Citizen by Shane Gorkis @ FlickrMost people – even those who’ve been working for 10-15+ years – haven’t a clue on how to properly prepare for a job interviewDo you?

Does this sound your interview prep routine?

  • Check the interviewing company’s website and gather some basic info
  • Prep for key questions and formulate responses
  • Prepare several questions of your own for your interviewers
  • Bring extra resumes to the interview

If this is similar to your routine, it’s practically a certainty that you will NOT do better than your competitors. Other candidates are without a doubt leveraging several tools to more effectively prepare for their interviews.  The good news?  All of these weapons are free and are available to you…

As you prepare for your interview, your objectives are clear.  As far as the interviewing company is concerned, you need to understand:

  • the interview process
  • who will be interviewing you
  • the job
  • and of course, the company and at least to some extent, its products

…but how to get a handle on these issues?

Understanding the interview process & company

If you haven’t created a profile on LinkedIn and are interested in seeking employment – or will be in the future – create one.  Today! LinkedIn offers job seekers very powerful tools.

LinkedIn logoWhen you create your LinkedIn profile, you’ll be asked to summarize your employment history.  LinkedIn also enables you to build a network – with former colleagues, coworkers, recruiters, customers, and vendors.  So what’s the big deal?  Two things:

  • 43 million people have LinkedIn profiles; some of them may very well work at – or used to work at – the company you’re interviewing with
  • As you build your network, you’ll develop – in “Six Degrees of Separation” fashion – connections with people who will be able to assist in your job search

A simple example:  let’s say I have an interview for a sales position at Avery Dennison.  I in fact don’t know a soul at that company.  But when I go to the LinkedIn homepage and click on “Companies,” I can search for Avery Dennison.  That search returns a list of current and former employees, and notes how any of these people connect to my network (I’ve purposely distorted the names):

LinkedIn Company Search results:  Avery Dennison

What’s immediately clear is that among the former employees, one, a former Regional VP, and another, an HR Generalist, are connected to someone in my network (the “2nd” next to their names refers to the fact that they are 2 degrees or 2 levels from me):  I connect to someone (in these cases, Gerald and Deborah), who directly connect to those individuals.  This is how LinkedIn shows this relationship:

LinkedIn connections

This is huge! All I need to do is call Deborah and Gerald and say something like, “I think you may know “Name” at Avery Dennison.  Would you mind if I were to get in touch with them in order to network with them about the company?  I’m interviewing there in a couple of weeks and would love to get some insights from someone who used to work there.”  (And then ask for their contact info; LinkedIn discourages adding or trying to add people you don’t know to your network.)

Once you make contact with former employees, you can gain a tremendous amount of useful information: what was the hiring process like?  What’s the company’s biggest issues?  What can you tell me about the particular function I’d be joining?  Who’s the VP and what’s she like?  and so on…  the chance to gain some genuine insight into the company and players is fantastic!!

Another neat feature is that Company Searches on LinkedIn also return lists of recent hires and promotions.  This is a great prospecting tool – if you’re looking for a Director of Marketing position, you can search for newly hired Vice Presidents of Marketing – to get in touch with them OR their former employers:

Company profiles on LinkedIn - Avery Dennison

Another idea:  if someone’s been promoted in your area of expertise, make contact with them – they could turn out to be a terrific resource in the future.   It’s much easier to do this if they connect with someone in your network; as mentioned above, LinkedIn in fact strongly discourages adding people to your network who you don’t know.  But it certainly may be worth a cold call or email.

Finding out who you’ll interview with

This one is easy, but it’s astonishing how few people take a few minutes to do this.  You found out you had the interview either from an HR manager or a recruiter.  If the recruiter’s really doing her job, she’ll find out who you’re interviewing with – names and titles.

If you were contacted by someone from the company’s HR department, call him or her about a week before your interview and ask – in the context of preparing for the interview – who you’ll be meeting with.  They should be willing to give you this information,- again, you want names and titles.

What to do with it?  Check LinkedIn and Google.  If any of your interviewers have given a speech, written an article for a trade journal, run a marathon, it will probably show up in a Google search.  When you set up your profile in LinkedIn you can indicate what your hobbies are and I’ve found that most people do this.  Anything which will give you insight into who you’ll be meeting with gives you an advantage.

And, of course, with their names in hand,  you can ask your new networking contacts (from LinkedIn) about these individuals:  what makes them tick, how they approach interviews, key accomplishments, and so forth.  This information is indispensable to anyone about to interview with a firm.

Understanding the job itself

If you’re working with a recruiter, the first thing they did after getting in touch with you and confirming your interest was to send you the position description, so this doesn’t apply to you.

If working with an HR rep, when you first are contacted by them to set up the interview, ask them to email you the job description. You really need to do this – for two reasons:  a) you need to thoroughly understand the responsibilities this job entails, and b) you need to determine if the company has its act together.  If the hiring company can’t provide a PD, it should raise a red flag. In my mind this certainly isn’t a show stopper, but it’s worth noting.  If other little oddities crop up during the process, you’ve been warned.

Conducting basic company and product research

Conducting research into a company is straightforward.  I’ve mentioned before how poorly many interviewees prep for interviews; many just show up having spent 15 minutes on our website.  In a competitive job market, that simply just won’t cut it. For pointers on where to gather information on companies, see this post:  21 Great Resources for Researching Companies & Competitors

Another way to get a leg up on your competitors and wow your interviewers is to do some basic product research. If the interviewing company’s product is sold at retail and you’ve never used it, go buy one.  If its price is prohibitive, at least visit a couple of retailers:  look at product displays, how the product is merchandised, and check out its pricing.  Look at its key competitors and note the same things.

If sold through dealers, visit a dealer.  See if you can chat up a salesperson at the dealership; ask about the company (tell him or her that you’re about to interview with the firm).  Ask how they are to deal with; ask about how their products stack up against competitive products; how their products are positioned in the market, and so forth.

If the company sells through distributors, by all means visit a couple of local distributors.   Ask the same types of questions as above.  Anything you can gain will help you.

And when you interview, dropping the fact that you took the initiative to go out and do this sort of basic research will definitely impress those you interview with.

A final tip to help with your search

Back to LinkedIn for a moment.  If you scroll up and look at the initial search results for Avery Dennison, you’ll note that the very first employee listed is a Human Resources Generalist.  Also of note that this person also connects with my friend Deborah.

This represents a great way to connect with the HR managers or other key executives.  All I need to do is call my contact (Deborah) and request an intro or perhaps just his contact information.

If you’ve developed a list of companies you want to target in your search, utilize Company Search on LinkedIn to see if your network connects you with anyone at the company.

Oh, did I mention?  You can also search for jobs on LinkedIn.  The search function works much as those with other job boards, but with LinkedIn you of course immediately see whether your network connects with anyone at the hiring company…   very handy, very powerful!

Wrapping up…

Job searches – particularly during a nasty recession – rank right up there with root canals and IRS audits on the funometer.  But it’s a jungle out there and you need to do everything you possibly can to distinguish yourself from other candidates.

The best way to do this is to go to the interview substantially better equipped than anyone else.  Follow the strategies outlined here and you can do just that – you might even have a little fun doing it!

One last, redundant but important point:  get on LinkedIn and build your network.  It’s a great weapon when it comes to job searches.  Do it today!

The Fine Print:  I have no connection to LinkedIn, other than being an avid user.

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4 Comments on Five essential pre-interview strategies for job seekers

  1. elle says:

    Hi Kevin!

    Great article and so much awesome information. I have a friend that worked at Linked In for a long time and gave me some great tips on the company website- so very true what you have stated up there about the connections, its so much better than any other social networking site for finding a job most definately. Its a great way to grab information on the company itself as you can see the comments people have written about it… kinda gives you that insiders perspective!

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    elle,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    kc

    [Reply]

  2. Eddie Gear says:

    Hi there,

    A very interesting article indeed. I’ve not yet created a LinkedIN profile as yet. After reading this post, I just might create an account. Thanks for sharing your insight on the pre-interview strategies.

    Cheers,
    Eddie Gear

    [Reply]

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