You wouldn’t go on holiday to a far-off land without finding out about the climate, the culture, and whether you need to bring your winter parka or bathing suit, would you? Well, if you’ve never stepped foot in the organization you’re about to interview with (and possibly never even met anyone who works there), you’re basically entering a world about which you know absolutely nothing. So instead of going in cold, call the HR department and ask a few questions! That’s what they’re there for, to assist both current employees and prospective employees, alike. And as long as you don’t take up too much of their time, most HR people will be impressed that you care enough to do your homework. (Trust me, I’ve actually asked these folks.) I’m a huge believer in asking questions before your interview, and here are a few of my favorites.
- Ask about company dress code. You need to find out what kind of environment you’re entering – is it relaxed and casual, ultra hip, blue-suit conservative, retro punk, country and western, or something in between? Basically, when you go to your interview, you want to look like you already work there. It’s subtle, it’s psychological, and it works. If the interviewer can visualize you as a successful hire, sitting at your desk, fitting in, and contributing (remember, interviewers want to look good, too), you stand a much better chance of being hired. So do your best to match the monde de la mode of the company before you even walk in the door.
- Ask whether you’ll be interviewed by one or several interviewers. It’s always a good idea to bring extra hardcopies of your resume or CV, but if you’re going to be interviewed by a team (which is definitely a possibility), you’ll want to have enough printed material – whether resumes or samples of your work – to go around. Coming up short makes you look unprepared, when all you had to do was ask HR beforehand. (Plus, it gives you valuable insight about what you’ re walking into – and a chance to accurately visualize the eventual interview environment, an exercise known to lower blood pressure and reduce stress.)
- Find out whether there’s typically a company tour that accompanies the job interview. Why? Just look down at your feet, especially if you’re a woman, and you’ll know why. The last thing you want to do is tromp around a huge building with a pained look on your face, in shoes that are killing your tootsies; or leave your jacket behind, if there’s a chance you’re going to be walking around out of doors. As a consultant, I’ve actually observed this footwear issue, firsthand. I once saw a woman walking barefoot toward her car in the parking lot of a manufacturing company. She smiled at me weakly, and told me she had just been on an unanticipated factory tour that she hadn’t known about, back when she chose her shoes that morning! So if you learn ahead of time that there’s even a remote possibility of being taken on a tour of the company, you’ll be much better prepared, and you’ll look it.
- Don’t be afraid to ask whether HR has any general suggestions about how you can prepare for your interview. Again, most HR people love to be helpful (that’s just how they’re built), and they’ll be pleased that you asked! Oftentimes they’ll tell you, “Oh, yes! Be sure and check out our updated website, and let me email you our most recent company newsletter – it’s got all sorts of fun information in it.” You’ll be much more likely to dazzle your interviewer if you know a little (or a lot) about the company before you get there.
In general, you really can’t over-prepare for your interview, and there’s no such thing as superfluous information while you’re sizing up the company you’re considering. All information is useful information, even if you don’t actually use everything you’ve gathered when you get to your interview. Why? Because the more you know, the more confident and self-assured if you’ll be. You’ll be better poised to handle any question that comes your way. You’ll look and act like you already belong at the company. You’ll have sufficient handout materials, in case you’re being interviewed by a committee. You’ll bring your umbrella, hiking boots, or whatever else you might need, to climb mountains, swim seas, or trek through jungles. In short, you’ll wow ’em with your preparedness, which will put you one step closer to landing the job!