Do Your Homework
A common complaint among recruiters is that too many job candidates come to an interview without much knowledge about the employer and position. Recruiters typically dedicate a considerable amount of time sifting through stacks of resumes to handpick the most qualified applicants, so they expect those invited for an interview to be prepared, professional, and engaged.
Digging up information about an employer before the interview will allow you to carry on intelligent small talk, ask great questions, and decrease the odds of finding out at the interview that the employer isn't such a good fit after all. (Imagine being a strong proponent of sustainable energy, for example, and learning that the company provides support for offshore oil drilling.)
So before heading out the door in your finest suit, spend some quality time combing the internet for valuable background information. Here's where to start:
Basic Company History and Information
Most company websites include an "About Us" section, where you'll find a story about the company. Read it. Basic facts, such as the company history, mission statement, slogan, and full company name are good to know. Steve Canale, manager of recruiting and staffing at General Electric, says he likes to throw in questions like, "What is GE's current slogan?" It would be embarrassing to not be able to answer "Imagination at work."
The Company's Organizational Structure and Business Model
Two need-to-knows are the company's structure and revenue model. Start your search for this information on the company website, and continue your research on sites such as Hoovers.com, Yahoo! Finance, and Forbes.com. It's okay to ask for further clarification in your interview, but phrase the question in a way that shows you've done research on your own: "I understand that my position in mergers and acquisitions falls within the finance department, but can you explain how I'll be interacting with the audit and advisory departments?" is better than "Can you explain how my position functions in the company?"
Read recent articles and blog posts, both good and bad, to get a pulse on the company. Press releases on the company's website can also serve as valuable sources of information, but objective news sources like the Wall Street Journal will provide a more balanced view of a organization's strengths and weaknesses. Another great way of aggregating all recent news is by searching the company on Google news. You'll discover the company's recent struggles and successes, which will give you great talking points and clue you in on the topics to avoid.
Research the company's main competitors and their strengths. "Researching competitors and analyzing how your company can get a leg up on them can prove how capable you are," says Heather Huhman, founder of ComeRecommended, an online community for entry-level professionals. "Doing that extra research and analysis is always an interview winner." If you're interviewing for a communications position at a nonprofit, and find that competitors are using social media in an effective way, you could suggest some new social media outlets and marketing approaches.
Current Trends in the Industry
Don't go crazy researching everything happening in the employer's industry, but get a grasp on some basic trends that may come up in your interview. These can also spur questions for you to ask at the end of the interview: If you're interviewing at a pharmaceuticals company, you could ask how they are being affected by their drugs going off patent. WetFeet's industry profiles and the Bureau of Labor Statistics are great places to start your research.
If given the name of your interviewer, plug it into some search engines. Search LinkedIn and the company website. You can learn about their professional background and experiences or interests you might share: Maybe your interviewer also has a background in journalism before switching to public relations. Just be careful of mentioning your probing, because your interviewer might be uncomfortable with the fact that you've been Googling her.