Of all the interview questions screeners ask during the first round, there’s one important one that you MUST be ready to answer. It isn’t, What are your strengths? It isn’t, Where do you hope to be in five years? It’s:
Have you heard of our company?
It might also be asked as, “Tell me your understanding of what we do here at Our Company.” However it’s phrased, it’s a weed-out question, and it might be the first question the recruiter asks after the small-talk is out of the way. And it can make or break you as a job candidate.
Savvy recruiters ask this to gauge your interest in the job. Your answer tells them a lot: It shows whether you’ve considered how the advertised job fits into the company and whether the company’s mission is something that’s interesting to you. But be warned: Recruiters can smell desperation. If your answer reveals that you’re interviewing for any job / all jobs, that makes you a much less attractive candidate.
That snarky voice inside your head is saying, Trick question! You’re the one who works there! But with your out-loud voice, you need to formulate an answer that clearly conveys that you want THIS job with THIS company.
Is it a trick question?
Actually, no! If you’re applying to Hershey or Hilton or Google, the screener probably won’t phrase it in that way. Of course, everyone has heard of their company! Whether or not the company is well-known, you should search the internet, look at their website (be sure to check press releases), comb their social media (LinkedIn in particular but all major outlets), and read news articles where they’re mentioned. Then, use the information you find to formulate not only your response to their question, but also your own questions to ask the recruiter.
What should I ask?
The screening interview is brief. It’s for getting acquainted. It’s like a first date, or like the first time you meet your significant other’s parents. You want to make a good impression. You’re on your best behavior. It goes both ways – you want them to be interested enough in you to ask you back for another interview, and they want you to be impressed enough with the opportunity and the company to consider it.
So, you’ll want to ask questions that make the recruiter think, hey, this one’s done his homework. For example, you might learn in your research that the company was acquired within the past year. So you say, “I see your company was recently acquired. How has the merger impacted operations?” Or, “I read in the Post that your company had layoffs last year after you were acquired. Has the company stabilized since then?”
And ask job-specific questions, too. Say you’re interviewing for a corporate accounting job. You could ask, What are the company’s plans for the accounting department based on corporate revenue projections? Or, ask a general question: Your Company has been around for about 10 years now; where in its corporate lifecycle would you say the company is? Knowing whether it’s in growth mode or planning to sell can make a big difference in how the job opening is positioned.
Make your questions count
The screening interview is not the time to be asking how much vacation time you’d get or which health insurance they provide, or even what the salary range is (although that often comes up as a screener – I’ll share more about how to deal with that one in a future post). For now, just focus on getting to know the company and on understanding why they’re looking to fill this particular job. In the same way, the company will be assessing whether you’re approaching this interview as “just another job” or as an opportunity to join their company in a specific role.
Recruiters talk to multiple candidates during screening interviews, and they ask the same questions of all of them. They take notes, but the candidates can run together after several conversations. Be sure you are prepared to ask insightful questions and give well-thought-out answers. This increases the likelihood that the screener will remember you favorably when it’s time to select candidates for the next round of interviews.
For more information…
Further reading: This article on The Muse lists some good interview questions to ask
A piece by The Balance Careers that provides an overview of what to expect in a screening interview.
And, a #protip – if the interview starts with, “So, tell me about yourself,” be prepared with your Elevator Pitch.