I recently had the unique opportunity to sit down with Tricia McGrath-Hess, a lead recruiter at Google, to discuss military-to-civilian transition and the job search.

In this Talks at Google, we reviewed the key steps to discovering your job opportunities as you exit the military, positioning yourself for success in your career, and ways to get the attention of recruiters and hiring managers.

We discussed the research veteran job seekers should do prior to an interview, what recruiters like to hear and what frustrates them. Hands down, doing research before an interview is critical. When candidates are ill-informed, unprepared or overly casual, the recruiter can become frustrated or uninterested.

There are two distinct types of research all candidates (including transitioning military personnel) should do prior to interviewing: online research and informational interviews.

Online Research

On a company’s website, LinkedIn profile and in their media mentions, companies often promote their values, culture, business nature and work style. To be well informed, candidates should research who the company claims to be, how their employees speak about them and what their competitors say about the company.

No candidate should ever ask a recruiter in an interview, “What do you guys make here?” because there is so much information online.

Look at the company website and see what values are promoted, how they speak of their past history and future goals, and who they identify as their customers or clients. Then, see if you can find additional supporting evidence of the company’s ability to live up to its values and support its goals by reading media reports or industry news, seeing what their customers and employees say about the company on review sites and social media sites, and how they are positioned.

This gives you an idea of whether you’d fit in with the company culture and support its values. It might also spark some informed and pertinent questions you can bring up in the interview.

Informational Interviews

Equally important are interviews and conversations with people who can offer insight, information and guidance about an industry, company and their own career experience or job.

When doing an informational interview be sure to:

  • Ask for a specific amount of time. Be clear whether you are requesting an hour or 15 minutes (the latter is preferred). This helps set expectations about what time commitment is needed from the recipient.
  • Be clear about your goals and intent. An informational interview is not a job interview, so you’ll need to clarify whether you’re interested in learning more about the industry a company operates in, the company itself (i.e., “what’s it like to work at Google?”) or the interviewee’s career path or type of job. This also helps set expectations for the person you’ll be interviewing, so they can be prepared for the call.
  • Choose your interviewee correctly. If you ask someone about their industry but they are new to the field, they might be reluctant to share insights with you. Similarly, if you’re curious about a company (and its culture, how it hires and what it takes to succeed there) ensure you’re asking someone who’s informed enough to provide good insight.
  • Use set questions. I’ve found it most helpful to ask the same set of questions of each person you interview, while still allowing for natural conversation. This ensures you are collecting insight and data you can compare as you prepare for your own interview at the company.

The research you’ll do in advance of an interview ensures that you appear informed, focused and excited about the industry, company and the position. Without advanced research, you risk giving a poor answer when the recruiter asks, “Why do you want to work here?”

Tricia offered one of her least favorite responses to that question: “Who doesn’t want to work at Google?”

Be prepared, informed and passionate about the role, and the recruiter will pay more attention to your application.

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