Do your legwork to score that job

(This column was originally published
in SNEWS, the most trusted outdoor and fitness industry news source
since 1984.

OK, you’ve secured an
interview for a position that really interests you. How can you
differentiate yourself from other qualified candidates under

Research on your potential employer will help you
stand out from the crowd. The more you know going into the interview,
the more comfortable you’ll feel and the more confidence you’ll
project. Knowledge is indeed power in the interview environment.

the hiring manager, your research is simultaneously a sign of respect
and a signifier of interest. Coupled with a clear and direct verbal
expression of interest, you are likely to move further and faster in
the hiring process than the candidate who is less prepared and does not
articulate interest.

Much — but not all — of your research can
be done on the Internet. But don’t be complacent. While the Internet is
a powerful tool, there are things you can miss if it is your sole
source of information. Be prepared to leave the friendly confines of
your desk to get a deeper understanding of the company.

To perform comprehensive research, focus on these four primary areas:

1. Company
What you should know
Is the company public or private? What is its sales volume? How many
employees does it have? Where are the locations of its operations,
warehousing and manufacturing? What divisions are there? What are its
channels of distribution? What are its growth pattern, trend line and
future direction?

Tools you can use: The
company’s website and annual reports; industry websites and
publications; competitive word of mouth; retailer and independent rep
impressions; and informal discussions with current employees. (Too
often past employees have skewed impressions of the company, so we
suggest you leave them out of the research to avoid a potentially
jaundiced perspective.)

2. Products
What you should know
What are the company’s product categories and product families? What is
its total number of SKUs? How many new products are introduced each
season? What is the average product’s life cycle and price point? Who
are the company’s competitors? What is its unique selling proposition
and market niche? What are its areas of growth?

Tools you can use:
Visit retailers to get your hands on the company’s products. Attend
trade shows. Also check out product catalogs, retailers’ product
information sheets, as well as trade publications or websites with
“best buy” guides. Talk to customer service reps at the company.

3. People
What you should know
Whom will you meet? What are their position titles and career
histories? What are the reporting relationships? What interaction do
they have with the position you are considering? Who is successful in
the organization? Why are they successful?

Tools you can use:
Use social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. Talk to
previous colleagues or employers; tap into word of mouth from industry
friends. Utilize the company’s website, Google search, trade magazine
articles, industry-specific sites and press releases.

4. Position
What you should know
Why is this position available? Why is it important? What is the
mission? What needs to be accomplished? What areas need attention? What
are the key projects for the first 90 days? How much travel is involved
and will it be domestic or international?

Tools you can use:
Check out the company’s job description and written descriptions of
related positions. Use your own industry experience and have
discussions with people in similar positions or have had this role in
the past. Also talk to vendors and factories for input.

in mind that research is conducted on the computer, on the telephone
and in person. If you ask your industry friends and contacts, they can
help you network with people at the target company or in positions like
the one you’re considering.

And, as much as we like to do things
online, there is still a wealth of information to be gained at retail.
Talk with the people on the sales floor, talk to the repair people, see
the packaging and learn about the competitors — all of which can set
you apart in the interview process.