How to Research in Preparation For an IT Interview

Research the position details and the person who will interview you when you are applying for an IT job. I emphasized this in an earlier post, but I realize that accomplishing this is easier said than done. Here are a few tips on conducting background research prior to an IT interview.

I’m assuming that you have the technical skills to qualify for the position; however, possessing the skills is different from being able to convince the interviewer that you have the skills. Knowing about the person interviewing you, and having background details about the position you’re pursuing will make you more persuasive.

The reality of many IT interviews is that you don’t know who you will be speaking to in advance. Also, you might not know much about the position prior to the conversation, because the text in many job postings is generic. What to do?

Working with a Recruiter

If working with a recruiter, insist that he or she provide you with much more information than merely:

  • The generic job posting
  • Time and place to call for the interview

If the recruiter is unable to tell you the name of the hiring manager or cannot share the inside scoop regarding the position, that’s a red flag. This indicates that the recruiter doesn’t have the relationships within the company to give you a leg up. Look for another recruiter who can provide more value.

Finding a good recruiter and establishing rapport takes time, and is best done before you need to use their services to find a job. Sorry, I know reading this doesn’t help those who are in a bind and need to find a job ASAP.

Your Social Network

Tap into your social network to research the job and the interviewer. LinkedIn is the most commonly-used site for such queries, but Facebook is becoming more useful in this regard, as is Twitter.

If you can find the interviewer’s profile on LinkedIn, great. You probably won’t be directly connected to the person, but you might ask your friends for the introduction.

You can also search the social networks for the company name. LinkedIn can show you which company employees are in your extended network, giving you an idea of whom you can contact to learn about the technology used by the organization, the details of the position you are pursuing, and to find out about the people with whom you might interview and work.

Emailing people to ask for information is a good start, but don’t be shy to ask them for a brief phone conversation or to invite them for a chat over coffee or tea. When contacting people, point out the fact that job descriptions are often too generic, and ask them for any additional details they may be able to provide. Clarify that you want to be as prepared as possible for the discussion, so you can set your best foot forward and also so you can confirm that the job is a good match for you.

It helps to have a large (but meaningful) social network. Not surprisingly, the time to make friends and meet people is before you need to ask them for assistance when looking for the job.

Searching the Open Web

You can find public profiles of individuals you’re researching on search engines even if you’re not connected to these people through your social networks. As I mentioned in my earlier post, knowing the person’s background will make it easier for you to “click” with him or her. At the same time, you don’t want to overdo your research by invading the person’s privacy. Just because you may be able to find out where the person lives, it doesn’t mean you should.

When researching people, remember that you can look not only for people who currently work for the company or for the specific group where you’ll interview. You can also look for people who used to work there; they may be willing to share background details with you that you might have a hard time obtaining from current employees. Remember, though, you’re just looking for general information, not confidential details or trade secrets!

Using the standard search engines can help you find information about the company where you hope to work: not only the general business details, but also information about the technology you may need to support. This information can be in press releases, employee resumes, product white papers, conference presentations, and so on.

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About the Author

Lenny Zeltser is a seasoned business and technology leader with extensive information security experience. He builds innovative endpoint defense solutions as VP of Products at Minerva Labs. He also trains incident response and digital forensics professionals at SANS Institute. Lenny frequently speaks at industry events, writes articles and has co-authored books. He has earned the prestigious GIAC Security Expert designation, has an MBA from MIT Sloan and a Computer Science degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

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