How to Gather Interview Intel With Social Media

A company you've anxiously been waiting to hear back from has just called to schedule an interview for next week. Immediately, you begin thinking about how you can turn in a stellar interview that will leave them forgetting all other candidates. The fundamentals apply: sharp suit or professional skirt, being on time, calm demeanor.

But you'll also need to arrive with a sound idea of what the position entails, what the company stands for, what type of employee it's aiming to hire, internal and industry trends, and any other relevant information about the position and organization you can get your hands on.

That's where a company's social media presence enters the equation. Study up via its LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages and you may build a level of knowledge that leaves interviewers thinking you already work there.

[See: 10 Wardrobe Musts For Your Next Interview.]

LinkedIn

Tapping into connections. The genesis of the interview may have come from a first, second, or third connection directly telling you about the job opening or posting it through their feed. While your personal relationship with the connection may be distant (or nonexistent), don't be discouraged from reaching out, especially if the person works for the company with which you have an interview. Those conversations could produce insight on everything from what it's like to work there to the style of interview you should expect.

"It might be worthwhile giving some of those people a call, and most people will be helpful about breaking down the company culture and the accompanying lifestyle," says Chirag Nangia, founder and CEO of Reppify, a San Francisco-based business that uses social-media data to help companies find employees.

The value of following a company page. If you've yet to follow the company's page, do so in advance of the interview. "The company is going to be active in posting updates and information there," says J.T. O'Donnell, founder of the career advice blog Careerealism.com.

Along with learning about recent happenings, the "Home" section of the page provides access to individuals you're connected to and who work or have worked for the company. One of them could be your future interviewer.

Groups are an informational gold mine. Multiply the single voice of a connection by hundreds or even thousands, and that's the resource you have at your disposal by joining an active company-specific or industry-related group on LinkedIn. "The one part of LinkedIn that can be most useful are the discussion groups where people ask questions and get responses," says Nangia.

Joshua Waldman, author of Job Searching with Social Media for Dummies and founder of Career Enlightenment, an organization that helps online job seekers leverage social media, adds that groups are an asset for soliciting advice and discerning what topics are buzzing in an industry or company you're hoping to work for. "Let's say you were interested in social media. You join the social media marketing LinkedIn group, you click on the most popular article, and all of a sudden, you know what an entire industry finds to be the most important thing to talk about right now," he says.

[See: 8 Ways to Amp Up Your Career Using LinkedIn.]

Twitter

Glean the employer's work culture. Some companies feature more than one feed on this micro-blogging site, from a flagship feed to one maintained by the HR department, which can be used to gather useful intel. Wade through tweets on each feed to detect what kind of work culture the company has: buttoned-up or loose and laid-back.

By looking at 50 or 60 tweets, says O'Donnell, "you can see if the company has sort of a funny tone, if they put funny things out to try and get their audience engaged, or if they're staying very corporate, very strict, careful, and that's going to tell you a lot about the organization."

Learn about new projects. Let's say Target booked you for an interview with its marketing department. To get up to speed on its latest efforts, you rummage through the company's careers feed and stumble upon a tweet from earlier this month: "What's happening in retail for 2013." The tweet links to a story quoting Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Jones discussing the chain store's use of "shoppable media," a campaign that uses video or print to encourage customers to make purchases with different technologies. During your interview, you can not only bring up the campaign, but also commend the company's use of it. "[Interviewers] are getting some validation or kudos about something that they've done," Nangia says, noting that your kind words show an interest and appreciation of their work.

A substitute for direct advice. Tweets from the Target Careers feed aren't strictly aimed at corporate types. Those with retail experience who are interviewing for a management position at a store can also turn to the feed. Take, for instance, this tweet: "Looking to challenge yourself on a daily basis? Learn more about life as an executive team leader at a Target store." It links to a video transcript of a current employee breaking down what the job and culture are like. If you have no personal reference to consult with about the position or what the company prizes in its hires, a tailor-made testimonial could be the next best thing.

Getting personal. Your prospective interviewer may have a LinkedIn profile but it's all business, empty of details that reveal who they are on a personal level. On Twitter, however, a more playful side comes out as they frequently tweet about a personal hobby or interest. Waldman says asking about the hobby at the interview's outset can serve as a nice icebreaker and establish a friendly rapport.

Facebook

Recruiter engagement. In some cases, recruiters maintain a Facebook careers page for the company. Leave a comment on the wall about your impending interview and you may luck out with a response. "You can get a sense of who the recruiters are, what their personalities are, just by engaging with them on their Facebook page," Waldman says.

The power of a friend-based referral. In contrast to LinkedIn, on Facebook, you're more likely to have a personal relationship with the individual who referred and helped you land the interview. That can remove the awkward element of asking for a pre-interview chat. "Let's assume the job seeker has gotten a job interview through a referral via a friend on Facebook. The person who made that referral is a great source of information," Waldman notes.

Better yet, if that person works in the department you're interviewing for, he or she can lay out, step by step, what made their interview a success.

[Read: The Skinny on Employee Referral Programs.]

End Game

Information gathering. The combined benefit of these social media outlets is that they've made information about your prospective interviewer and employer more accessible than ever. Entering the sit-down with a reservoir of social media-based knowledge signals to employers that you spent considerable time investigating the company and made a serious effort to distinguish yourself from other candidates.

Chipping away the unknown. If you're fortunate enough, the company you're interviewing with has an active presence on at least one of these three sites. By visiting all three, you can chip away at and minimize the unknown. "Interviews are very stressful because we don't know what to expect, and so I think the wonderful thing about LinkedIn and other social media resources is that they are helping us reduce that feeling and have a sense of what we can expect in that interview," O'Donnell says.



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