There are some people who really relish the prospect of a tricky interview.
And then there are the rest of us. Those of us who, faced with an upcoming interview for a really top notch job, think of sitting, face flushed, waiting for the meeting to begin. The pounding heart and dry mouth. Temporarily losing the power of speech as an interviewer strides confidently across the room to shake hands, and - for a split second at least - we can't even fumble round in our brains for our own name.
If you're looking forward to your interview like a turkey looks forward to Christmas, then don't despair. The key to landing that dream job might not even be all that complicated. It might be as simple as doing a proper job of researching the opportunity and the business before you ever set foot in the office, and arming yourself with the knowledge that you need to not only impress your interviewer, but also to give you a level of confidence you never thought possible.
When you're pitching for what could well be a jobs match made in heaven, the stakes are pretty high. But do a thorough job of your research, and you will make a great impression with your attitude and aptitude before you even cross the interview threshold. Here's how.
You've got an interview! Well done!
Resist the urge to go celebrate, because now it is time to get started researching. The mainstay of great research is - as unglamorous as it seems - locking yourself into a darkened room and spending hours consuming the mass of relevant information available on the web.
Start with the corporate webpages, and gradually work outwards. As you learn more, you should be looking for blogs, industry commentary in reputable publications, investor insights and articles by industry insiders.
It doesn't have to be an arduous task. For example, you can set up alerts to bring business updates directly to your inbox, using as many relevant key words as you can think of. And Twitter is a real hero when it comes to research - follow the business leaders, and seek out the best twitter feeds from web based magazines, commentators and individual employees. Follow the stories as they break, and dive deeper into those that seem really relevant.
If you're preparing to interview at a large organisation, then you might strike gold and find biographies or autobiographies of previous or current business leaders. Often these say a lot about the roots of the company and the culture there. Think about Sheryl Sandberg's 'Lean In', or Richard Branson's 'The Virgin Way' as examples - many leaders of larger businesses will have had biographies published to great acclaim.
This sort of research is great for understanding the company's place in the wider market. Look for answers to questions such as these:
- What does the business project as it's unique market proposition?
- What do industry insiders say about the business?
- What challenges are people within the segment concerned about?
- What opportunities are competitors exploiting that your target business has not yet addressed?
The old adage, 'It's not what you know, but who you know,' sounds pretty unjust. And there was a time when it absolutely was. However, the world of work these days is hyper-networked, and these days the main barrier to getting to know the right people might just be yourself.
Between social media tools and professional networks like Linked In, you can hook up with relevant people around the globe, meaning there is really no excuse for missing out on this crucial stage of research.
Your aim is the get the inside track on what's happening with the business, so that you're clued up at interview and can have taken time to form a view on the main talking points in the industry and company. Of course, you might have some obvious connections you can leverage - talk to friends or family members who know the business, or any trusted current or previous colleagues who might have a relevant connection.
But don't stop there. Maybe you know someone who interned at the same company, or works with them as a supplier or contractor. Your University careers service might have alumni in their network who can help you. Perhaps someone in your existing network in social media or on Linked In can put you in touch with a current employee of the business who could share their ideas.
Once you have connected with someone who can talk to you about the business, ask about the challenges and opportunities the company are facing today. Try questions like these:
- What is the biggest opportunity for the company in the next 12 months?
- What will be the largest challenge in the next year?
- Where will the company be in 5 years?
- What is the company culture?
- What is the vision or mission of the company?
- How do the staff of the company feel about working here?
Intern, volunteer or visit
There can be no better research that getting some insider insight of your own. In an ideal world, you would already understand the company, because you previously landed an internship there. But don't panic - even if you did not, you could find a different way to get 'under the skin' of the business.
How you do this depends largely on the sector you're applying to. For example there might be volunteering opportunities if you're moving into the public or charity sectors, or if you're looking at a customer facing service provider you could simply become a customer yourself to see the world from that angle.
Your alternative is to get knocking on doors, and simply call up and ask if you can visit the business on site to get a feel for it. That might seem daunting, but it is a flattering conversation with any current employee, and you may find people willing to share their view on the business, show you around or give you the inside track. Naturally, you will have to be open, honest, and charming in your approach - but what's the worst that can happen?
You might get knocked back, but you will have demonstrated your commitment and drive - and if you do get that insider knowledge, then you will feel a whole lot better about that upcoming interview!
Interviews are nerve wracking for most of us - but with the right preparation you can be clued up, and feel more confident before the big day. Every minute invested in research will pay dividends. Maybe you will discover an interesting nugget of information you can share which will help you to build rapport with the interviewer. Perhaps you will impress with your analysis of the market and competition. And even if you do not get called on to share any of your research on the day, the fact that you have put in the time should make you walk a little taller, feel that bit more confident, and give you the edge in your interview.