Many of us can have attacks of laziness. We do so much to make sure we have the correct resume, the perfect suit and some sound bites pulled together to discuss in an interview, that when it comes to taking time to research a potential employer, we suddenly remember that the bathroom needs to be cleaned IMMEDIATELY.
Researching a company really isn't that difficult and will provide you with invaluable information. You're not conducting a background check, but simply want to sound knowledgeable about the company and its' products.
The obvious place to start is at the company website itself. Check to see if they have a link to recent press releases. You want to see if they recently launched any new products or services or even made any staffing changes. Make a note of any industry buzzwords you see as well as the specific words that they use to describe their products. See if they have a Contact Us page and who is listed there. Does the company have an interesting mission statement? Who does their customer seem to be? Do they have locations in other parts of the country or partnerships with other corporations? If you were a customer, would this website answer all of your questions?
Next go to some career compilation websites like wetfeet.com, or collegegrad.com. Sites like this can give you some objective information about the industry and some additional information about the company as well.
You can then take some of those industry buzzwords and product descriptions you identified earlier and use those as keywords in a website search engine. What you're looking for is companies that could be competitors to the one you're interviewing with. Do they have any similar products? Does it look like they are targeting the same customer? Do you think that the company you're interviewing with is more effective? Don't forget to do a web search on just the company's name itself to see if they have been written up in any trade journals or online publications.
Now you want to compile this information to develop questions you can ask at the interview, or some insightful observations you can make. However, it is in poor taste to bring up anything that could be an embarrassing incident for the company as a way of proving to them that you did your research. You want to be able to ask specific questions about their current product line and possibly the direction that the company seems to be taking, while using the information you gleaned from these websites as a starting point. Think of using your interviewer as a guide to give you some of the behind the scenes information about the more interesting aspects of the company. Keep in mind that they will not reveal trade secrets to you, but will be impressed when you ask how their newest product is selling, especially given that from your research, it looks like their competitors product serves many of the same customers.
Questions like these show that you are genuinely curious and interested in the company and the industry as a whole, and took the initiative to find out more information. You were also able to synthesize that information into an intelligent question that further demonstrated your interest and curiosity. Employers love this, especially since in my experience it's only been about 1% of the people I've ever interviewed as a hiring manager who have come this prepared to an interview. This is one way that you can definitely stand out from the crowd-in a good way.
Melanie Szlucha has been a hiring manager for 15+ years and a career coach for 6+ years through her company Red Inc.
What's her motto? "Let's Get Your A** A JOB!" Her resumes get interviews, her interview coaching gets clients to the next level, and her innovative ideas can move you in a new direction.