be challenging to overcome.

All three guests expressed a similar perspective: they anticipate that job seekers will make an effort to articulate the organisation's core product, offer some insights about the industry, and perhaps touch on the value proposition they are addressing. The keyword here is "try." Perfection isn't expected, but rather a demonstration that the candidate has invested some time and effort into the research aspect.

 

Mistakes to Avoid

Mistakes are a natural part of our journey, and the valuable lessons we gain from them propel us toward a brighter future. This truth extends to the realm of job interviews.

The true beauty of this learning process lies in gleaning insights from those who have accumulated wisdom through numerous experiences in their careers, both from their personal missteps and from their involvement in countless hiring processes.

When it comes to errors related to research, certain mistakes stand out prominently, offering us the opportunity to avoid them with relative ease. Jamie and Olga, for instance, shed light on applicants who have clearly neglected their research during interview preparation. This negligence becomes apparent when these individuals either make guesses about the company's value proposition or simply mimic the company's website content word for word.

 

As we've come to understand, the baseline expectations for research in the interview process are already quite low, and most talent acquisition teams understand that various factors can sometimes hinder extensive research. In such cases, as highlighted by Alina, honesty becomes a powerful tool. Rather than attempting to guess your way through, it's better to openly admit that you didn't have the opportunity to conduct thorough research.

Being honest in this manner can work to your advantage. While it may reveal that you haven't even covered the basics of research, hiring teams often prefer this candidness over a poorly constructed response that adds no value to your application.

 

One aspect that all three guests emphasised during our conversations is the tendency of some candidates to not only guess the company's market value but also to lack awareness of the company's industry domain or, worse yet, the fundamental requirements of the job they're applying for. This not only reflects a lack of preparation for the specific interview but also suggests that these candidates failed to research the company before even applying. This not only potentially wastes your time and the hiring team's time but also conveys to the employer that they are just one of many options you are considering—a less than ideal impression to create.

 

Even if you diligently conduct comprehensive research and don't fall into the aforementioned pitfalls, there's still a significant distinction between researching to recite information and researching to form your own informed perspective. This approach is strongly recommended by both Olga and Alina. Use your research as a guide to formulate insightful questions or to establish connections between your skills and the challenges the team might be encountering. It's important to remember that until you gain specific insights, everything is speculative.

 

Practical Research Methods to Adopt

 

Financial Status

If you have an interest in assessing a company's financial health, there are several avenues to explore, even if the company is privately held.

Let's begin with public companies. Jamie recommends starting by examining their relevant stock market data (Google Finance - Stock Market Prices, Real-time Quotes & Business News). This resource allows you to track the company's performance, delve into financial reports, and gain insights into its potential future trajectory.

However, when dealing with private companies, the process becomes more intricate. Nevertheless, you can employ a combination of tools and common sense, along with effective questioning techniques, to construct a comprehensive picture. As pointed out by Alina, you can commence by researching the company's business model, funding status (Crunchbase: Discover innovative companies and the people behind them), leadership team, and investor backgrounds. These efforts will enable you to assess the viability of the business model, the experience level of the leadership team in the market, and the expertise of the investors. Armed with this information, you can formulate more insightful questions to pose during your interview.

 

Industry Exploration

Many modern hiring teams place value on more than just core skills. While this isn't always a strict requirement, candidates who possess a background in a similar industry or can demonstrate genuine interest and knowledge in a particular field often have an advantage over those who apply at random.

For instance, if your goal is to work in the sustainability sector and you have prior experience in this domain, you likely have encountered challenges similar to those faced by the company you're applying to. However, if you haven't yet had the opportunity to work directly in this field but are passionate about it, this is where in-depth research becomes crucial.

Begin by exploring industry trends (Google Trends), keeping abreast of industry news, and gaining insights into challenges faced by other teams. Engage in discussions within the industry, including with competitors of the company you're interested in. Build your knowledge about how your skills could contribute, bearing in mind that the challenges you identify may not always align perfectly with the team's current concerns, as Alina pointed out. Nevertheless, the effort to establish connections and demonstrate your genuine interest will certainly set you apart.

 

Wider Researching

Here's a little-known secret: relying solely on websites for research will typically yield the least informative insights because these sites tend to showcase the company in the best possible light. Alina elaborated on this, highlighting the wealth of alternative resources available to job seekers that can provide deeper and more authentic insights, as they are not intentionally crafted to present the company in the most favourable way.

As a job seeker, you should consider exploring various avenues for information about your chosen company. This can include delving into industry papers (utilising Boolean search techniques), tuning into podcasts featuring company members, watching videos or talks on YouTube, reading news articles written by third parties, following employee LinkedIn feeds, and consulting platforms like Crunchbase and TechCrunch, to name just a few. These sources offer a more unfiltered view of the company and its activities.

 

Referrals / References and Client base

In today's business landscape, it's common for companies to showcase their referrals or featured clients as a means of providing insight into their customer base or project experience, particularly for agencies. This practice benefits not only the company seeking to attract new clients but also individuals like you who are in the job-seeking process, as aptly pointed out by Olga.

It's highly advisable to delve into these referrals, references, and client lists. Take the time to thoroughly read and absorb this information, using it as a foundation for crafting additional questions as you progress through the hiring process.

 

Research the Leadership Team

We briefly touched upon this in the context of financial research, but it's essential to discuss it as a separate topic. As Alina emphasised, exploring the background of the leadership team can provide ]insights into the company's culture, and these insights often reveal aspects that even the most polished PR efforts can't conceal.

When researching the leadership team, consider watching interviews or videos featuring these leaders. Pay attention to how they express themselves and discuss critical topics, especially those that matter to you, such as inclusivity. This can offer clues about the company's values, priorities and core culture that is often driven by those at the top.

Additionally, take note of the composition of the leadership team. Determine how many new leaders have recently joined and how long others have held their positions. While retention and churn rates alone may not provide the complete picture, they equip you with areas to explore and inquire about during your interview process.

 

Research Employees

Expanding on the previous point, Olga suggests that job seekers should not limit their research to just the leadership team but should extend it to encompass the company's employees, particularly those within the team they are applying to join.

In a similar vein, take the time to peruse the online profiles of team members. Assess how long they have been in their current roles, gauge the average tenure of the team to ascertain retention rates, evaluate the collective experience of the team to gauge your own learning opportunities, and consider the level of influence team members have within their professional communities, which can positively impact your own visibility and growth prospects.

 

Glassdoor Reviews

There appears to be a complex relationship with platforms like Glassdoor and similar review sites, often characterised by both admiration and scepticism. It's not uncommon for recruitment teams and recruiters to dismiss negative reviews as the grievances of disgruntled employees, which may indeed be the case in some instances. On the flip side, we are aware of companies that actively encourage and incentivise their employees to post positive reviews, making it challenging to discern the true value of these review sites.

However, Jamie pointed out that it's still worthwhile to explore these sites, paying particular attention to how companies respond to the reviews. Companies that engage with and respond to reviews are evidently committed to enhancing their business, and this should be viewed as a positive sign.

On the other hand, if a company chooses not to respond, it doesn't necessarily reflect poorly on them. Instead, it provides you with an opportunity to broach this topic during your interview and gain deeper insights into the company's culture and practices.

 

Product Demos

The availability of product demos can vary depending on the company you're applying to. As Jamie pointed out, some teams may offer both live and online product demonstrations. While I personally wouldn't recommend scheduling a live demo, you can effectively utilize online videos, which should be readily available for most software companies. These videos can provide valuable insights into the company's primary focus and offerings.

 

If you can't easily find such videos, don't hesitate to reach out to the team and inquire if they have any specific materials they can share in advance. This proactive approach demonstrates your genuine interest in conducting thorough research and preparing for the interview.

This article was a monster to put together, it wasn’t until it was structured did we realise how much content could be added in, we hope you enjoyed reading it as much as we enjoyed researching and writing. Once again, Jamie, Olga and Alina, thank you for all the support on this, the insights shared are a game changer.

 

Feel free to share into your own networks if you feel someone could benefit from reading this and collectively let’s bring simplicity to the chaos of recruitment.

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