‘So’ asked the interviewer, ‘what do you know about us?’

Employers love to ask applicants ‘Why do you want to work for us?’ It’s one of the ways they decide whether you genuinely want to work for them; something which is really important to show. So when faced with an application or interview, you’ve got to show that you’ve done your research and found out about their organisation and their business.

Trouble is, every other serious candidate will have checked out the company website and read the information for candidates. You need to find something else that’s interesting to talk about and that’s not as easy to find.

Fortunately there’s a simple answer to this, as I discovered at a recent 20-minute talk in the Information Commons, where Maria Mawson from the University Library told us all about their business databases.
Of course, an easy step is to google the organisation’s name and see what turns up but you can DO MORE. For instance, including a term like ‘investor relations’ in your internet search can bring up the corporate site, rather than just their customer-facing webpage. Here you can read more about the company’s business performance.

But for real commercial insight, you need to turn to the specialist sources such as the Business Source Premier database and Mintel. To find these go to http://library.shef.ac.uk/ and search the ‘University collections’ box in the Star Plus catalogue.

In Business Source Premier the blue ‘Company Profiles’ tab means you can search your target firm and  read a ‘MarketLine Report’ about it with detailed business and financial info. The ‘Related Information’ feature for the company lets you find references to the company in journals and trade magazines.
Favourite application questions for some employers include ‘What do you think are some of the challenges facing us?’ Mmm, sounds tricky. But The MarketLine Report includes a SWOT analysis of the business (SWOT stands for its ‘Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats’). It also has a list of their top competitors which will definitely help deal with the interviewer’s next trump card, ‘So, who’s our main competition, then?’ 

Business Source Premier also has a ’Publications’ tab with articles on businesses and different industry sectors, meaning you can research current trends and developments. One thing to always check though is the date of the information, to make sure it’s current. You don’t want to be merrily reciting the critical issues facing the block paving industry in the 1990s. 

Mintel is the other major database you can use to identify issues relevant to your target employer. Mintel provides market research reports written by industry analysts on consumer and industrial products and services. Sounds a bit dull? I’ve just been reading about trends in the flavours of chocolate confectionery products (which made me a bit hungry to be honest). As well as covering the UK scene, there are reports for a number of other countries too.

Of course, when you ask a careers adviser about how to boost your commercial awareness, our answer is to ‘read the business press’. Sometimes though, the newspapers don’t make their online content free, or it’s hard to find recent articles covering your chosen career. This is where the third database Newsbank, comes in. Newsbank is an excellent way of tracking down reports in a wide range of UK and Irish newspapers including The Financial Times, the quality press and the tabloids. It includes a small number of local newspapers too (not The Sheffield Star though), which could be good for finding news coverage of smaller companies. Newsbank is also an excellent source of articles on public sector bodies and not-for-profit organisations such as charities.

A word of warning though. The Library’s databases are only available to current students, so if you’ve already graduated you’ll need to try your public library’s business section.

Of course, interviewers aren’t expecting you to be an expert on their industry when they ask these questions. They just want you to have some ideas. But now you’re armed with how to do this, a few quick checks of key reports via Mintel etc, and you’ll be able to cope with whatever they throw at you.

Marcus (Careers Adviser)
Careers Service

Careers Service

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