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What should a candidate know about your company?

November 19, 2013 People and Opinions, sqlserverpedia-syndication, SSC 12 Comments
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It’s true.

I had a great comment (Ryan McCauley’s) on yesterday’s post that led to a great conversation on Twitter. The comment mentioned a phone screen candidate that was turned down out of hand, because the guy didn’t know what the company did. I personally think that what a candidate (especially in a phone screen) knows about the company is way, way down on the list of priorities. So I asked Twitter:

On the heels of a blog comment: Why is it important for an interviewee to know what my company does? A SQL Server guy should know SQL, yeah? [And] Ok, clarifing: A commenter said he didn’t bring a guy in from a phone screen bc he didn’t know what the company did. Not a dealbreaker 4 me.

There was a large and varied response. About 80% of people really disagree with me. In their opinion, it’s very important to know about a company. The arguments for this are varied:

  • It shows a bare bones level of professionalism.
  • If you’re to lazy to google my company, you’re probably too lazy to do any solid work.
  • It’s important to do so that you can find out if you’re a good fit for the company.
  • And on the heels of that, we want someone who’s a good fit so they’ll stick around for a long time.
  • Sort of tied to that, it shows you’re interested in OUR company, not just ANY company.
  • And candidates should know what a company does, so they know if they have an objection to working for them (e.g., if you’re anti-porn, you might not want to work for Penthouse).

I’m paraphrasing greatly here, of course. And I understand that I’m not likely to change anyone’s mind. I don’t mind that. I do want to explain why most of these reasons don’t speak to me as an interviewer, and hey…I happen to have a blog where I can do that!

Professionalism

suppose I can see how this factors in, but I’m more interested in communication skills, appropriate level of politeness, and general attitude. I personally wouldn’t have a bad reaction to this scenario:

“So, do you know what our company does?”
“Actually, no I don’t.”
“GAH! WHY are you even TALKING TO ME???”

Laziness

If the candidate clearly answers my phone screen and interview questions well, it already shows he or she isn’t lazy. We here at MidnightDBA have spent a lot of time on our interview process. If you impress me, you’ve done a lot of work over many years already. A 10 second Google search proves absolutely nothing.

Fit

I know that the client I work for manufactures kitchen supplies. This fact tells me absolutely nothing about whether I’d be a good fit as a full time employee. That takes longer to figure out. It has more to do with the company culture, which you can’t figure out from a website, or even a series of interviews. It has to do with the technology, which I do ask about in the interview. It has to do with a good many things…none of which I can learn about on their website.

Trying to find a fit this way is very like trying to find your one true love via their dating site page. Sure, he’s pretty and can cook, but is he going to yell at me if I ding the car? That only comes out after some time spent together.

Long term potential

Same thing. I have never ever heard of anyone leaving a company because, after several weeks working there, they found out the company was in banking. What do you think the candidate will see on the website that will show them that this is the place they really want to work?

They like my company! They really really like my company!

There are places I’d really like to work. I know I’d like to work there not from their website, but because I happen to know about the company, usually from people that work there. I know it sounds like I’m sort-of-kind-of reversing what I’ve been saying: there really are cases where a candidate would be passionate about the company itself. And yes, that would impress me.

I never said it wouldn’t impress me.  It would, and ideally I’d love for the candidate to passionately want to work for this particular company.  What I said was, it’s not a deal breaker if that passion isn’t there.

To hit the dating metaphor again: it’s great if you fall in love at first sight, and that bears out over time. But it’s not how most relationships operate.

Obvious deal breakers

This is the only thing that, to me, has merit. You shouldn’t hire a candidate if they object to your product or service. But even that is pretty rare: most companies are fairly unobjectionable on paper. And if you’re a porn company, you know that’s a hot-button topic, so you know to make sure the guy understands what you do before you hire him.

There’s my rather large 2 cents. What do you think? Am I missing anything? Want to sound off? Comment away.

Happy days,
Jen McCown
www.MidnightDBA.com/Jen

Currently there are "12 comments" on this Article:

  1. Peter Lake says:

    My opinion is the opposite of yours, I would dismiss the candidate out of hand the same as the original situation. The reasons stated (and countered by you) are all the ones I would use, but for all of them I can see how different people would rate the importance of them differently and so might come to a different conclusion. BUT, there is one reason that wasn’t brought up that I consider to be more important than all of these. I would want someone who was interested and active in advancing their career and skills, who paid enough attention to the company they might work for to figure out if they were going to be able to accomplish what they wished while working there. So, relevant questions I (as a potential interviewee) might ask about the company I was applying at would be – Are they financially sound (don’t want to go looking again in a month), are they big enough so there would be room for career advancement, are they small enough so I would be asked to work in many different areas, is it a family business with the plus’s and minus’s that accompany that, is it a non-profit (different type of person usually works there), etc., etc.
    If someone was applying to my company and didn’t know enough to answer some or all of these questions then they really aren’t paying attention to their career, and given the amount of qualified and hungry talent out there I wouldn’t waste my time any further with them.

    • Jen McCown says:

      That’s beneficial to you as a candidate – I completely agree there are benefits to researching a company, from a candidate’s point of view.

      But as the interviewer, it’s just not that big a deal to me if the candidate knows what we do, what our reputation or financials are like, etc. It doesn’t say to me what it apparently says to a lot of interviewers about a candidate’s worth. I’m in the minority here, but I haven’t been swayed at all.

      • Peter Lake says:

        Jen,
        So, as I indicated I don’t really care that they know about my company, but I do care that they take their career seriously, and I use the knowledge of my company as a measuring stick of how seriously they do take it. Do you not care about this (taking their career seriously) or do you have a different way to gauge it?

  2. [...] should just know whatever technology the job description calls for and nothing else. Jen McCown blogged about it in detail and included a lot of [...]

  3. [...] should just know whatever technology the job description calls for and nothing else. Jen McCown blogged about it in detail and included a lot of [...]

  4. Matt Velic says:

    Actually, researching a company helps me screen them. For example, back when I was doing web design, I had gotten a call back from a design firm. Had a generic name, and not much info on the the web. But over the course of a day or two, I was able to connect the dots and discover that the firm concentrated on Conservative and Right Wing marketing and propaganda sites. I called in and politely declined from interviewing further. They were incensed. How could I be preemptively turning them away?! Then I had to push harder and explain that it’d be against my moral code to work on sites that pushed specific issues – that it was more important to me than a job or getting paid. They still weren’t happy, but you can’t please everyone.

    • Jen McCown says:

      That would fall under that last category, “Obvious Deal Breakers”, which does have merit.

      But I stick to my original point: As an interviewer, it just isn’t a deal breaker to me if the candidate hasn’t researched my company.

  5. Kevin Feasel says:

    I agree with your point, and I think there’s a way to reconcile your point with the arguments other people have made. The two important words here are “phone screen.” Most of the critiques have been talking about “the interview,” and at that higher level, I agree: by the time you get to an in-person interview, the candidate should have some clue about what the company does. Ideally, I as a candidate will have spent some time looking at earnings statements (if a public company), press releases, recent news about the company, Glassdoor reviews, the employee listing (to see if I know anybody on LinkedIn or my local PASS or .NET User Group chapter), etc. I want to see if I can use freely-available information to see if the company seems like it will be in business a few years from now, and if I’m really playing the long game, I’ll start befriending people at that company to get a better perspective. But I’m not going to do all of that work before a phone screen; the cost is simply too high, especially if I as a candidate have several phone screens in a relatively short period of time. I know that reading the “About Us” page takes only a minute or so, but most of the time, those descriptions are facile to the point of silliness, and if being able to regurgitate that pap *on the phone screen* is the primary difference between getting an in-person interview and a sayonara, this sounds like a managerial priorities problem to me.

    In fact, when my boss does phone screens, he doesn’t ask candidates what they know about the company; he spends the first minute or two giving a quick overview of the company and then gets to the real point of the phone screen: to narrow down the list of potential candidates for in-person interviews based on whether this person seems like they have the requisite level of technical knowledge. Once we get to the in-person interview, having more detailed knowledge of the company will be helpful and may be a positive signal for the interviewer, but mandating it at the beginning of a *phone screen* is one step removed from having the initial application include a “Tell us what you know about the company” field and throwing away any resumes which don’t have enough information.

    • Peter Lake says:

      Interesting point about the place in the application/interview process to really research a company. My counterpoint would be that this would seem to indicate a shotgun approach to the job hunt, many applications without much regard to how well you fit with the company or the company fit with you.
      I listened to a really interesting interview just last week with an owner of a placement agency. She said the biggest problem they have is vague, generic job descriptions and vague, generic resume’s. She has found it is a waste of everyone’s time to try to match these up. Her clients would complain after interviewing 10 people that no one had the skills they were looking for, and the job hunters would complain that they were being sent to interviews that had no interest to them. I have heard the same type of complaint from friends who have been job hunting, they get burned out after many interviews (phone or otherwise) with little to show for their time.
      It seems to me the upfront work to identify companies that would be the best fit for your yourself pays off in many ways.

      • A few points.

        First of all as a programmer, while I’ve worked in places that sell Software as a service, I’ve never worked in a consulting house where the company sold programming. We sold a solution to some problem, that happened to be software. My interest in these problems was always that I could sit at a desk all day, program, feel like I was helping solve a problem, and get a paycheck. So unless your company has a technical blog where you talk about how you build your software, how is researching your company going tell me anything that will affect my job choice? Your website certainly won’t tell me about interoffice politics or the like,

        Secondly, my favorite job was one I should not have liked on paper, and would have never taken had it not been sold to me as a 30 day contract a week after I was fired. It was in advertising. I hat all manner of dealing with user interfaces. In my heart of hearts I’m a middleware programmer. I don’t even like making scatter plots in excel documents. Yet somehow I enjoyed a job in the most visual, and superficial of industries. BTW, yes there is a lot of awesome big data stuff happening in advertising, but that’t not what I did or had any chance of becoming involved with. While I did learn a bit about myself, here, I still content to this day that on paper I should have hated that job. Yet I stayed at that 30 day contract for over a year, and only left because they were laying off everyone.

        Thirdly, I think a shotgun approach could be more efficient if people wrote better job descriptions and better resumes. My resume (http://careers.stackoverflow.com/zippy1981) tells a story. I think you’d have a good idea of who I am professionally if you read it.

  6. [...] What should a candidate know about your company? - Sharing her own thoughts on the matter, it’s Jen McCown (Blog|Twitter). [...]

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