You think that the job interview is all about you, right? Wrong, think again. It’s all about how you will fit in. Yes, a potential interviewer is going to want to hear about you, your achievements, your skills and so on – but what’s going through the minds of people on the other side of the desk is ‘how will this person work here?’ – they want to know how you will fit in.
Stalk your potential employer
Consider a blind date: if you bang on tirelessly about how wonderful you are, what are your chances of a second date? Pretty small. On a date, the strategy might be to listen – simply because ‘doing some research’ smacks of stalking – but before an application or interview, we definitely need to adopt the traits of a stalker.
Why? Well, first, you need to make sure you’re happy about working for the company in question. It won’t take long for the sparkle to wear off if you’re not a good fit for the company (and vice versa). OK, if it doesn’t work out you can just move on, but do you really want your CV littered with short-term stays as you work your way around the L&D sector, looking for the right partner? You owe it to yourself to get it right as much as you owe it to a potential employer.
Don’t assume that you know your potential employer
It always pays to be informed at interviews. They need to hear about you, but it will impress them more to hear what you know about their organisation. If you’ve worked in the L&D sector for a while, you might be tempted to get by on what you think you know about an organisation, but this is an approach fraught with risk. It’s possible you work (or have worked) for a competitor, so much of what you know may be gossip, rumour or propaganda. Open your mind and be positive; the company may be totally different – or may have changed considerably since your view was formulated. You also don’t want to be airing such negative views at an interview with an ‘I understand your problems and can fix them’ approach – you won’t be thanked. Your interviewer is likely to be wondering why, if you think the company is below par, do you want a job with them? Of course, it comes across as arrogant to ‘know all the answers’ when you’ve not even looked under the bonnet. Far better to do some solid research – find out what the company is doing well, praise it, and then suggest some ways in which it could be done better. You can then flatter and offer value, based on an informed position, rather than firing off suggestions based on assumptions.
Find out where their business is going
You also need to see where an organisation is going and how it might fit with what you want to do. For example, you might be applying for a job as a specific kind of L&D specialist, but have aspirations in another field. Knowing where a company is going can help you to flag where you’d like your career to go – it’s great to have someone who can fill the advertised role, but better to have someone who can do that and then wants to go on to do something more challenging (or more profitable) with the same company.
It helps to discover a company’s passions (yes, companies do have these) and align yourself to them. An L&D provider or department that’s moving into a new skills area is going to feel better about someone who is really interested in that and wants to expand into it than one who wants to just do the same job forever. Companies like people who can adapt, those who relish change: because it’s during periods of change that most people become unsettled and switch jobs out of uncertainty, simply because change itself can be challenging. Embracing change is a positive trait and one that companies generally welcome.
Ask questions and listen
Perhaps the biggest reason to do some research is that companies like it: they really like it. It shows you’re bothered about where you work, it shows you are thorough in how you approach change – and it shows that you’re prepared to put some effort into something you want to get. A risk here, though, is to spend too much time posturing – making statements about a company, even when it’s backed by solid research, shows a closed mind. You should be asking questions, finding out even more information and showing your interest, as well as expressing your knowledge.
These days, thankfully, the good old Interweb takes the sting out of research – but don’t just browse around your potential employer’s website. Look around news sites, forums, blogs, research sites – things which directly relate to the company, but also things which relate to its services, products, customers and markets. Your research isn’t just about the company itself – because the company doesn’t work in a vacuum. Download some literature and watch their promotional videos. Your extra efforts won’t go unrecognised.
Research works. It pays off. You might find you don’t want to work for the company, in which case cancel the interview (unless you want the experience). Or you might find that you really, really want to work for the company – in which case, research will allow you to pull out all the stops in securing that all-important job.