There are basic expectations at interviews and having some company information is one of
them. You are unlikely to get an annual report from the company themselves – which are pretty useless anyway, unless you really know how to decipher them – but there are other sources:
Business directory. Don protective footwear before dragging these off the library shelves. These directories doesn't list every company, but does have the basics of many thousands. You may uncover nothing of value, or you may get some useful leads, such as HQ address, other site addresses and telephone numbers. If your target has various locations, each doing something different, find out which site is being recruited for. Start with whatever lead you have and get the phone number of the Personnel department you will be dealing with and give them a call.
Use something along the lines of the following script:
"My name is ____ from (town/company/college/university). I'll be talking with some of
your people soon about vacancies at your site. I'd like to make the short time we'll be
having together as productive as possible, so I was hoping you could mail me out a little
company info – the kind of thing you might find on the front desk – company brochure
and product info, perhaps. It would be a great help."
If they object, then reply,
"I appreciate you must get a few calls like this, but there really is nothing to go on in the
public domain. This interview is extremely important. I really want it to go well and I'd
like to do your people the justice of making it worth their time talking to me."
All you're looking for is company basics – products, plans, opportunities, company prosperity,
etc. Something to show you have done your homework and can hold a conversation about the firm you are applying to. There's no worse way to start an interview than answering the opening question of "What do you know about us?" with "Nothing!".
You should get the names of your interviewers and their respective positions or titles on your
invitation letter. If not, ask for these also while you're on the phone.
Company Annual Reports
Unless you're already familiar with these and understand them (and how they can mask the
truth), then quite simply, don't bother. It'll take far too long here even to explain the basics. And
you'll get precious little of practical value from them anyway. All you need is to understand
whether or not you are entering or staying in a growing, stagnant or declining business sector.
Then you can ask how they are dealing with present circumstances.
1b. Accumulate Business Sector Information
This is far easier. What you're looking for here are trends, competitor names, current business
issues, sector outlook and so on.
Mintel. Short for "Market Intelligence". You'll find them in main public libraries only (because of the cost), in report form and on CD-ROM. If you belong to a wealthy educational establishment, you may also find them on campus. Their reports cover every imaginable business sector (almost!) and contain every macro fact and figure you may need.
Key Point. Same thing. Between these two, you'll be most unlucky to come up short.
Newspapers. Don't go raking through acres of broadsheet. Your main public library or campus
library will have many of the national papers on CD-ROM. If you were an ancient Greek, there
would be a God of IT and his name would be KeyWord Search. You should be able to copy and
paste the interesting bits onto a floppy disk file, take it with you and print it out.
For a first interview, it isn't often you need anything more than basic company and product info.
Just enough to gain familiarity, to feel confident that you can hold a conversation and to ask some fundamental questions. Mostly they will be interested in you.
2. Personal Plans
Ah, there's the rub. This is often the most important part of a first interview. Your qualifications
will be taken as read, so don't expect to create too much of an impression with your subject
knowledge. You will most likely be asked about your current work or studies, why you chose that field and what you like about it. This is often used to ease you into the session, to get you talking and for your interviewers to get familiar with you. However, don't be mis-lead into thinking that this is only idle chit-chat. They are very real questions. They are probing for sound rationale about your chosen career path and your enthusiasm for it.
If you're in the lower corporate echelons, don't feel obliged to ply them with talk of super
success or of wanting to run the company by the time you're 40. You simply have to show you're a thinker, that you know what you're doing and where you are going, that you are aware of your contribution, that it is your choice and that you can reason with them about it. Come across as a drifter with no real idea of direction and you'll drift from interview to interview for ever and a day.
If you're happy doing what you do, say so. If your family takes up too much of your time, the extra hours might be impossible to accommodate. Of course, it always looks better if you give your reasons from the company point of view. "I wouldn't be able to guarantee my full support to my boss," for example, sounds better than "I wouldn't want the extra work load." Maybe you want to stay on shifts for family reasons and not take a managerial day job. That's fine as long as you emphasise how your experience can be the bedrock of the department, how you can
comprehensively train and coach others and be a link-pin for future management initiatives.
If you're looking for your first job, you will need to have a reasonable idea of where your first
post might take you and why you think your chosen career is the one for you.
Talk about it. Discuss your plans with your friends, peers and colleagues; pass ideas around;
exchange views and opinions. You can get more fresh insights and ideas from a ten minute
sounding off than you can get by musing over it all day. In a professional sense you can call this
networking. We'll talk more about this later. Some of the large search engine sites and careers
sites also have "Expert Centres", where you can ask career questions. And there are always
careers centres to visit.
Always display yourself in the strongest possible light. Don't lie, but by all means display the Truth as if it were Crufts – all nicely preened and viewed from the best angle
display. If you don't, you're not going to get very far. After all, employers do it all the time.
Interviews are a two-way process. Your interviewers are also trying to sell the company and the job to you.
So the point is, if it's hard for new employees to see through the façade presented by interviewers, then it's just a tricky for your interviewers to see through your positive front – provided it is solidly put together.
So avoid negativity, hints of failure and of giving any clues that you are at all fazed by any past
how bad you feel about them personally. And present that version. Be especially prepared when
talking to recruitment agents. You can not re-frame later what you first tell them. Their work codes require them to tell the truth as far as they are aware of it. So what you first tell them goes down as gospel and can not be changed.
OK. To recap.
- You have all your info together
- You've identified your career area
- Your possible targets.
- The next task is to start building your application. And I don’t mean write a CV. That comes later. If you're not ready for a job move yet, building your application still needs to start now – today. I'll explain what I mean in the next section.