In last week’s post, I explained how you could dramatically increase your odds at an interview by bringing a document that shows your understanding of the challenges and opportunities that face the company (aka Golden Ticket). This week, it’s about how to create that document.
It bears mentioning that in addition to helping you get the job offer, the Golden Ticket will set the tone of your relationship with your future boss and help make you successful if you decide to take the job. You’ll have established that you can think and act independently, and so your new boss will feel less of an urge to micromanage you once you start.
Start by researching these resources
- Company’s website. Obvious yes but amazing some people don’t pore over it. Read all of its press releases for the past year at least. While the site isn’t a full picture of the company, it will help you understand how it wants to be perceived. Be sure to check out the company’s Facebook page, blog, and Twitter account if applicable.
- The interviewer’s LinkedIn profile, blog, and Twitter account. What articles does she find important? Not only can you get a feeling for her personality, she’ll be flattered when you casually mention something she wrote about.
- Securities filings. Relax – no advanced degree in accounting required. All the parts you will find most helpful are written in plain language. You can get the securities filings for any publicly listed U.S. company for free from the SEC’s website, . Download the 10-K, which is the annual filing. It has a lot less fluff and a lot more useful information than the annual report sent to shareholders. 10-Ks may have useful nuggets such as: a description of the business; a history of the company; significant risks facing the company; a list of key competitors; any major acquisitions or recent changes of ownership; and if you’re lucky, a list of strategic initiatives. You can skip over the financial part except do check the revenue of the company, its revenue growth over the past few years, and how profitable the company is.
- Analyst reports. While these typically cost fifty dollars a page or more if you buy them retail, many good public business libraries in major cities provide free access. In New York, for example, the Science, Industry, and Business Library provides free access to analyst reports as well as many other valuable subscription services – but you need to go in person and bring a USB drive. If your local public library doesn’t have access, see if you can pay for local resident privileges at the library of a nearby business school. You can ignore the “maintenance” type of analyst reports that give routine updates on quarterly earnings. Your best sources will be annual industry surveys, coverage bank initiating coverage, and the transcripts of quarterly earnings calls. Sort by page length and start with the longest reports. If you are bold, call the analyst. Their phone numbers are listed right on the reports.
- Industry journals. Find out the trade journal that covers the industry and flip through half a dozen issues. You’ll get a sense of the issues facing the industry, the specialized vocabulary and acronyms used, and who the leading players are. Many trade journals will publish an annual ranking of the top companies in the industry.
- Industry associations. Just about every industry has an association, and they will often have position papers on their website and a PR person who will answer a few questions.
- Factiva. Google is great, but when searching for news about a company, see if you can get access to Factiva, which does a full text search on thousands of periodicals.
- Specialized product comparison sites. Find out what people are saying about the company. If it produces consumer goods, check out the ratings at Consumer Reports. If it is a bank or insurance company, Google it to check out what people think of its customer service.
- LinkedIn Groups. After doing your homework with the secondary sources mentioned above, you can really get the best insight by talking to people in the industry. With LinkedIn, it is much easier than ever before. If you join a group, you can contact directly most of the people in that group. Reach out to folks who work at suppliers, competitors, or customers of the company you are interviewing with and just say that you’re trying to learn more about the industry. A surprisingly high number of people will actually be willing to chat with you for 20 minutes.
- Compete.com. If the company you are interviewing with relies heavily on its website, check out its web traffic as well as that of its competitors. It takes 15 seconds to do it on compete.com
How to set up your document so they ask to see it
When you sit down to the interview, set two copies of the document on the table – you don’t need to say anything about it. The interviewer owns the meeting, and you don’t want to try to assert control right off the bat.
If the interviewer asks about the document, then it is fair to say, “I’ve put together some thoughts on opportunities facing [name of company] and how I’d help address them. This is of course very preliminary based on my outside-in research, but I wanted to be able to give you a sense of how I’d get started in the role.”
At this point, the interviewer may be curious enough that she wants to see the pages right away, and from there, you own the meeting. If not, don’t be too eager to jump right into your pages.
If you don’t go through the pages right away, at some point you’re likely to get a question about how you see the role, or how you would address a certain challenge, or what opportunities you see. That’s your cue to say, “I can best answer that by using the chart on page five where I’ve laid out the four key issues and strategies to address each one of them…”
The goal isn’t to present these pages to your interviewer, they should be a basis for a conversation. Be sure to temper your language with plenty of self-effacing qualifiers like, “at least this is just a day zero perspective based on my external research.” Ask plenty of questions of your interviewer such as, “these are what seem like the critical challenges facing the industry in general, but to what degree are they relevant here?”
What if your ideas get “stolen”?
One potential objection to this suggestion of bringing your best thinking to the interview is that the company will “steal” your ideas and not end up hiring you for the role. Here are a few ways I think about this objection:
- If this happens, you’ve learned something valuable about the company. Be glad that you didn’t get hired. Do you want to work in a company where good ideas get taken without credit or note of thanks?
- Ideas are cheap. Execution is hard. The company may have already have thought of it. Don’t give yourself so much credit.
- Maybe the role wasn’t a perfect fit, but clearly they like your thinking. Nurture the relationship. Stay in touch. Don’t be angry, be flattered. Perhaps the interaction will lead to a consulting assignment. Maybe they will create a role specially designed for you. Maybe she’ll recommend you to a friend.
To those on the hiring side of the table
When you are interviewing candidates, consider asking them to put such a document together. By seeing their thinking in action, you’ll have a much better sense of how they might perform if hired. And you’ll quickly separate out those who are really serious about the role.
Photo courtesy of CosmicDiary
What else would you include in your golden document? What other resources would you use? Spill below.
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