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Interview Success: It’s Not You, It’s Them

Published on: Oct 20, 2023


It finally came!  After weeks and months of reading job ads, crafting the perfect resume, submitting applications, and then waiting, waiting, waiting…you got a call for an interview.  Hooray!

After you take a moment to savor the success of making it to the next level, it’s time to start working on your research. Not scientific research, researching your future employer!

Ideally, you had done some research on the company before applying, and know at least a little about them.  But as soon as you have an interview scheduled, either phone or in person, it’s time to get serious.  You want to learn as much as possible, so you are prepared to present yourself in the best possible way.  The more you know about their policies, procedures and culture, the more insightful questions you will be able to ask during the interview.

Company Website

You can learn a lot from the company’s web site.  Is it professional, solid and dependable?  Or colorful and fun and whimsical?  What image are they trying to project?

What information do they provide for potential employees? What questions does it raise for you?  What great employee benefits do they brag about?  If there is no information, that tells you something as well.

If they are a publicly-held company, read their recent letters to shareholders, and other investment documents.  You are considering investing the next several years of your life with them, so it’s wise to see what they tell people who have invested money about their past successes and failures, and their predictions for the future.

Look through their list of services.  Do they have a large or small number of services?  Is there a steady stream of new services, or some tried and true ones that they continue to sell year after year?  Do all products have anything in common?  What are their key technologies?

Read the bios of their leadership team.  Are they scientists, businesspeople, or a mixture of both?  How long have they been with the company?  While there may be many levels between you and them, they will set the tone for the organization.  Find out who is in charge your department or division, and look up their bio as well.  Especially for an on-site interview, make sure to read the LinkedIn profiles of every person with which you will be interviewing.

Other Websites

Once you’ve learned everything possible from the company’s web site, it’s time to start looking at outside sources.

Check out the local business journal or other news sources to find out about recent and planned areas for expansions, mergers, or acquisitions.  If it’s a large company, pay attention to which division or department the news is about, as cultures and policies can vary somewhat across a company.

Use publications from the financial industry, such as Standard and Poors or Hoovers, to learn about the current state of their industry and their place in that industry.

Financial sites will often list competitors.  How does this company distinguish itself from the competition? Do they have the biggest selection of services?  Lowest price?  Best customer service?  What drives their revenue and what does that imply about their culture? How do you see yourself contributing to that?

Review sites such as allow you to read reviews and actual interview questions, and get an idea of what an appropriate salary range might be—remembering that this is anecdotal evidence, not a scientific survey.

Further research

Talk to your colleagues, and use LinkedIn to find people who work at that company.  Better yet, find some people who recently left that company, ask them why, and about what it was really like to work there.  Again, remember that this information will be anecdotal; you’ll have to think critically rather than take their information at face value.

You can also use photo-sharing sites such as Instagram to learn about the company culture.  Find pictures that were taken at their location, and make notes.  Is everyone in suits and ties all the time, or is it jeans and Hawaiian shirts?  Are their desks full of spreadsheets and calculators, or pictures of their children?

If appropriate, purchase or borrow some of their services, read up on their publications, use them, and be ready to provide your opinion.

Finding Their Fit

While it may seem like a lot of work, being prepared will allow you really stand out during the interview—and that’s what will lead to the job offer.  In terms of hiring, whether the job is a good fit for you is not important to them (to learn more about finding your own fit, read this recent Eos article).  They are interested in someone who is a good fit for their work.  If you can effectively answer the question “Who is this company?” before the interview, then you’ll be in a better position to provide them with the answer to “Is this person a good fit for my company?”

Lisa M. Balbes, PhD, has been a freelance technical writer and editor at Balbes Consultants LLC for 25 years.  She is the author of Nontraditional Careers for Chemists:  New Formulas for Chemistry Careers (Oxford University Press).