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How much research should I do for a job interview?

So you’ve done the hard part and got yourself an interview with a company that is really interested in your CV.

Congratulations!

However, while you may have the skills on paper, what’s equally important (and often actually more so) is your personality fit and how you come across as a professional. 

And that is a big part of what the interview is all about.

One of the most common reasons clients tell us some candidates don’t progress to second interview (and then ultimately secure a position) is a lack of research ahead of an interview.

From an employer’s perspective, if you haven’t taken the time to learn the basics about the company, you’re not showing the commitment, engagement and attitude that they would expect from a marketing professional or event manager. 

Good pre-interview research also shows your enthusiasm to join their organisation and your general interest in the industry. It also demonstrates  that you’re willing to make a real effort ahead of new business opportunities (vital in many job roles) and you know how to impress a ‘client’. 

Most important of all it demonstrates your professionalism from the start, creating an excellent first impression. 

What to look for when researching a company

The internet has made conducting company research so easy there really is no excuse for turning up to an interview poorly briefed. At the click of a mouse, you can access a whole library of information about an organisation, their values, their competitors and how they fit into the marketplace. You can even meet the team!

When accessing the website, look for interesting facts about the company and try to spend some time reading blogs, news and social media updates to gain an insight of how they portray themselves to their followers. Knowledge is power, and gaining as much useful information as possible is great ammunition for the interview. 

You can also try and relate some of this information to your own personal experience, which will reinforce your positioning as a suitable candidate for the role.

Look beyond the company’s own website - that should be your top priority but it really is the least you can do. In addition, check news reports mentioning the company, look at your interviewer’s LinkedIn profile and check if you have anyone in your network who knows the company well and can give you some insider tips. 

Going into an interview feeling well-prepared has the added advantage of being  a great confidence booster. Some people like to put together a research schedule leading up to the big day. You will also feel more comfortable and accomplished when you work through and eventually complete your tick list. That feeling of not being prepared will quickly vanish.

Make sure you fully understand the role and the job description by re-reading everything you have been given and having your recruitment consultant talk you through the opportunity - as they will know the position very well.

It’s also worth reading marketing or events publications, as well as updates and blogs to make sure you are aware of any interesting trends in your profession. 

Question time

The key point of an interview is to help the employer understand more about you as a person and provide them with an insight into how you conduct yourself in the workplace. And it’s important that what you say reinforces the messages in your CV. 

So, make sure you know yourself as well as you should do! Once you’ve looked over your CV, covering letter and LinkedIn profile (remember your interviewer will have seen two if not three of these already) be prepared to answer questions about them. If you claim to have extensive experience in dealing with social media, for example, make sure you demonstrate this by having specific commercial examples to hand, with measurable achievements. Otherwise your interviewer may be left with the impression you spend all day catching up with friends on Facebook. 

You will probably need to discuss every position you have had to date, and  to account for any time you have spent out of work.  Many interviewers start with an open question such as “Tell me a bit more about yourself”. Anticipate this question and prepare a short career-focused biography that you can talk through comfortably, demonstrating how you have developed your skills and experience over time.

Make your STAR sparkle

Once you have answered the basic questions about yourself and the position always be prepared to face competency-based questions which will assess how you have dealt with situations in the past.

Competency-based questions tend to start with “Tell me about a time when you…” and require real examples from your career rather than hypothetical answers about what you might do. 

Using the STAR sequence, plan your answers well and ensure you give solid, detailed examples,
tailoring your responses to the job description where possible. 

The STAR technique involves explaining a Situation that needed addressing, talking about the Task you were faced with, then moving onto the Action you took and what the Results were.

Measurable results, such as increasing average CTR on email campaigns from 15 to 25%, are always more credible than vague answers.  Thinking of good examples in advance will really make the difference to how well you deal with these questions.

At the end of the interview you may have the opportunity to ask questions of your own. This area is sometimes overlooked, but can prove very useful and sometimes the decisive factor on interview day. 

Using the information from your research, ask an intriguing question that shows your interest in the company. Whether you need more information on the role, the development opportunities or the culture in the office, make it known to your employer who will be impressed by your eagerness to learn more. Do not ask questions such as “How many day’s holiday will I get?” at this stage. 

Interview day

The time has come to suit up and make your way over to the company and show them what you’ve got. By now you will have clearly planned your route so that you will arrive in good time and you may even have time to have a coffee nearby and do some relaxing deep breathing.

If you have time to spare, you may take along your CV and a job description for one last look before the interview.

Make sure that you arrive at your desired destination around ten minutes early and take up the offer of a glass of water when you wait, as sipping this can provide useful thinking time when you face a tricky question. We generally suggest politely declining the offer of tea or coffee; so much can go wrong, from spilling it on your freshly laundered clothes to a rattling teaspoon on the saucer betraying any nerves. 

Treat the interview as a business meeting and make sure you capitalise on every opportunity to identify with your interviewer. Use the information from the employee section of the website and their LinkedIn profile  to find things in common with your interviewer. You can introduce this information as an icebreaker or during the closing conversation.

This might sound like a lot of work before an interview - which is great news for those who make the time to do it. Many people will not bother, giving you an immediate advantage in the competitive world of interviewing.  

Getting your prep right will give you the best chance of getting that job - ignore it at your peril! 

Photo credit: Shutterstock - Antonio Guile