Interview Preparation – Step One: Research

In my prior post, I discussed initial insights into interview preparation for board of director opportunities. This week, I’m taking a look at the CSuite side of the equation and starting a series of posts on how to prepare for interviews for CSuite opportunities. This advice can also be applied to lower level positions, as these are truly the fundamentals to effective interview preparation.

Many executives believe that a perfectly tweaked bio, resume and LinkedIn profile “will get them their next job”. In reality, that is a fallacy. The perfect bio, resume or LinkedIn profile does not get you the job. It leads to the opportunity for you to be considered for an interview. Now it is up to you and your ability to align and articulate your value proposition with the opportunity. You accomplish this by thoroughly preparing.

We start with something simple and logical – doing your research. You would be surprised at the number of executives who simply do not do their research and do not prepare for the interview. It boggles my mind, but there are truly executives out there that think they can just “wing it” and will do just fine with the interview. Then, they wonder why they have not landed in their next role. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I have witnessed works of art with interview preparation, whether we have done so on the behalf of our client or coached them through the process.

How Real Research Works

In my opinion, comprehensive, in-depth research goes far beyond just simply viewing the company’s website or LinkedIn page. You must research, read and digest anything and everything about the company.  This includes in-depth research about the company’s history, performance business model, solutions and market place.  You must research who serves on the board of directors as well as their backgrounds, and the same for senior leadership. You must try to interpret any business challenges the company might be facing, competitive threats, key industry players and influencers, industry and market trends, as well as new developments in the industry.

You must try to determine the company’s motivation for filling the opportunity at hand. Is it a new position? If an existing position – what is working and what is not? Drill down on the backgrounds of the individuals you will be meeting with and interviewing with.  Is it a panel of individuals or one person at time?  Try to understand the line-up of who, why and when in the interview process.  Try to gather any information regarding the predecessor of the role.  Engage your network for any insights they might have, which can give you a different perspective from what the company, hiring executive, human resources or recruiter may be telling you.  Also try to determine who your potential colleagues and direct reports would be and study their backgrounds.

How to Find the Information

It is far easier to find information regarding public companies, simply because it is public information. Sources of good information can be found in SEC filings, 10K’s and 10Q’s, as well as the DEF 14A filings which provide insights into executive compensation.  You will also find that analysts, both financial and industry (such as Gartner or Forrester), provide insights into industry trends and deeper commentary.
In my opinion, and I think our firm’s market research analyst would agree, it is more difficult to uncover information related to privately-held organizations. However, combing through a Google search and LinkedIn can provide valuable insight.  It will be more timing consuming as the information will not lie so easily on the surface.  Ensure you engage your network, as they may have insights as well. For non-profit organizations, I recommend referring to the annual IRS 990 filings which provide financial and compensation information.

Getting the Inside Story

The best source of information for your interview preparation is “the back story” – also known as “the skinny” or “the scoop”. That source comes through your network and from that network, those that you implicitly trust. That is why nurturing your network for the long haul is so critical to your relationships and the future of your career.

Ideally your network will know individuals who currently work in the organization you are interviewing with. Perhaps they are connected to former employees, competitors, analysts, strategic partners, or some other entity that might be connected to the organization.  This is not something you handle over email – these are real, live confidential and off the record conversations.  Truly, you can only do this with individuals who are close to you and where there is mutual trust and respect.

All in all, thorough research takes time, attention to detail, patience and persistence. It cannot be thrown together overnight.  Without in-depth research and preparation, you risk squandering the opportunity from the start.


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