In a competitive job market, you need to do everything you can to make yourself stand out from other candidates. Especially when you get to the interview stage, you know you are competing against other candidates that are also highly qualified.
So in preparation for the interview, you take your suit to the cleaners, arrange transportation and lodging (if needed), and practice, practice, practice your research presentation.
You’ve heard that you should do some research on the company, so you spend an hour or so looking through their web site, clicking semi-randomly on pages and links that may be of interest. You don’t learn much, but at least you feel good that you did it. Right?
I often ask hiring managers what candidates should do that most of them don’t do. Almost every time, the answer is “do their homework on the company before the interview”. I’ve had some tell me they want the candidate to know everything that’s on the company web site, and at least one thing that is NOT on the company’s web site.
I was reviewing some industry analysis reports from the financial world today, and it struck me that the questions they proposed for use in evaluating companies for monetary investment were very similar to the ones you might want to ask before a job interview.
- The first thing you want to research is their products – What specifically do they sell? (For example, pharmaceutical products can be prescription or over the counter, innovator or generic, and so on)? What do they currently have on the market, and what is in development? A company’s products, and its pipeline of future products, are its lifeblood. A solid pipeline of products is essential for success.
- Have their past research and development efforts been successful? What portion of their operating revenues are spent on R&D? Is that part of the company growing or shrinking? Research and development are key to finding those new products to fill the pipeline.
- Have they been involved in any recent mergers, acquisitions, or other partnerships? While these may increase stock prices, in the short-term they can have a negative impact on employee morale, internal efficiency, and cause customer confusion. You may not want to discuss this with the interviewer, but you certainly want to keep your eyes and ears open during the day for possible problems.
- What does their international profile look like? Have they just opened new facilities overseas? Have they closed local facilities? This may indicate long-term stability of the facility at which you are being offered a position.
- What do their financial statements, or SEC filings, say about their sales growth, profit margins, earnings…? Are they making capital investments, or maintaining the status quo? This is further evidence of the company’s long-term strategy and success.
- What is the background of the company’s managers? You want strong, capable leadership that is knowledgeable in the industry.
- With whom will you be interviewing, and working? You can ask for a copy of the interview schedule in advance (it’s usually available if you ask), then use Google and LinkedIn and scientific literature searches to learn about their background, interests and experiences. The more you know about your interviewers, the better questions you can ask, and the more likely you are to connect with them.
- What is the corporate culture? If you’re lucky, they publish it right on their web site like Merck does. To ensure long-term satisfaction, you want to work in a corporate culture that is consistent with your values. Values you might want to look for include commitment to innovation, quality, excellence, professionalism, teamwork, diversity, continual improvement, organizational learning, and so on.
Some of these questions you have probably looked into before you applied for the position (hopefully!). However, just before the interview is when you really want to make sure you have all the information you need to ask intelligent, probing questions that will allow both you and the company to evaluate your fit for their needs.
The financial/investment community is expert at determining the value of companies, and conducting extensive research and due diligence on specific companies and industries. Their systematic approach to company valuation is exactly what you do before you invest in a company – either with your money, or with your time by seeking a job there.
This article was written by freelance scientific communication consultant Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2006). She blogs on Career Development for Scientists.