One of the typical interview questions that often catches even the best job seekers off guard is:
Hiring managers expect job seekers to know something unique about their company and what sets them apart from their competitors.
What you are really being asked is: Did you prepare for this interview by doing some research on us?
You may be wondering, how much information is necessary? In short, you should at least know:
OK...easy enough, but where can you find this information?
No surprise, the first place to look is the employer's website. The bigger the company, the more information you'll be able to get right from their own website. For example, take a look at John Deere's website (will open in a new window) and see how much of the above information you can find.
John Deere has tons of stuff on their website. So imagine the manager's displeasure when you're asked this typical interview question, What do you know about our company?, and all you can come up with is a couple of generalities that everyone knows.
Unfortunately, if you're interviewing with a private company, or a small company, you're only going to get a limited amount of information from their website.
My small local library has an online database of company directories including Hoovers--a provider of comprehensive analysis and insight into companies large and small. With my library card I can access Hoovers for free right from my home computer. And by the way, a Hoovers subscription costs as much as $1000 a year.
Do you have a LinkedIn profile page? If not, you're out of step with the times and you need to get this done. Almost every employer and executive recruiter will look you up on LinkedIn if you send them a resume. But besides that, LinkedIn can be an effective tool to help you prepare for typical interview questions.
For example, once you have at least 100 first level connections on LinkedIn, you'll gain access to over 1000 second level connections. In other words, when you search for employees of a target company, you'll often find 1 or 2 employees who are connected to one of your 100 first level connections.
Now all you have to do is get your first level connection to introduce you to their friend at your target company and you'll be able to contact them for inside company information that could be invaluable during your interview.
Lastly, if you are working with an executive recruiter who has introduced you to one of his/her clients, they should be able to provide you with valuable insights into the company culture, and the backgrounds of those interviewing you.
Often times your recruiter will even know the typical interview questions this company likes to ask.
A farm equipment company was searching for a marketing manager. This manager would be responsible for advertising, product promotions, and special retail financing options...among other responsibilities.
Competition for this position was stiff, but this job seeker had a marketing degree from a good college and met most of their job requirements.
Getting information about this employer was easy because they had a great website with lots of product information and even a timeline about their history.
However, this candidate decided to dig deeper and was able to network with someone who was a key vendor to this company. This vendor told the candidate that the company preferred to hire people who either grew up on a farm, or who had hands on experience operating heavy machinery...regardless of what position they were applying for.
It just so happened that the job seeker had both of these "nice to have" skills, but they weren't mentioned on his resume. So he made it a point to inject this information into the interview process resulting in an offer.
Can you see how this inside knowledge is powerful and can give you lots of poise and self confidence in your job interview?
Side Bar: If you know ahead of time where a company is weak, you will know which of your strengths and accomplishments will be attractive to them. Also, knowing even 1 or 2 of a company's typical interview questions will help you come up with the ideal response.
But this kind of intelligence takes effort, risk, and work...and most job seekers prefer to just plunk themselves in front of the computer and Google around.
Special Tip: A struggling company could actually be a great opportunity in disguise. Companies want to hire people who will help them solve their problems and take them to a higher level of performance. By bringing solutions and leadership to an under-performing company, you set the stage for a quantum leap in your career.