You’ve probably heard this advice many times before: “Talk about the other person – focus on them.” It’s been a fundamental message of almost every sales, relationship, and self-help message from Dale Carnegie to Seth Godin.

So why do so many senior leaders blow it in this crucial aspect of the interview?

Most job candidates prepare for interviews by focusing on themselves, their past performance, their achievements, their success stories. By the time of the interview, these candidates are like a balloon blown up to capacity. The moment the interviewer opens the balloon with a question, he or she is hit in the face by a stream of uncontrolled, hot “you” air. If not handled correctly, that release of air is about as inviting as the blast from an actual balloon.

You might not think this this scenario is typical, but I’ve seen this dynamic happened time and again, particularly with less experienced job candidates or with job candidates who are reentering the workforce after a long dry spell.

Behind Every Job Opportunity is a Story

The story begins, not with you, but with a unique need. This need is so powerful that the hiring company is willing to invest a significant amount of capital in the position. Even in the improving economy, the decision to hire is not made lightly.

Outstanding job candidates begin their interview process by understanding the unique reason the company is looking for a leader in the first place.

Exceptional job candidates will have answered at least three questions before they begin to hone their own story for a specific interview:

  • What are the business reasons for the organization to invest in this position at this time?
  • What are the specific and unique outcomes that the organization hopes to accomplish by funding this position (return on investment)?
  • Where’s the organization headed in the future and how can an effective leader in this position promote that success?

Job candidates who begin their job preparation by answering these questions have the potential to blow away competing candidates who do not.
 

The most successful job candidates approach a job opportunity in the same way a forensic scientist approaches a murder investigation: rigorously checking out all the clues and information available to put together a meaningful and accurate understanding of the motives and actions. Exceptional job candidates will spend hours on research about an organization and a specific opportunity before they begin practicing for the interview.
Fortunately there are remarkable resources available that can provide you with fantastic information about your target position. Here is a list of key resources which you should leverage to the best of your ability.

The Person Who Referred You

If you were referred for a position by a colleague, network contact, or recruiting professional, that individual most likely has a number of insights about the organization and the opportunity. Many candidates jump on a referral without thoroughly interviewing the individual who referred them. What do they believe the organization is looking for in hiring this position at this time?

Company Website

If you are preparing for an interview, you should do more than a cursory browsing of the company website. Digging deep into the website helps you understand how the company represents itself to the world and may provide some nuggets of understanding that will truly demonstrate your preparation for the interview. Just keep in mind that some company websites are not updated frequently, so some information may be out of date.

Company News

A simple Internet search on the company name, or division names, with a “news” filter will provide you with a great summary of local, regional, and national stories. Many times these will include company press releases which focus on key developments and changes within the organization. In some cases there is bad news. It’s good to be aware of this before you stumble into a prickly topic during your interview.

Financial Analysis

All publicly traded companies have significant amounts of financial coverage available on the Internet. Most of the major reporting organizations (e.g., Hoover’s, Dun & Bradstreet, etc.) offer limited amounts of information for free and in some cases colleges and university libraries provide full subscription services for in-depth analysis. You should absolutely be familiar with the financial performance of the organization in the last two years and understand any major challenges and opportunities that are impacting revenues and growth.

The Internet now abounds with sources where current or previous employees discuss their experiences with an organization. LinkedIn.com and Glassdoor.com are two of the most established resources in this area. People reading these reviews should take into consideration that the individual writing the review may have been driven by experiences or poor boss interaction that have no bearing on your specific opportunity in the company. At the same time, a consistent theme is brought up over and over again, is a good indication that this reflects part of the organization’s culture.

The Discipline of Preparation

The discipline of interview preparation is a lot like a physical exercise routine. Anyone who reads these recommendations will probably agree with most of the ideas that are shared in this article. The real question is, “Will you take the time and have the discipline to fully implement a research routine?” My experience with many job candidates is that they are so busy with their search, or perhaps the full-time job, that they cut corners in interview preparation. This invariably diminishes their competitive abilities.

If you are headed for that big interview that can have a significant impact on your career and your income, commit to the discipline of preparation. Make the commitment to spend at least 2 to 3 solid hours doing your research before you start focusing on the second most important aspect of the interview: YOU.