What do you do around here anyway?

  | James Innes

One of the most basic errors an interview candidate can make is to fail to properly research a company's products and services before meeting them. Asking a recruiter a variation on the question "so what do you do around here anyway?" is usually a shortcut to interview failure. Whilst employers will not expect you to know all their product lines and service offerings, a basic knowledge of their principal business is expected.

Whilst 20 years ago, a candidate might expect to have to research newspapers and visit their local library, in the age of Google and Internet Search there is no excuse not to do your homework properly. There are likely to be ten of articles about your target organisation - many more if it is a multi - national or publicly quoted company. There might be interviews with company officers, features on their products and services, and, in the case of larger organisations publicly filed documents such as Stock Exchange filings or audited annual accounts.

The target company itself is always likely to be a rich source of information through their websites and any literature they issue such as product catalogues, in-house newsletters, blogs, articles etc.

If possible, candidates should reach out to their professional networks such as LinkedIn and see if they can contact somebody who works for the company in question, or who perhaps works for a major competitors. They may be able to give you valuable insights as to the challenges facing the organisation and what it is actually like to work there.

Candidates should acquire enough knowledge to discuss the company's main services and products, without coming across as a pedant. The interviewer is likely to be more impressed by a question such as "what's the next step for Project X?” or "how do you plan to expand this service into the European market”, rather than an erudite exposition from you as to what Project X, or Service Y contains.

Wear your learning lightly on your sleeve. Nobody likes a wise guy!

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