If you’ve landed an interview for a new job, you’ve done several things right. You’ve designed a good resume, written a decent cover letter, and piqued the interviewer’s interest with some pertinent job experiences. But there’s one more thing you should do that may make the difference between getting hired and getting passed over—find out everything you can about your prospective new employer before you show up for the interview.

Case study: Interviews with a Web company
Some of you are thinking, “Come on, everybody who’s ever been in the workforce knows this one.” Unfortunately everybody doesn’t.

At TechRepublic, we use the tag-team method of interviewing candidates for hire. Recently, I was part of the team that interviewed several talented applicants. I asked everyone, “So, have you seen our site?” The candidates all replied confidently, “Oh, yes.”

Then I asked, “Was there anything you read that sticks out in your memory?” I was fishing for “Oh, yes, I really liked the article on [whatever].” Instead I drew blanks. Goose eggs. I got “Um, let me see…” several times. Most of the candidates admitted, “Well, I don’t remember any specific articles, but I really liked the way the site is designed.”

Folks, that’s not the “A” answer.

Permit me a short rant: Suppose you’re interviewing for a job with a company that has a Web presence. Hello! Before you come to the interview, you should get on the Internet and read everything on that company’s site and arrive prepared to discuss it. If you’re familiar with the content, you’ll be able to impress the interviewer by discussing the contributions you can make as part of the team.

If you come to the interview unprepared and unable to discuss what the company is doing, you create a bad impression. I found myself wondering, “Sheesh, how interested can these people be in working for us if they haven’t even taken the time to read what’s on the site?!”

Some tips for preparing for the interview
In many cases, digging up details about a prospective employer’s business isn’t as easy as drilling into a Web site—especially if the company doesn’t even have a Web site. Fortunately, there are still lots of resources available to you for doing your interview homework. If you want to increase your chances of getting the job, you should acquaint yourself with everything there is to know about the company’s business. Here are some starting points.

  • Search the Web for the company name. You never know what tidbits of information you’re going to unearth.
  • Check newspapers and magazines at the library. If a company’s been around a while, chances are you’ll find lots of good information—such as interviews with the CEO—in back issues of local newspapers and magazines.
  • Request a financial statement. Private companies typically don’t release this information. However, if the company is publicly held, you may be able to get a copy of the financial statement in a college library or through the FCC.
  • Call the company. One sure-fire way to get fresh information is to contact the potential employer’s public relations or marketing department and request a press kit (also called a media kit). Be honest—say, “I’m interviewing for a position there in a few days and I’m doing my homework.” Some companies will only give those kits to media or possible ad buyers, but they’ll usually provide you with a copy of the company’s “sales literature.”
  • Ask around. If you know someone who works for the company, talk to him or her—not about how to get hired but about what it’s like to work there.

What qualities do you think make the best (or worst) impressions during the interview process? If you have a suggestion, please send me a note .