Know Your Target Company - Part Two
In researching the details of a potential employer, the depth that you need to go to is clearly related to the type of job you're applying for. Entry-level candidates probably need only be interested in a high-level overview of the company and how it treats its new employees. Managers, on the other hand, need to demonstrate awareness and problem-solving abilities early on, and therefore need to be aware of what they believe the company's problems and challenges are.
I'd like to add at this point that the technique for sharing the fact that you've put in a substantial amount of preparation is not to come out and say it, but instead to ask "leading questions". This way, you give the interviewer control of the interview while steering it to topics that you can focus on. It also gives you the opportunity to respond intelligently to their answers - which will probably be non-specific - by offering specific ideas about how to overcome certain problems/challenges. This will establish yourself as a thinker and a desirable addition to the company.
The thing you don't want to do is to come across as a know-it-all or someone who is trying to get involved with the company's affairs at a level that's inappropriate for the position you're applying for. The interview is a chance to impress the interviewer with your intelligence and thoughtfulness, not to educate them about what you know or think.
I'd also like to point out that a "reverse input" interview works much better if you have a business manager at the interview as well as HR people. In Japan especially, many HR departments function as administrators of resumes rather than strategic arbiters of candidate appropriateness - in other words, some of them are pretty useless (yes, there are some good ones, listen to the types of questions they're asking). So getting at least one interview with the business manager will significantly increase your chances of a successful hire.
The things that you need to know about a company cover a similar range to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, starting with self-survival and ranging up to more strategic issues. Clearly, the immediate concerns should be hiring and firing cycles, expansion and reduction plans, company treatment of staff, promotion opportunities, management problems, and general working environment.
The next level up is related to management and operations. Opportunities for reverse input resulting from your own research, how this relates to new business developments, new technologies and products, and competitors. Especially important issues are if they are stealing market share, the overall sensitivity of the company to the global business cycle, market reputation, and cost cutting strategies that the company should be embarking on but isn't.
The top level is senior management. A usual concern by the hiring party is your ability to offer immediate solutions. Given that you're probably already in the industry, you may indeed be working for the competition, and therefore you can focus on very specific position-related issues, which are almost always about sales, performance, and market macro issues. At this level, it would be entirely appropriate to insist that the HR interview come after you first explore what the hirer's senior management's business case is for bringing you in.
I have had some people take the research angle too far. When contacting a company, you really do have to walk a fine line between finding out what you need to know and coming across as troublesome, irritating, nosey, or even obsessive. None of these impressions are likely to get you far, so be sensitive to the reactions of the hirer's staff. A negative comment from them to the business manager is all it takes to kill your chances. On the other hand, a company that is absolutely secretive may have a reason for being so, and could be a good indication to stay away.
If you are considering a career in the recruiting industry, you can drop Terrie Lloyd an email for more advice at email@example.com. You can also see his weekly newsletter, called Terrie's Take, at www.terrie.com.