By Mike O’Connor
You’ve recently graduated from college and you have the opportunity to interview for a great job in your target field. You've done the usual interview prep: Dry-cleaned your best suit, shined your shoes, researched the organization, even printed out extra copies of your resume on high-bond paper. The work has only just begun, though. You can and should do more to prepare for your interview than you would normally think to do. Going the extra distance will only increase your chances of securing your target job.
Don't just research the firm's website. There's no such thing as being over-prepared for an interview. When doing research, don’t just peruse the firm’s website. Research the employer’s mission, its history, main competitors, annual sales, number of employees, and, if a publicly traded company, the stock symbol and price. These are important talking points; they will help you when you're asked to speak about the company or express why you are interested in working there.
Stay on top of the firm’s news, too. You may even want to create a Google Alert to stay abreast of company updates and happenings. From this information, you can develop highly targeted questions that demonstrate your organizational and industry knowledge. For instance: “I read your organization’s white paper on ‘The Promises and Pitfalls of Social Media in the Legal Industry.’ How does your company assist law firms in implementing information management policies that reduce risk?”
Say you get an interview itinerary with the names of your interviewers, do a background search for all the interviewers you're scheduled to meet. Note interesting conversational points (e.g., career highlights, involvement in philanthropic organizations, etc.). This will facilitate memorable talking points and might even play to the interviewers’ egos a bit. When you’re done, compile all your research into a series of cheat sheets which you will use to reference just before your interviews and during breaks.
Find an insider at the company to give you advice/insight. The more information you have before an interview, the better off you are. Insider information is one of the best advantages you could have. If you have a contact at your target organization, set-up an informational meeting to get company-specific tips on the interview process. Are you going to be interviewed by one person or a group? If a group, will it be at once or in succession? How many sets of interviews should you anticipate? Ask your contact what you’ll likely be asked and how to best prepare.
If possible, also ask what pieces of your background and qualifications to highlight in the interview. While highlighting a group project that showcases your analytical skills might be very relevant for some roles, it may not be as pertinent for others. Treat this meeting as seriously as you would an actual interview—even if it’s on the phone—and prepare thoughtful and insightful questions about the position and company. If you don’t have any contacts at your target organization, seek them out via LinkedIn or your college’s career or alumni offices.
Besides gaining insider tips and advice, speaking with company representatives prior to your interview will also demonstrate your commitment, motivation level, and resourcefulness.
Visit the company beforehand. Wandering into unfamiliar territory can add to an already stressful interview process. This may seem peculiar, but try familiarizing yourself with the organization’s physical surroundings and environment prior to your interview. Walk around, if possible. Get a sense of the layout of the company’s floor, building or campus. Doing so will increase your comfort level with your surroundings and assist you in effectively navigating them.
Bring a pad and piece of paper—note what you see and gather insights. How do people dress? Are employees socializing? With whom? For how long? The employees’ body language can also be illuminating: Are people walking around alert, smiling, heads held high? Maybe the company has more slouchers, more grim faces. What these details speak to are the organization’s culture. Visualize yourself working in this environment as you make your way around. Does it seem like a good fit? All of this will be helpful when constructing a thoughtful response to the always-asked question, Why do you want to work for this company?
Be quick and creative with your follow-up. A short thank-you note or email to your host interviewer 24 to 48 hours after your interview is an absolute must. To standout, you’ll want to go the extra mile. Get the business cards (or at least names) of everyone who interviewed you. Send individual thank you notes or emails to the entire interviewing committee. Individualize these as much as you can, by referencing a part of your conversation. For individuals that you’re trying to impress, or for those people with whom you had a particularly interesting conversation, include in your follow-up an article or resource that pertains to your conversation. Sending a great journal article, news story or white paper on a topic of interest shows that how engaged you were in the conversation—you were thinking of them.
Remember also that the key to any effective thank-you note is brevity. No one wants to read a thank you that goes on for four paragraphs.
When you interview, you compete. Much like a great athlete always pushes the limit when training, trying always to go the extra mile, you need to do everything possible to increase your competitive advantage for your interview.
Mike O’Connor is the director of career planning at the Sage Colleges in Albany and Troy, NY. He has been assisting students with all areas of career planning for over 5 years, having worked at Hiram College, Union College and as a teacher and consultant in Granada, Spain.O’Connor has authored guides on resumes, cover letters, networking, interviewing and career planning, and has managed a number of unique experiential learning initiatives, including Sage’s Community Work Study program and Hiram College’s Sophomore Program.