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Smart Google Research for Successful Job Interviews

By Susan P. Joyce

Research before your job interview is essential for your success in the interview. You MUST have a good answer to the question "What do you know about us?" or the interview is over.

That research is extremely useful for you, too! Being uninformed today is a dangerous habit. You don't want to go to work for an employer with high turnover or which is about to down-size (usually the first people laid off are the newest hires). Read 50 Google Searches to Avoid Layoffs and Bad Employers to avoid that situation.

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Google Search for Job Interview Preparation

Recruiters are usually in a hurry -- too many applicants; too little time. They don't have time for people who aren't really interested in the job or the company.

To gain credibility in the interview, be demonstrably informed about the employer's organization and the people who will be interviewing you by doing the research described below.

If you've been invited in for an interview, take 10 seconds to celebrate your (preliminary) victory.

Then, spend 30 minutes or more digging in to your job interview preparation to take your best shot at winning a job offer.

Do your research so you have great answers -- and great questions to ask -- during the interview. Then, they will know that you are sincerely interested in their job and their organization.

Using Your Research in the Job Interview

Researching the interviewers, recruiter, and hiring manager should give you insight into their backgrounds, experience, and education. This information will help you better gauge what about you might interest them, and what might concern them. For example:

  • If you know that one of them worked for one of your former employers, mention that company's name in answer to one of the questions (like "Tell me about yourself") without necessarily acknowledging that you know they worked there, too. Same with living in the same city, state, or country.
  • If you know that you attended the same school or got the same degree or certification as one of the interviewers, be sure to mention that too, perhaps in your answer to the "Why should we hire you?" question. Again, don't necessarily mention that you know they also attended that school or earned that degree.

Unless someone important there has just won a major award or received some important recognition, you don't necessarily need to mention any of your research about the people. Sometimes, knowing too much can be creepy -- don't give the impression that you might be a stalker. That will very quickly end the opportunity.

Do mention in the job interview the positive things you uncovered in your research about the organization:

  • How well-rated a particular product or service is by a website like Amazon or iTunes.
  • The good review a product or service recieved, particularly in a relevant industry or consumer website like ConsumerReports.org.
  • The glowing article about the organization, the CEO, the products or services in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, or other publication.
  • Great annual (or quarterly) public financial reports.
  • Other positive news.

Mentioning negative information you have uncovered is probably not a great idea, but it should give you some "food for thought" on what to observe and ask about in the interview.

So, What Do You Know About Them?

Be well-prepared for the seemingly casual "So, what do you know about us?" question. It seems inconsequential, kind of a throw-away question. But it is often the first question asked, for a good reason. This is a very important question, to employers. Your answer demonstrates to them how interested you really are in their opportunity.

Your goal: know more about them than is visible from a look at their website (but DO be sure to check out their website!).

Learn as much as you can about:

  • The interviewers and management
  • Company/employer mission (if any)
  • What they do -- products and/or services, reason for existing
  • Current financial results, especially profitability, if the employer is a publicly-traded corporation (e.g. Fortune 500, etc.)
  • Current stock price and recent trend (last 12 months), if a publicly-traded corporation
  • Location(s)
  • Press releases or other news announced on the website
  • Mentions in news outside of the organization, e.g. media visibility, blogs, top/best [whatever] lists, etc.
  • Management/corporate officers
  • Other visible people in the organization
  • General reputation -- product/services reviews and ratings, good employer (or not), etc.
  • Successes
  • Failures
  • Anything else you can find that seems relevant

Your Google Research Process and Plan

Learn as much as you can about the people who will be interviewing you and about the organization, as described above. Below you will find several categories of information as well as Google search queries to use.

Copy the search strings below for your searches. Replace the brackets [  ] and the words enclosed inside the brackets with the term described. Put quotation marks "around phrases" << like that.

To improve your Google search skills, read Google Search Ground Rules and 10 Google Search Tips Plus 3 Tricks for useful tips on using Google search syntax. Some of those tips will be explained below, but reading these articles will make your searches more effective.

Research the People with Google

Try these Google searches. Some will work better for you than others, and some may not be appropriate for your situation. Use the search results you get to refine your search until most of the results are relevant to you.

Researching People When You Have Their Names

Hopefully, you were given the names of the people who will be interviewing you when the job interview was scheduled. If the names are not offered, ask for them.

If you can find names on the job description or if the recruiter provides you with the name of the hiring manager, search on those names, like this:

"[insert person's name]" "[insert company name]"

LinkedIn Profiles can be very helpful. To find their LinkedIn Profile, if any, do the search, telling Google to look only on the LinkedIn.com website by including site:linkedin.com in your query:

"[insert person's name]" site:linkedin.com

Look for anything you might have in common with these people. See if you live (or have lived) in the same town, attend (or attended) the same schools, work (or worked) for the same previous employer, etc.

Also, just notice where they went to school and where they have worked. You may not have anything in common with them, but you will have a better idea of who you will be talking with and what their perspective might be.

Researching People When You Do Not Have Their Names

If you don't have the names of any of the people, try these searches that will look for information in all of Google, inside the employer's website, and also in LinkedIn:

"[insert job function, like finance or marketing]" manager "[insert company name]"

"[insert job title]" "[insert company name]"

"[insert job title]" site:[company domain name]

"[insert job title]" "[insert company name]" site:linkedin.com

Hopefully, you will come away with some names that are good possibilities. Unless the employer is gigantic, you may well be able to find out who will probably be interviewing you.

Check out 10 Google Search Tips Plus 3 Tricks for and explanation of the site:domain.com search, and more help in using some of Google's advanced search capabilities.

Research the News

Most Google searches are automatically "Everything" searches, but you will find the "News" searches to be more helpful for this research. So, news.google.com is a great starting point! To run the news searches, go to news.google.com first. Then, use the queries below (and others you think appropriate).

First, the Bad News

Searching for specific kinds of bad news can be the most effective way to uncover problems that may be developing. Then, you can very carefully explore some of these issues in the job interview, or take them into consideration before you accept a job offer.

[insert company name here] restructuring

[insert company name] "reduction in force"

[insert company name] "down-sizing" OR downsizing

[insert company name] "right-sizing" OR rightsizing

[insert company name] "head count reduction" OR "reduction in headcount"

[insert company name] "layoff pending"

[insert company name] "layoff planned"

[insert company name] "office closing"

[insert company name] "store closing"

Add anything else that would be bad news for this employer. For more queries to dig out bad news, read 50 Google Searches to Avoid Layoffs and Bad Employers.

Then, the Good News

These searches are the opposite of the searches above, and they may be discussed much more openly in the job interview. In fact, you should probably congratulate them on one or two things if they are really major successes or big news in the media.

Note the asterisk (*) included in some of the queries below. That tells Google to do a "wildcard" search, looking for any word in place of the asterisk. Use the asterisk anytime you want Google to be creative.

[insert company name] "new * announced"

[insert company name] "record sales"

[insert company name] "record revenue"

[insert company name] "new product announced"

[insert company name] "new service announced"

[insert company name] "new location announced"

[insert company name] "* wins award"

[insert company name] "stock price climbs"

[insert company name] "expanding *"

[insert company name] "branch opening"

[insert company name] "expanding production"

[insert company name] "starting production"

[insert company name] "plant opening"

[insert company name] "office opening"

Add anything else that would be good news for this employer.

These searches are very good searches to run on your smart phone before you leave for the job interview or while you are waiting for the interview to begin.

Search the Employer's Website with Google

Sometimes important information is not easily visible on the employer's website, and a built-in site search isn't visible (or useful).

Put Google to work for you to find the information you need searching the employer's website using the search queries below.

NOTE: do NOT leave a space between the word "site:" and the employer's domain name. If you were looking for information on Microsoft.com, your query would look like this -- "your keyword phrase" site:microsoft.com

"press releases" site:[company domain name]

"headquarters location" site:[company domain name]

"annual report" site:[company domain name]

Use this search to find anything you need on the website. If the information is on their website and visible to Google, the searches above will show it to you. Do NOT leave a space between the word "site:" and the domain name.

Save These Queries to Use Again

Once you have refined the searches and figured out which work the best for you, set up Google Alerts for the searches that seem the most productive for you. Google will email the results to you. Read the Setting Up Google Alerts article for details on how to use Google Alerts.

Bottom Line

Knock their socks off in the job interview with your preparation and knowledge about them. You will also be able to ask better questions. Perhaps most importantly, you'll make a more informed decision if they make you a job offer. All good!

Using Your Google Research in Job Interviews:

More About Using Google for Your Job Search:


About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.


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