Do Research Before You Interview

Researching Before the Interview 

Before interviewing, you need to spend some time researching the places where you will be applying. Besides preparing you for interview questions, such research can also help you identify places that aren’t a good fit for you. There are a lot of ways to do this, and we’ll be discussing these in this article.

While researching a potential employer will put you ahead of the crowd, in terms of preparing for the interview, that’s not the only thing you need to be looking into. You also need to learn as much as you can about the industry, the competition (if any), and what kind of culture the company has.

Many developers don’t put a lot of effort into researching potential employers, so even a little bit of work in this area can really pay off. In recent years, it’s been pretty easy to get a software development job, especially once you have a little experience. As a result, it’s common for developers to interview for a job while knowing next to nothing about a potential employer. The thought process is that one can always get another job if this one turns out to be terrible. At the time of writing this book, that is still largely true.

However, this strategy will not work forever. There have been times when it was much harder to get a good software development job than it is now. Particularly after the market crashes of 2000 and 2008, there were several years where the jobs were scarce and the competition fierce. It took more than just skills and experience to get a good job, because there were more unemployed developers than jobs for them to fill. A lot of people I knew not only lost their jobs but were unemployed for a long time while the market recovered. Once they finally managed to get another job, their pay was often lower. Years later, some of them are still feeling the effects.

In many cases, a little research about the companies where they were interviewing would have made all the difference. While research alone won’t make you into the best candidate in the world, it can easily make you look far superior to other people at your skill level who did not prepare.

This article is about how to research a company before applying for a job. This will help you formulate better answers to likely interview questions, help you gauge whether the company is a good fit for you, and even help you get some idea of what trade-offs are involved if you take the job.

Why You Need to Research Before Interviewing

You might wonder, as I did when I first started interviewing for software development jobs, why you need to do a bunch of research on the companies where you are interviewing. After all, aren’t you going to learn on the job if you get hired? That’s actually not an unreasonable question and the assertion that follows is more reasonable still.

However, “learning on the job” can be one of the most painful ways to learn something about a company. I’ll use some personal examples to illustrate my point:

  • One company where I worked was shedding customers and employees at an alarming rate while hiring less qualified staff (myself, at that point) to try to fill in the gaps. It didn’t work and I lost my job during a recession.
  • Another company was widely known to be a bit unethical, based on some of their interactions with other area businesses. I was fired for insubordination when I refused to do something illegal, and the place was raided by the FBI a few years later.
  • Another company worked on neat technology, but had insane working hours. We’re talking 80-hour weeks, with the expectation that you’d either get lunch from the gas station and eat it while walking back to the office or that you’d just skip it altogether and keep working.
  • Another company was using mostly old technology, but offering jobs in new technology and then making people work on the old stuff after they started. This was on top of a commute through construction that was an hour each way. Plus they made me wear a suit every day.

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