Experienced professionals know the importance of preparing for a job interview. A big part of this prep is researching the company – its mission, reputation, competition, leadership and financial health. Learning up on the organization allows you to talk about your skills in relation to their needs and ask insightful questions that show you’ve done your homework. In short, you do it to impress the hiring manager.
But there’s an equally good, less mentioned reason to dig deep into the company’s background. And that reason is job satisfaction. In a study by the Conference Board, just over 52 percent of workers said they were unhappy with their jobs. The Society of Human Resources Professional’s (SHRM) latest job satisfaction survey from 2014 indicates that 44 percent were likely or very likely to look for another position outside their organization in the next year. That so many Americans appear to dislike going to work every day speaks to a lot of unfulfilled expectations at the office. It shows, among other things, that jobseekers need to do everything they can to find positions that will satisfy them.
In an interview hiring managers will, naturally, talk up the company, the position and the management. They’ll pepper you with questions as they explore how well your experience matches the position description. All good – from their side. For your part, however, you need to focus not only on demonstrating your talent but also finding out how well this role and the organization fit your values and longer-term career plans. Targeted research -- call it reconnaissance – prepares you to find this out in the interview.
Here are a few areas you’ll want to research thoroughly so you can explore them in the interview:
Many organizations boast about their fantastic workplace culture, often referring to their “work hard, play hard” environment, high level of respect among employees, and good communication between management and subordinates. Is it actually that way, though? Find out by thoroughly reading the “Life At…” and “Why Work for Us” sections and the blog on the company website. Then head over to Glassdoor.com and read reviews by real employees. Also check out Quora.com and LinkedIn corporate alumni groups for similar information, or post a question if you don’t find it.
Note discrepancies between what the company website touts and what you read on other sites. If you find red flags, you’ll want to raise them, carefully, in the interview. For example, you’ve read a number of comments that management does not like feedback from employees or ignores it. In your interview, pose the question: “I really value strong communication and idea-sharing among all levels of an organization. Anyone can have a great idea that moves the needle. How does the leadership team here facilitate that kind of culture?” Or ask if they have an anonymous feedback system, which are becoming increasingly popular in large firms like Amazon.
The SHRM study points out that although 55 percent of respondents said that management recognition of their job performance was an important part of job satisfaction, only 24 percent reported being satisfied with this area in their current job. One of the main factors in lack of recognition is the lack of clearly defined expectations for the position. Larger companies will provide information about the systems they have in place to acknowledge top performers, such as award schemes. You’ll need to look elsewhere, however, for a fuller picture.
Again, Glassdoor and Quora are good bets to get a sense of how current workers feel about this topic. When the hiring manager discusses the expectations of the role you’re interviewing for, jump on the chance to explore how clearly the job responsibilities are outlined and what the key performance measurements are. Ask if there is a formal system for performance reviews, and if employees receive regular informal feedback.
Seasoned professionals looking for career opportunities within their industry will already have a handle on common salary levels. But if you are looking at outside your sector or function, or if you are considering positions in another part of the country, start at Salary.com or Payscale.com for reliable information on pay and benefits packages by role and location. Then search Glassdoor for what workers have to say on the subject. Having this data in your back pocket will serve you well in salary negotiations.
For many employees, workplace perks such as flextime, extended maternity leave, onsite childcare and internal mentoring are as important as the salary. Companies are notorious for playing up such benefits but falling short of delivering them. If any of these perks would seal the deal for you (or break it) when extended an offer, use research to prepare yourself for this topic in the interview.
Glassdoor, Quora and LinkedIn corporate alumni groups are reliable places to find unabashed comments on what an organization’s perks are really like. Other useful information on benefits at your prospective company might appear in Working Mother’s “100 Best Companies”, on a Fortune or Forbes best company list (they publish various annual lists), and “The Best Small and Medium Workplaces in the U.S.” published by Greatplacestowork.com.
Asking about perks directly in an interview, especially in an early-round discussion, can work against you. Instead, use questions to discover indirectly how genuine the benefits are. Ask, for instance: “Could you share with me what a typical work-week looks like for this position?” or “’I’m always eager to learn more and challenge myself in new areas. Can you describe some of the professional development opportunities you offer?”
A hiring manager might not tell you the straight story about their firm’s financial situation and future outlook, especially if it relates to the role you’re interviewing for. If it’s a public company, read the annual report and listen to recordings of earnings reports to pick up a general sense of the organization’s health. In the case of a startup firm, check its listing on Crunchbase.com, which tracks startups and their investors. Hoovers.com will undoubtedly have some background on the company – they list over 85 million of them – and will list their main competitors, too, so you can compare financials.
For more hints, do a Google search to see if the company has been in the news lately and check the organization’s “Press” page for corresponding news releases. It might raise some concerns that you’ll want to clear up during the interview.
When you find a position that keeps you happy, it’s a win for the company, too. Satisfied employees are likely to contribute more and remain in an organization longer. So there’s no need to feel selfish by placing your own interests first in the interview. By researching the company thoroughly, you equip yourself to ask more insightful questions and to know if the interviewer is being straight about what the company really has to offer you. It’s how you’ll discover if that job is the right one.
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