How to Avoid Making the Worst Possible Interview Mistake

It would seem basic: Before you go in for an interview, you research the employer, its business, its culture—pretty much everything you can think of. It would seem basic, but apparently it’s not. When they sit down, a surprising number of candidates aren’t prepared, and stumble into holes that prove fatal to their hopes of landing the job.

By the time the hiring manager’s decided to talk to you, they’ve already decided you have the technical skills to do the job. What they want to gauge now is your fit and your enthusiasm. It’s hard to prove that you’re interested in the position if you don’t know about the company’s business and its recent performance. Truth is, those are basics. You should be able to talk about the company’s technology and the hiring managers own needs, as well. Being unaware of these things is the worst mistake you can possibly make.

Why? Because this one mistake can lead to others. If you don’t understand a company’s compensation practices, you may make an outrageously high salary demand. Being unaware of its industry’s dynamics could lead you to make statements that seem outrageously naïve. Worst of all, winging it sends the message that you’re not all that interested in the job in the first place, and hints that you might cut corners in your work, as well.

Whether you’re talking to a public or private company, there’s a number of ways to background yourself before the interview begins. For public companies, financial information is readily available and data about salary levels is available on sites like Glassdoor or PayScale. Talking with colleagues and network connections can reveal much about the company’s technology and other operational details.

But your task isn’t simply to avoid mistakes. To be most effective, you want to appear as a natural expert on the company and its business. How do you do that?

Cite Facts

Weave your knowledge about the company into your responses. Note quarterly growth percentages, profit goals, recent product launches and snippets of information from the CIO’s blog. Or use information you’ve gleaned about the hiring manager to break the ice. For instance: “I see that you worked for Microsoft. Why did you decide to join a startup?”

Mention Your Sources

Quote specific sources when you describe how you learned about the job and the company’s IT initiatives, why you want the position or why you’re a great fit for the environment. Whether they’re press releases, media articles or posts from the corporate blog, the specifics bring you credibility.

Clarify Technical Questions

Use your knowledge of the company’s environment to put yourself on solid ground and tailor your responses. As an example, you might say, “I understand that you use performance testing, is that right?” Then structure your answer in a way that fits with the company’s practices.

Provide Customized Examples

Highlight skills and abilities that specifically relate to the job and the environment, especially when responding to behavioral interview questions. For instance: “I understand that you use cross-functional teams to re-engineer existing applications. I actually prefer a team approach. Here’s an example.”

Ask Insightful Questions

During the conversation, ask questions that touch on subjects that you uncovered while doing your research. For example, you may have found reference to a particular technology the CEO believes in. Ask how that emphasis might impact your work. Or, perhaps you’re environmentally conscious. Will you be able to participate in some of the company’s green initiatives?

Conclusion

No, you don’t work at the company—yet—and no one expects you to have knowledge that’s as in-depth as a current employee’s. But they do assume you’ll know a fair amount about what makes the business tick and how you, specifically, can fit into the operation. Rather than be one of those people who stumble, make the effort and be the one who stands out.

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