Doing Your Interview Homework

SAN MATEO (04/10/2000) - You may be excited about getting that initial interview with your first-choice company, but don't overlook the possibility that it may not lead to the perfect job. Conducting a little research before you head off to make that first impression will provide you with some perspective.

SO YOU'VE GOT AN INTERVIEW with a company of your choice. Great, but don't sit on your hands until then. A little sleuthing around before the interview will ultimately help you make a better impression. Also, a company's success and market cap are no guarantee that you are headed for the right shop. Assuming you approach the interview with gravity, it will behoove you to find out what may lay ahead before you sit down to your interview.

1. The company

Start with a corporate search; your recruiter,the company Web site, and a general Web search will yield much of this information. Is the company established? Is it private, public, or pre-IPO? What is its core business? Is it the market leader or the hard-fighting competition? What are its long-range plans? What is the single biggest problem the company faces? Knowing this can help you position yourself as a contributor to a solution.

2. The job

Find out what technology is used in the group for which you are a candidate, along with the size of the group, its projects in progress, and your expected role within the group. According to Tom Morgan, a vice president at Pencom, a technical recruiting company in New York, these questions may be tough to answer definitively, but "to the degree that they can be, it would help a candidate to focus on making a good impression rather than learning about the job. It is the dual responsibility of the candidate and the recruiter to approach the interview as prepared as possible."

3. The benefits

Morgan advises that "the candidate should also know about the company benefits beforehand so that benefits don't become a focus of conversation with anyone, except maybe the [human resources] rep." You might also ask about recent turnover and promotions, and if you are applying to a start-up, ask about the vesting schedule for stock options.

4. The inside scoop

Talk to a current or recently departed employee to get the inside dope on company philosophy, opportunity, and atmosphere. Also, people in that same vertical market might be plugged in to the cultural and professional differences among companies. You may learn something you would not learn in 100 formal interviews. Take the insight with a grain of salt, but take it.

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