Sign up with your email address to be the first to know about new products, VIP offers, blog features & more.

Tough interview question, “What do you know about the company”.

Tough Interview Question

“That’s all you know about the company? This isn’t a tough interview question”

Tough interview question

The classic “Tell me what you know about our company” should not be a tough interview question. With preparation it should be very easy and is one we know we should absolutely expect in any job interview.  I ask it of every candidate that interviews with us and I do this for one specific reason.

I want to see how much research the candidate conducted on our company. This question is a litmus test:  The more in-depth the answer, the more sincere interest in the position. No answer or a short answer usually indicates no interest.

With the Internet at our disposal, company web pages, and simple Google searches, it doesn’t take effort or a rocket scientist to figure out what any company does these days.

The below answers will usually end an interview

  • “I didn’t have much time to see what you guys do, can you tell me about your company?”
  • “I really don’t know, that is why I am here, to see if you guys are interesting.”

Sadly, I hear the above on a regular basis. If the candidate were the tiniest bit interested in the company or the position, it would only be human nature to look into the opportunity. A minimum level of “natural curiosity” research would be able to answer our basic interview question.

If an employee was asked to meet with a customer, there would be an expectation to show SOME interest in the customer. This would not only show our customer that we as a company give a damn, but would give us talking points and questions about recent developments with this customer which would help the meeting go smoothly.  The last thing we would want is an employee meeting with a paying customer and asking the customer, “Hey, I don’t know what you guys do, can you fill me in”?

Answering this interview question also shows that we know how to conduct a competitive analysis of the competition

Back to my usual dating analogies: If we are hot on someone, you can bet that there is going to be some amount of Facebook stalking involved, AKA “research”.  You can bet we are going to do an image search on Google and look for a blog, a Pinterest account, or some social media avenue that we can dig into.  It is only when we are NOT interested in someone, that we just show up wearing our everyday wife beater, dirty sneakers, and no prior knowledge.  AKA, no research.

You may not let on that you know everything about this Hottie, but I am confident you will be dropping hints that you are interested in the same things that our crush is into. You may be suddenly quoting Dostoevsky, finding yourself at the Museum of Modern Art or talking about an appreciation of some niche indie film.  All topics we knew nothing about prior, but these are the sacrifices we make for the Crush.  We would be trying to create connections and common talking points with Ms. Hottie, AKA “perpetrating”, but at least we did our research.

The answer I receive 75% of the time is one that doesn’t kill an interview but doesn’t move the hiring process forward.  It is what makes me think this is a tough interview question when it really is a basic one.

“I know Acme Data was started in 1997, and that you guys are in the Big Data space. I don’t know if you are profitable yet because you are privately held but you work with big Fortune clients so I am assuming you are.  You have won a couple of “Best Place to Work” awards and your CEO is John Doe”.

Now at first glance, this may sound OK, but let’s break this answer down.

  • This answer took a total of 4 seconds to blurt out.
  • Our candidate did ace the year the company started.  “WhooHoo”. 
  • I asked what “DO” you know and I heard that the candidate doesn’t know if we are profitable. 
  • We did hear about larger clients, but frankly, these logos are usually on the home page or partner page of any website.
  • They figured out the name of our CEO and that we won a “Best Place to Work” award.  Thanks for checking out the “team” and “career” page.   

All the above research took about 40 seconds.

Back to the hottie that we are stalking on Facebook.  If your bestie was to ask about your new crush, you could wax eloquently for minutes about likes, dislikes, interests, friends, and of course your competition.  We wouldn’t look at bestie with a blank stare and say, “We haven’t gone on a date yet so I don’t know anything.  Duhhh”!

The candidate may have more information and conducted hours of research but the impression I am left with is that they hit 3 pages on our website and nothing else. Lesson learned: I am Nasty, a mind reader I am not.

“Talk to me about the company” is a “checkbox” question.  As someone conducting an interview, I want to ask it and move one. This is a gimme interview question.  This should be as easy as filling turning in your references.  What I am left with is hesitation as my number 2 pencil approaches the check box and your reference aren’t as high on you as you thought they were. 

This is going to be one of the first questions asked and can set the tone for the rest of the interview.  Answer this one well, answer this one with thoughtfulness and then throw in a few confirming questions for good measure and you will set the stage for a 2nd and 3rd interview.

So, what do I want to hear when I ask this so-called tough interview question?  What will impress me?  How much SHOULD you know?  Frankly, you should know so much that I shut you down with an “OK, you did your research, you know who we are” as my pencil makes a check mark.

The below are all of the things I like to hear about when I ask about our company.  When I say “all of the things”, I don’t mean to pick 2 or 3.  I mean, I like to hear about everything.  Pull out your notes (which shows research) and confirm your research with me.  This sets a collaborative tone vs. a robotic question and answers dialogue.

  1. Year founded
  2. Name of CEO
  3. Name of the person heading up the department we are interested in
  4. A few of the lines of business that the company is involved in and how they are doing.
  5. A few of our clients and specifically what we are doing with them.
  6. Our competition, where they are strong and where they are weak.
  7. Recent news within the company
  8. If the company is public, revenue, market cap, stock symbol, stock price and an analyst rating or two
  9. Regardless of the company’s reputation, tell me about how you feel this is a great place to work based on something you read. You could be applying at a Mongolian prison, but figure out something good to say about us as a workplace.

Inside news, you uncovered via your network or research that isn’t available via our webpage is always a highlight. Confirming the following can set up a conversational dialogue between colleagues vs. allowing the interview to languish in an unemotional Q&A land between interviewer and candidate.

  1. A challenge that the department or company is facing and how we are fixing it
  2. New products or features that are coming out
  3. What our company’s approach to the industry is vs. our competition.

We do not want to bring up anything negative about the company.  No one wants to hear that their baby is ugly upon first meeting someone and recruiters are no different.  Even if my baby is fat, wailing crybaby, my baby is beautiful, my baby is perfect.

The above will get the appropriate box checked and show you can do a competitive analysis.  The above answer will also impress the crap out of me.  List the 12 items above and you will set the tone for the rest of the interview!

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

If you felt this post was valuable, subscribe to weekly updates here, or “like” us on Facebook. Thank you!

  • Jeanne

    have a phone call for a job interview later today. Using your techniques to prepare answers to possible questions, fingers crossed! 🙂

    • Good luck on your interview! I am rooting for you!

  • aurelia

    Wow!! Thank you! You did it again. Every answer to questions I wanted to know, and even questions I hadn’t thought of yet, you amaze me. And your dating analogies – keep them coming, please! They make everything easier to understand (for a fresh graduate anyway)! They’re also extremely funny. All the career advice received in college pales in comparison to what your website is about; I feel so much better now that I know how to prepare and exactly what to say. I feel like I’m actually learning. And, it’s not totally false to say I wish I could have paid you some of that money instead of my university. Hahahaha. Thanks again HR Nasty!

    • Aurelia,
      Thanks for taking the time out to publicly support the blog. I really appreciate it and glad you get the dating humor. Please don’t even get me started on what Universities are doing for helping students with job search skills. Oiiiii Veyyyy! Just spread the word with your social graph of Facebook! Thanks again, HRN