Guest post by Elizabeth Sosnow, Managing Director of BlissPR, a New York City based public relations firm. She develops and supervises strategic communications programs for major companies in professional and financial services, with a particular emphasis on the legal, consulting and insurance industries.
He was an intelligent, well qualified senior candidate. Over the course of an hour long interview, he spoke about marketing trends knowledgeably, described relevant client work and seemed to be friendly, engaging professional. And I knew we’d never offer him a job.
Why? Because it was very clear that he hadn’t done his homework on us. Besides a brief mention of an obvious fact from the landing page of our website, he didn’t demonstrate that he knew who we were.
He didn’t reference the challenges our target audience faces. He didn’t ask about why we won a “Best Places to Work in New York” award. He didn’t tie our firm’s recent blog posts into the conversation. He didn’t attempt to research the interviewers’ recent social activity.
In short, he focused on selling himself. That might have been okay if we were looking to hire narcissists, but we prefer to hire team players.
I’ve interviewed probably 30 people in the past two months, from potential Senior Vice Presidents to AAEs. Most of them have been smart and…lazy.
Are you looking for a job? Then, please, please do your homework. This process will help you stand out from the crowd:
1. Start by gathering data on your interviewer(s) and the company
It’s incredibly easy to find powerful intelligence on the internet. And, um, aren’t you already doing that in your current job? With a little elbow grease, you can leap ahead of the other candidates:
- Start with a deep look at the website – drill down 4 or 5 layers
- Evaluate your interviewers’ LinkedIn profile, then see if you have any mutual connections. If you so, reach out to them to get their perspective on the company
- Assess their Twitter stream with any eye towards what kind of information they share, on both a professional and personal level
- Check out their Foursquare activities to see if you frequent the same places
- Can you find video footage of them on YouTube, Vimeo, etc.?
- Pull the last 10 blog posts by each interviewer (bonus points for looking at their guest posts for others)
- Use free tools to draw a rich contextual picture, such as Watch that Page, Topsy, Backtype, Klout, Twitalyzer and LinkedIn Signal.
- Run a Google search on both the firm and the interviewers, making sure to click through to the top 30 or so links. (Oh, and please don’t think a Google search is enough. It’s not. That’s why I list it as the last step, not the first.)
2. Assess the data and draw some initial conclusions
- What does the firm stand for? Is the mission clear to you?
- What kind of a client base does it have? How do they communicate with those targets?
- Who are they? Look at their employees’ bios and social footprint
- Are they connected to marketing or industry influencers? If yes, who? If not, who should they be connected to? Can you help them build those relationships?
- What do they think? Read their thought leadership and get a handle on their point of view
- Where are they headed? Any good firm is constantly evolving. Get a sense of who they “want to be.”
- What does their job description tell you about their current staffing needs?
3. Consider how to weave in your own credentials: Now you know more about where you’d fit into the team
- What experiences and skill sets can you offer to support their mission?
- How should you account for your own weaknesses and “holes?”
- Do you have past thought leadership that dovetails with their future goals?
- How would you expect to grow in this position? Will those goals match how the company wants to grow?
- Can you solicit references from past colleagues that will reinforce your fit for this position?
4. Develop questions that reflect your hypotheses
This needs to be customized, of course, but descriptive jumping off points include:
- I see the company recently chose to_________. Did you make that choice to reinforce your goal to ___________?
- __ out of your employees are currently discussing (business topic) on their social networks. Is that where you are intending to focus your sales in 2011?
- I watched your recent speech on ______ on YouTube. I noticed that you received a lot of questions on (topic), but I actually wanted to ask you _________?
5. Listen for clues in your initial discussion
When you finally get into the interview, expect to modify your assumptions. Your interviewers will immediately start giving you a great “bread crumb trail,” if you listen. Stay nimble and adapt your preparation.
6. Write a thank you note that summarizes conversational themes
It may be old fashioned, but I love it when someone writes a thoughtful note that shows they were listening and excited about our discussion. Passion and follow-though is a potent combination for employers.
Does this sound like work? It is, if you do it right. But I kinda believe that if you put this kind of effort towards a job interview, someone will deduce that you’d put it towards a new job.
How do you prepare for an interview?
(BlissPR is a Convince & Convert client)