Once upon a time, a job seeker landed an interview, skimmed the prospective employer's annual report, wowed the hiring manager with a few company facts and strolled into his dream job.
That late-1990s fairy tale rarely comes true these days. With employers in more control of the labor market, candidates feel compelled to give it their all when preparing for interviews. And that includes mounting a broad, deep search for relevant information about the position, the company, the industry and even the interviewer.
Luckily for you, diverse resources, many of them free or cheap and available on the internet, enable you to achieve that competitive edge if you're willing to put your nose to the grindstone -- or computer monitor.
Your prospective employer's corporate website is the best place to see the company as it wants to be seen. Check out that annual report, but also look for a "press room" or "company news" page that links to recent news releases. As you mull this information, consider how the open position, as detailed in the job posting, relates to the company's mission.
But don't stop there. Use the company site's search facility to query the names of the hiring manager and any others on your interview dance card. You may retrieve bio pages or press releases that give you insight into their most visible activities at the company.
"Learning about the interviewer is probably the most valuable thing you can do," said Ron Fry, author of "101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions."
Next, get some vital statistics and independent perspectives on your prospective employer. Hoover's Online, for one, provides capsule descriptions, financial data and a list of competitors for thousands of large corporations.
Your 401(k) or mutual fund account with a major broker likely provides more detailed research on publicly traded companies and industries, free of charge. "You may be able to go to competitors for the prospective employer's financials," said Joyce Lain Kennedy, a Los Angeles Times career columnist and author of "Job Interviews for Dummies."
Now broaden your perspective and see what general-interest and business publications and websites are writing about the employer and its industry. You can find a wide range of media outlets at NewsLink, notes Kennedy. Search national publications for news on major corporations; use hometown newspapers to learn about small businesses and how big businesses interact with their local communities. Refdesk and bizjournals.com also offer gateways to journalism on companies and industries.
Taking cues from your research so far, drill down into your target company and its place in the industry by looking at trade journals and other specialized publications. "Get a few months of the relevant trade journal," Fry said. "You're going to find out about new products and what the trade is saying about the company."
You may find hard copies of trade journals at university or public libraries. Some journals are available for free or by subscription through their own websites; the full text of thousands more is available through periodical databases like ProQuest and InfoTrac. You may even be able to access InfoTrac for free via the web, using just the membership number on your public library card. Contact your local library for details.
By now, you've probably got some very specific questions regarding the employer and your potential role there. Go directly to the grapevine by making contact with other workers at your target company or elsewhere in the industry.
"If you belong to a professional organization, go to its directory," said Marilyn Pincus, author of "Interview Strategies that Lead to Job Offers." If you don't belong, consider joining; check out the American Society of Association Executives' Gateway to Associations Directory.
Of course, you can also use networking services to get in touch with people inside the company.
Finally, if you hope to have a company ogling you, try Googling them first. You just might come up with a nugget you would have missed otherwise.
While you're at it, Google yourself to make sure you and the interviewer are on the same page. Because if they're savvy, they're doing unto you as you've just done unto him and his company.
Want to Know More About the Military?
Be sure to get the latest news about the U.S. military, as well as critical info about how to join and all the benefits of service. Subscribe to Military.com and receive customized updates delivered straight to your inbox.