It’s time to face a harsh truth: This isn’t the job market of yesteryear. Your grandpa might love regaling crowds with the story of working his way from the mailroom to the boardroom, but that’s no longer a reality.
The average U.S. worker today holds a job for about 4.4 years, though that figure appears to be lower for Millennials. A study by LinkedIn found recent graduates worked for nearly twice as many companies in their first five years after graduation than graduates from 20 years ago did.
The job market today is clearly much more mobile than in the past. That said, companies still want to recruit committed employees who will be loyal to the organization. The trick is proving you’re a worthy applicant early in the process.
Research Makes Perfect
The key to nailing any job interview is research. In today’s competitive job market, extensive knowledge of a company’s principles, goals, and needs can have a profound impact on the hiring decision.
Too many times, interviewees have failed to answer one of the first questions I like to ask: “What have you learned about our company since you saw the job posting and applied?”
Take this cringe-worthy — and yes, true — example of an interviewee’s response:
Interviewee: “Oh, you guys build websites and you sell stuff.”
Me: “Yes. But which of our sites caught your eye?”
Interviewee: “Umm…oh! Your homepage!”
For those keeping score at home, that would be the wrong answer.
Research isn’t an easy process, but it will set you apart. I’m always impressed by people who have done their homework and know all about our products, customers, and competitors. This shows a willingness to commit — and respect for me as the interviewer.
Those hours of research also give you a hidden edge: You can figure out why the company is hiring. Is the business looking to replace someone, or is it expanding? Just as often, companies hire to solve a problem. Your research will likely uncover that problem, which allows you to frame yourself as the ideal solution.
Dig Beyond the Homepage
Aside from Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and the company’s homepage — all of which you should absolutely browse — there are a few less obvious places you should peruse.
If there are consumer products involved, be sure to check out the Better Business Bureau, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and Trustpilot. Ideally, head to a nearby store to get a hands-on experience with the company’s products. For public corporations, check out their financial disclosure statements. For nonprofits, check out their IRS Form 990 or visit websites such as FoundationCenter.org or GuideStar.org.
In addition to learning everything you can about your prospective employer, set aside a few minutes to research yourself. It’s just as important to know what good — or not-so-good — information is available online about you.
Master the Basics
It’s clearly impossible for you to know all of the ins and outs of a company, but you need to know the basics to avoid having your interview cut short.
1. Get a feel for company culture. Make sure you can easily articulate the company’s stated mission and goals. Skills are easy to come by, but recruiters are more interested in finding an ideal cultural fit. Prove that you’re the Cinderella they’ve been seeking.
2. Understand who, what, and why. Who are the company’s customers? What are its products or services? Knowing these foundational facts about the organization will impress your interviewer and help you answer the question of why you’re a good fit.
3. Know the key players. Study the company’s leaders — including managers, board members, and executives — as if they were your fantasy football roster. This knowledge will provide insight into the company’s strategy and business plan.
4. Listen to the critics. Know what the company does well, but also investigate areas where it struggles. Be prepared to discuss whether you think the business’s website is easy to use or what the company might need to do to compete with similar businesses.
Rest assured that all of this preparation will not be wasted. In addition to saving you from potentially embarrassing yourself, it will help you develop the critical skill of crafting insightful questions for the interviewer. I sometimes begin interviews by asking candidates to pose their most pressing question — their response tells me a lot.
You will also show commitment (and perhaps passion!) for the company and the open position. By weaving the information you gather into a cohesive story, you will be able to demonstrate why you are the best solution to the company’s problem.
Michael Gleason, an entrepreneur and technology expert, is founder and CEO of InMyArea.com and Consumer Brands LLC, innovative technology and publishing companies based in Newport Beach, California. Michael worked in Washington, D.C., for former US Sen. Tom Harkin and advised President Bill Clinton. Michael holds degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Los Angeles