Job interviews are stressful. Often, people are so eager to impress the interviewer that they don't find out critical information about the company and the position. But it's just as important for you to be convinced of the position's suitability for you as it is for the company to be convinced of your suitability for the position. If you ask the right questions, interviews can be much more productive at helping you avoid poorly managed, unhappy projects and zero in on well-run, professional projects.
In the nerve-wracking world of job interviews, a little preparation can go a long way towards a positive experience. In this article, the first of a two-part series, we'll examine some pointers for doing the research that can mean the difference between a shot in the dark and a sure thing.
A Clear Look at the Target
There are several reasons to research the company you're interested in interviewing with. First, a little factfinding will tell you if this is the type of company you want to be a part of. Second, during the interview, you may be asked questions about the organization or project in order to gauge your level of interest; if you're not prepared, it may be viewed as a sign of disinterest or sloppiness. Remember that some of your competitors will have put in some quality study time researching the job you want.
To start your investigation, explore the company’s Web site to get a feel for the overall mission and structure of the corporation, and the range of projects in which it’s involved. Study other published resources on the company, and get a copy of the job description if it's available.
Do a little networking, and talk to contacts who either work there or know someone who does. The background information culled from your research will generate useful questions to ask these contacts, and during any pre-screening phone conversation with the interviewer. For example, is the job for internal development or is it for a commercially available product? The atmospheres can be wildly different. How long has the project been up and running? Are there additional projects like this project? (It's not unknown for internal development projects to overlap in functionality, and in that case, one project often absorbs the other or renders it superfluous in the eyes of upper management.) Who are the customers?
If the position involves a commercially available product, ask questions about the market. How big is it currently and what is the projected growth of the market? What is the product's primary competition? Has the product been released to the market, or is it a new offering? Is the product targeted to a particular market niche? What sets this product apart from the competition?
If the job is for a startup company, take a deep breath. This could be an exhilarating opportunity, or it could be miserable. Because of the very nature of a startup company, it's likely that you’ll work more hours and be responsible for a more varied set of duties. In fact, you may not end up doing at all what you expected—since the company and the project have a short history, no one may be able to predict exactly what your work environment will be like.
One More Self-diagnostic for the Road
Before you go to the interview, you should spend some time reflecting on your current or previous position. Make a list of the features of your job that you like, as well as those you dislike. Be honest— you're the only one who's going to see this inventory. Add to the list qualities that are important to you in any job, such as location, professional growth, and salary. After you've finished, add a list of goals, sorted by importance. This document will be the agenda you intend to cover in the impending interview.
For example, if your number one goal is professional growth, questions about training, education, and professional development need to be emphasized. If your goal is advancement, you can focus on questions about promotions and opportunity. Having a list of likes and