A common application form and interview question is: ‘what do you know about our company or organisation?’
It can be a difficult question to answer – often it feels like telling the company or the interviewer information they’re already sure to know.
So why do employers ask this?
As we saw in part one, A recent government survey found that 23% of vacancies in 2015 were difficult to fill because applicants lacked relevant skills and experience. In the survey, employers said that two of the key technical or practical skills which applicants most frequently lacked were knowledge of the products or services offered by the organisation, and knowledge of how the organisation works.
Employers want to hire people who are truly keen to work for them. People with a genuine interest in what the company does and how it does it are likely to be much more committed than people who are simply looking for any job at all. Knowledge of what the organisation does and its products and services is also very important in practical terms: understanding how your role fits in to the organisation’s overall goals and aims will help you to contribute more effectively to those goals.
Also, applicants who are able to answer this question impressively are likely to be those who have prepared thoughtfully for the interview, taking the initiative to do some careful research – these are all key transferable skills that employers value.
How to answer this question:
To answer this question you must do some research – on the company’s website, on relevant professional websites/websites about the industry or sector, and in newspapers. Important points to try and find out include:
- What does the organisation do? Make sure that you understand the organisation as a whole, as well as the particular area or department you’re applying to work in.
- What are the organisation’s products and services?
- Who are the organisation’s customers or clients?
- Who are their competitors and what makes them different from their competitors? Students often say that big companies are ‘basically all the same’. But if they were the same they’d cease to exist – there’d be no need for them. Think about areas you’re really familiar with, like supermarkets or universities. Supermarkets all sell food; universities all educate students. But nonetheless each supermarket or university has its own distinctive characteristics, selling points and strengths – it’s these key defining characteristics you need to be familiar with.
- What is the organisation’s revenue, where is it based, who are its key employees, how many employees does it have?
- What are the general trends in the industry which affect the company? What are the key challenges and opportunities it faces?
What NOT to do:
Don’t talk in general terms: try to avoid saying that a company is simply ‘big’ or has a ‘good reputation’. Instead quantify this. How many national or international locations do they have? What is their annual revenue? Have they won any particular industry awards or introduced any innovative products?
Don’t bring up negatives: it is sometimes the case that a company makes the news for negative reasons (and this has particularly been the case in the aftermath of the financial crisis). The application process is not the right time for you to discuss this! This is not the kind of evidence of commercial awareness employers want to see. Mentioning such issues (unless explicitly asked to) is likely to come across as a criticism of the company, implying that you’re not totally keen to work for them. Worse, if this the main piece of information you know about the organisation, it might seem that you lack integrity or honesty yourself.