Q: I felt I was going grand in a recent job interview – I had dealt comfortably with all the questions about my CV, my training and strengths. But I stumbled badly at the end when they asked me what I knew about the company. The truth was I knew very little: I had a look at their website but I found it very technical. Plus I don’t know anyone working there. I took a bit of a guess about one product they have – and got it wrong. I didn’t get the job. Even though I know I did poorly, I’m not sure how I could have prepared any better for this question in the circumstances. Any pointers? (GMcC, email).
A: An experienced human resources manager of my acquaintance has a simple rule about the ‘what do you know about the company?’ question.
He says: “When we are interviewing people, if we have to ask that question at the end, the candidate has already missed the boat.”
His point – with which I concur, totally – is that vast swathes of the interview should be taken up with showing the company what you know about them. There should be no need to ask this old interview standard because you should have demonstrated your company knowledge long before the dying moments of the interview.
You have accepted that you did a poor job on this question. A guess is a dangerous thing in an interview: apart from anything else, it can annoy the interviewers. It shows that you haven’t taken the whole interview process seriously enough. Will you carry a similar looseness into the job? There is almost no way back from a guess that goes wrong.
So, yes, you must prepare much more assiduously than you did on this occasion, and you must avail of every opportunity throughout the interview to illustrate your knowledge of the actual company, the sector they operate in and the opportunities and challenges they face.
Where might you find this knowledge?
• Talk to people who work there – did you try hard enough to find someone? A friend of a friend? A third-level LinkedIn connection?
• Study company publications and brochures.
• Read media articles on the business.
• Talk to people who work in rival companies. Again, it should be possible to find someone.
• Read the job spec until your eyes are sore. People frequently ignore the clues contained in the job spec. By and large, everything in the job spec is there for a reason. Ascertain the reason for each inclusion – a company looking for someone with ‘spoken German’ may well be expanding into a new market.
• Go deeper into the website. If it’s too technical, get a friend with technical expertise to decipher it for you. Almost certainly, there is valuable information on the website – you just need to mine it for your own ends on the day.
Preparation is crucial. You can never cover off all the angles, but the potential for surprise can be minimised – and, in turn, you can be more confident and less nervous.
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