The single biggest interview preparation research mistake you can make

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

Apr 14

Interview preparation, of course, is essential. Our tools for doing interview research (read: Google or Bing) are much better than our past abilities to research a company–or the hiring manager. Or, for that matter, the hiring manager researching you. So we dutifully go out, research the company and the hiring manager and walk into the interview knowing what we know. We don’t ask questions about what we already know; instead, we try and ask different questions that are not the fundamentals everyone can find out on the Internet.

It is a big mistake. Here’s why.

Just because it is on the Internet doesn’t make it factual

You know that marketing statement that says “What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas”? My variation of that is this: What goes on the Internet stays on the Internet. While there is good information gleaned from the Internet, the fact is that there is also an incredible amount of crap information there as well. Finding reputable sites for good, factual information or informed opinion is necessary to walk into an interview with the right facts about a company.

That means that what you read needs your evaluation as to the quality of the information being provided. There are tons of axes to grind (even on this site) and you need to see the point of view of the information to determine its quality.

Just because the company says it is doing well doesn’t mean it is doing well

Many readers of this site know that I worked for Washington Mutual (WaMu) in my career and was laid off by them before the company imploded. Yet, all along, the company management was stating how well they were doing despite the housing bubble bursting. And now former executives are saying to Congress that all those bad things that were going on in the company happened before (insert name executive)  started with the company. They, of course, took radical steps to stop the bleeding and are perfect stewards of the company and its shareholders. Meh.

Reading corporate speak and understanding it is a needed job skill for the Cubicle Warrior. You see, the company statements will, at some point of time, need to stand up on legal grounds. Otherwise, it is evidence of misleading shareholders and that is a big problem inviting lawsuits. So understanding the message within the message is just as important as whatever the statement is in the moment from your research.

How the interview question is answered is just as important as the answer

Most communication, as we know, is non-verbal. Just because Google gives you an answer doesn’t reveal the nuances around the answer. Sure, Google can tell you that the company is focused on, say, “increasing shareholder value through expansion into more profitable home loan products,” but the hiring manager is apt to tell you how excited they are about the new sub-prime and option-arm home loan products. The ones, you know, that almost killed our economy and are still causing enormous problems.

Or the hiring manager will tell you that they are really excited about the new home loan products, but their body language will tell you otherwise. I can tell you that even if a manager doesn’t know the specifics, they can usually tell if the company (or department) is going in the right direction. Or not.

Research requires your business judgment

One of the biggest changes in job searches from ten years ago is the abundance of information to be found on companies. All that information requires your business judgment as to the quality of the information. Plus your take on the answers to your interview questions about your research to ensure the company is right for you.

You want to land in a company that will help improve your job skills while being conducive to the way you work. Do your research. But don’t forget you still need to hear the answers. How your interview questions are answered can tell you more about what is going on than all the research in the world.

How do you determine if your research matches up to what is really going on in the company?

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.