What do you know about our company?

Why Ask This Question?

Oh, that's an easy one! I've heard candidates respond with answers anywhere on the spectrum from ''You're a bank'' to ''I researched your organization very thoroughly, and I read that you were founded in 1913 under a thrift charter, went public in 1919 at a share price of $8, and then went on to benefit from the post-World War I lending climate by. . . .''

Okay, I'm being facetious—it's not really an easy query. If the candidate's too generic and unable to paint a picture of the organization's place in its market, its uniqueness, its corporate mission and culture, then that individual may lack the critical global reasoning and research skills necessary to provide solutions to your problems. On the other hand, if the candidate goes into too much detail about issues that have very little bearing on the organization's challenges today, then you might reason that he's a pedant who lays undue emphasis on less-than-critical issues. Either way, the candidate loses.

Analyzing the Response

Good Answers. What should you expect in a well-balanced response? A well-informed candidate should be able to rattle off the demographics fairly quickly and then get to the meat of the issue: what your organization does differently from its competitors and what challenges you face in your changing market. As a quick checklist to the first issue, any finalist candidate at the middle-management level or in the sales arena should be able to identify the following issues about your organization:

• Year founded

• Headquarters location

• Number of employees

• Revenues, assets under management, size of government grant

• Primary and secondary product markets and lines

• Computer systems

• Exchanges where the company's stock is traded

Even administrative support staff and clerical candidates should have developed an overall understanding of your company's particular line of business by the final round of interviews. It's not unrealistic on your part to expect a stock or mailroom clerk to be able to articulate such issues, especially if your first-line interviewers provide handouts about the firm. Note that the depth of their understanding of these broader issues is not what is at question here. Instead, it is their interest in the job and their desire to impress you that matters most.

The second issue is a little bit more challenging: line managers who are directly responsible for increasing your organization's top-line revenues must clearly understand and be able to articulate where your industry is in its development, where your organization fits within that industry, and what new areas of market penetration need to be exploited and developed to maintain profitability. Line managers, therefore, must be challenged to articulate what solutions they can provide on the basis of their experiences working for your competitors. Because they are insiders, they should be much more forthcoming in terms of mapping out specific directions and plans to guide your company's growth.

In contrast, staff managers like those found in accounting, information technology, and human resources—the noncore segments of a business— will typically have less of an understanding of your company's or industry's current state of affairs. In return, however, they will bring with them a particular specialty that supports your organization's core business activities. Expect staffers to focus more on the demographic information mentioned earlier: Material that can be researched in the library should suffice to convince you that the candidate values your time so much that she was willing to learn about your organization (as an ''outsider'') in every way possible.

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