Simply being informed about an employer does not guarantee a successful interview unless you can effectively use the information. Information about the employer's products, financial data, opportunities or how they impact society is only helpful if you know how to tactfully "weave" your new knowledge into the interview. This is no easy task and simply spouting facts or statistics -- or prefacing a question with a lot of memorized information -- is not the answer.
Most employers have literature and/or a Web site describing their organization and opportunities. Major employers provide annual reports and company literature while smaller organizations publish brochures, fact sheets and annual reports. Either way, it's important for you to secure information on an employer before you interview.
Most of the questions you will be asked will not relate directly to the information in the literature. There are ways, however, to show how your skills and background meet the employer's needs using the information you gain. Some examples:
"Why do you think you might want to work for this company?"
"As I understand the job, there's plenty of opportunity to be involved in both the planning of marketing strategies and the actual selling. Besides using my communications skills and knowledge of chemicals in direct selling, I believe I'm creative when it comes to marketing."
"I see you're involved with the Spanish Club. What were some of the benefits from that experience?"
"As secretary, I was responsible for organizing a display on Spanish literature for the cultural fair we sponsored. Most of my correspondence with publishing houses was done in Spanish and I feel this experience added a whole new business angle to my fluency. I would feel very confident communicating with your international customers."
"What courses did you like best?"
"I enjoyed my Sociology of Learning class the most. During one in a series of field trips, I observed a rural daycare center. That confirmed for me that this type of setting is where I want to begin my career."
Next, it will be your turn to ask questions of the interviewer. It is to your advantage to ask questions that require the interviewer to expand on information that you have learned from the employer's literature. Following are some excerpts from employer literature (in italic print), paired with questions that could be formulated from the information given.
"After about 12-15 months from the time you began, if you've demonstrated your ability, you'll be ready for promotion to Merchandising Manager. Your increased responsibility will include a larger sales volume and a number of sales associates reporting to you."
"Could you talk about some methods by which trainees are evaluated?"
"What kinds of communication channels are there between the trainees and the supervisors?"
"What would you say is the major quality or accomplishment that distinguishes those who are promoted from those who are not?"
"Today's large store manager usually has gained experience in district or regional staff work."
"In viewing some of the background that your large store managers have, regional staff work is mentioned. Could you describe some of the responsibilities of staff work?"
"But that's still not the point. From the start ABC Company has had a goal -- a vision, if you will -- of being the leader in communications. That's why we are into education and publishing and software, among other things."
"When the company looks to the future, it appears from the brochure that education, publishing and software are some key areas. What are some of the product areas now that might be less important in the future that the company may be cutting back?"
Examples of Poor Questions
"Tell me about your training program." (Too general -- shows you didn't do your homework.)
"At what salary level would I be if I progress to Step 3 in my second year with the company?" (Shows your concern is money as opposed to responsibility.)
"Could you explain your fringe benefits package?" (Standard, boring question -- need to be more specific and ask about various aspects.)
Criteria for Examining Employers
Asking and answering interview questions in a prepared and professional manner is the key to successful interviewing. Use some points in the following list of Employer Information Criteria (Adapted from "Recruiting Literature: Is It Adequate?") as a rough guideline for what you need to find out about an employer before you choose to interview.