By George Nixon
This Is Money (UK), March 1, 2019 —
Failing to prepare is always preparing to fail – but how much is too much?
‘If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles’.
So paraphrased Sun Tzu, author of infamous guide to job interviews – The Art of War.
All jokes aside, his underlying point has been effectively paraphrased as a shibboleth for anyone going into a job interview: preparation is key.
Another phrase so established in the interview lexicon that it’s almost a cliché makes the same point; failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
To state that you should walk into an interview room knowing what you’re actually applying for seems so self-evident that it’s hardly worth mentioning, but we thought we’d look at the other end of the extreme.
How much research is too much both beforehand and also to bring up in the interview itself.
After all, if you’ve only got forty minutes to sell yourself, regurgitating the contents of the company website and its CEO’s LinkedIn page seems too much.
And beyond that, how ‘personal’ should you go to prove you’ve put the work in?
To answer these questions and more, we’ve turned once again to James Innes, founder of the CV Centre and author of several books on the interview process.
Why is it important to do your research?
We put that cliché we mentioned in the second paragraph to James, who said: ‘It’s important to do your research because, not least, it’s the key to preventing pre-interview jitters.
‘We fear what we don’t know and what we can’t control, yet there is so much you can do to plan and prepare for your interview.’
James says that the idea of the interview as a gruelling slog designed to terrify you isn’t really true. You can quite easily avoid the Claude Littner treatment if you do the work.
‘In most cases, you will be notified that you have got through to the interview stage at least a few days in advance.
‘You can use this time to prepare – and the better prepared you are, the fewer your reasons to be nervous.’
He adds that research is also worth it to give you an insight into the culture at the place you’re applying for.
Recruiters are often looking for someone who will fit in with existing teams and with the workplace culture.
A millennial branding study published by Glassdoor found that 43 per cent of HR professionals, who are sometimes involved in the recruitment process, believe the ability to fit in with the job culture is the most important quality job seekers can have.
It adds that you should pay attention to the company’s values and mission on its website, and learn more about its culture.
‘Once you know what they look for in a person,’ says James, ‘you can prepare answers that demonstrate how you are a great fit.’
What should you look for when researching?
James is quick to point out that the organisation interviewing you shouldn’t be your sole focus – as you need to swot up on the job you are applying for too.
He said: ‘Not knowing the ins and outs of a job is amongst the worst blunders you can make in an interview – as is failing to demonstrate to the interviewer how you meet the requirements.
‘A very large proportion of the questions you can expect to be asked will focus on these two areas – (a) your understanding of what the job will entail and (b) your suitability for fulfilling the demands of the job.’
However, he does say that it is helpful if you can find out who is interviewing you.
He says: ‘Connect with them on LinkedIn if you can.
‘At the very least, read their LinkedIn profiles so that you know and understand something about them, and their profile photos will help you to recognise them when they walk towards you in reception.’
Glassdoor also recommends looking up both the organisation’s key players – regardless of whether or not they’re interviewing you – both on the company’s website and on more professional social media channels like Twitter and LinkedIn, and any recent events or news stories it’s been involved in.
Six things to research:
Recruitment site Glassdoor offers a non-exhaustive list of six tips to give you an idea of what to research before you go into your interview:
1. The skills and experience the company values
2. Its key players
3. News and recent events about the employer
4. The company’s culture, mission, and values
5. An idea of who the company’s clients are and the types of products and services they offer
6. The person interviewing you
Is it possible to do too much?
When asked about how deep you should delve when it comes to researching either the company, the organisation or the job, James says there’s not really such thing as too much – beyond prioritising and being aware of how many hours there are in the day.
‘Obviously, you have to be a bit sensible; don’t try to memorise all the information from the latest company report because you can’t remember everything.
‘Plus you don’t want to spend the interview just spouting back information about the company that the interviewers already know.’
He does say however that you should concentrate your planning on what makes you the person for the company and the job, so maybe put a moratorium on trawling through your potential interviewer’s Twitter feed.
Glassdoor does say that finding out who the person interviewing you is could give you an advantage during the interview, as it’ll give you a better chance of connecting with them and sparking a conversation.
It says you should be able to locate the name of your interviewer fairly straightforwardly. ‘First, try locating the person’s name from email you received regarding the interview.
‘If you can’t find any information, reply to the email politely requesting the name of the person who’ll interview you.
‘Once you acquire the interviewer’s name, do some research on LinkedIn and Twitter.
‘This will help you learn about the interviewer’s background, their position with the company, and even some common interests you both share.’
James adds that while it’s a lower priority, it can be important nonetheless. ‘I’ve already mentioned LinkedIn, and it can also be worth finding them on Twitter.’
However – steer clear of anything more personal than that.
‘Instagram and Facebook are just too personal for this stage in your relationship with them.
‘In fact, definitely avoid Facebook because the way Facebook works it may well end up suggesting to them that they might know you, giving the game away that you’ve been snooping.’
What should you actually bring up in the interview itself?
This is perhaps the most important part. After all, you’ve not spent all that time researching to not bring something up to your interviewer in the hope of landing some kudos.
Perhaps asking them a little bit about their professional background based on something you spotted on LinkedIn might help you stand out as the candidate who bothered doing the background reading and shows you put in the time and effort.
But leave the personal trivia at home, it’s not a pub quiz.
James echoes this: ‘I would advise against bringing up anything too personal’, He says, ‘you risk sounding like a stalker.
‘By all means mention anything work-related you might have seen that they posted to LinkedIn or Twitter – but don’t start complimenting them on their skiing technique after you looked through the photos they posted to Instagram.’
He says it’s all about the balance. ‘Mention something you saw on their LinkedIn profile and they will be impressed – and probably flattered.
‘Tell them you think their last holiday looked like lots of fun and you’ll probably just freak them out.’