You know how people sometimes say “if were a snake, it would have bit you?” when you overlook something obvious that’s right in front of your nose?
Recently, I’ve been pointing out something along these lines that comes up fairly frequently with regard to the interviewing process. While most job hunters diligently prepare to answer questions such as “tell me about yourself” and “what’s your greatest weakness” and the like, not many people invest time in an even more basic preparation step: gaining a solid understanding of the potential employer’s core business model.
Simply put, for the majority of professional positions, it’s usually a wise idea to position yourself as a “smart businessperson” first and a “functional expert” second. Whether you’re interviewing for a receptionist job or a CFO position, in other words, the hiring manager is bound to be impressed if you demonstrate a commanding knowledge of the company’s products, target markets, competitors, and other bottom-line factors.
For example, let’s compare the two hypothetical responses below from a receptionist asked whether he or she had experience answering a multi-line phone system.
Candidate #1: “Yes, I’m good on the phone and have used those kinds of phone systems before.”
Candidate #2: “Absolutely, I’m well-acquainted with such systems and pride myself on handling each incoming call with the utmost professionalism, since I realize that tens of thousands of dollars could be at stake if a single botched call took place involving Microsoft, Amazon, or one of your other top customers here in the area. Not to mention if a new prospective customer called in and was evaluating the company based largely on first impressions…”
What’s more, if candidate #2 was really bold and wanted to kiss some additional rear, they might even go on to add “…after all, we wouldn’t want Company XYZ (the arch-competitor) to gain any ground on us, now would we?” (followed by a knowing smile!)
Get the idea? At any rate, in light of this dynamic, I’d recommend that any serious candidate invest at least a modicum of time before any upcoming interview to gather some data around the following questions:
• How long has the company been around and who founded it?
• What are the company’s core product and service lines? How does it make money?
• Where does the company do business? Locally? Nationally? Globally?
• How well has the company performed lately, in terms of revenues and growth?
• Who are the organization’s key competitors? Which one are they most worried about?
• How does the company differentiate its offerings from the competition?
• Where does the company stand in terms of overall market share?
• What industry trends or regulations might be impacting the company’s performance?
• Has the company won any significant honors, awards, or accolades?
• Does the company have a defined set of values or a clear mission statement?
As you can imagine, an interview candidate who comes armed with this kind of information will seem a lot more motivated, resourceful, and business-savvy than a person who doesn’t appear to have a good grasp on these types of factors. What’s more, folks in the latter camp might be seen as “merely wanting a paycheck” (which is always a turn-off) versus wanting to work for the interviewer’s organization, in particular.
In closing, perhaps this advice seems somewhat obvious, but I’m betting some of you have overlooked this proverbial “snake” in some of your past interviews and failed to really dig into the questions above — perhaps missing a golden opportunity to shine. So make sure, for future meetings, that you channel at least an hour or two into conducting this kind of market research. It’s very easy to find this kind of data in today’s web-enabled world and you never know when that one little insight you share, or observation you make about the company’s positioning in the market, will tip the scales in your favor!