How to Interview Companies


Why Interview a Company?

I want to be happy in my work.  I want to be purposeful. I want to make a difference.  I want to have the ability to be a person.   I want to share.  I want to serve.  I want to love and be loved.  I want to have the chills of excitement and some of the pressures of climbing a mountain.

When people join a company or organization, they become part of a family.  There is a culture,  relationships, history, ownership along with the pains and memories of being part of something.

As with everything, there is good and not so good.   The best way to learn about a company is through talking to people that have experience working for or with the company.    This means employees, vendors, partners, leaders etc.    When I worked for Booz Allen, I would seek to meet and speak with people working in administration, the cafeteria,  security guards, and support staff.    Everyone has purpose and everyone has a story.

One quick example was a story told by a Chubb security guard named Janice about Dean O’Hare the CEO that retired more than 10 years before I got there.   When Dean walked in the door, he came with his briefcase.  Everyday, he would come in and set it on the stairs and greet people coming in.  He would ask and answer questions and express gratitude.  During holidays, Dean would go around shaking hands and he made himself known to be a present.

There were many stories that I heard about Dean.  I never knew him or met him.  The memory of him lived on in the people and that was the culture that many wanted for Chubb.   It was a good memory but the company had changed when the next CEO took over.   Many people spoke of a fractured culture and the impact it had on them.

A picture formed about the organizational change taking place from changes in leadership and practice.  Some changes good and some challenging.   The underlying question when learning about a company is, “How will I fit?” 

Wasting Time

Building relationships, meeting people, growing and learning is all part of the process of interviewing companies.   It is not a waste of time or energy.   It does consume some time and resources but there is always an opportunity to learn and gain value.

Love to Work for X

I personally had the sense and desire to work for specific organizations in my life.   I do feel blessed and lucky to have had the opportunities.  In some cases, many thought that my desired outcome was impossible.   I chose to ignore the unwritten statistics and pay attention to the possibilities.   When I looked at an organization, I wanted to understand what they do and how they impact the world.  Who they are as an organization and culturally as a people.     If you love amusement parks,  wouldn’t it be great to work for Disney?  If you love airplanes, wouldn’t it be cool to work for Delta?   Whatever your passion or interest, there are people in your network, maybe only a degree or two, that know someone connected the organization you have an idea or thought about.

What if there is no connection at all?

Let’s say that you are a big fan of Lego.   I just went to LinkedIn and typed in Lego.  I filtered by US and..


1,261 people with public profiles work for Lego.    I can start there and then filter further by connections 1/2.   I have about 6 connections including one 2nd connection a person in global talent management.   I can start there.    In this case I am using LinkedIn, but there are other methods of doing this.    You can use almost any social media tool to ask a question about a company or organization.   There is a very good chance someone will respond to help.

I have another post on doing homework about a company.

Meeting People

I just did all this homework and invested a lot of time and I still can’t find a person to speak with or I have no connection.
Sticking with Lego I did a quick Google search   duplo-1981724_960_720  Click here.
Search results provided names, email addresses and even more information about their culture and business.
One the results I found interesting was a partner they use for staff augmentation.  If all of my other attempts at contact fail, I am going to them for help.  There is a good chance with all the names I have now, that I can get at least a phone call with someone.

I Can’t Get a Call or Any Contact

If you want to work for the NSA as a secret agent, it may be a challenge to get another secret agent to talk to you.   That is very true!   There are companies that are very difficult to get into or even to find a relationship.    If this happens,  you can look to professional organizations with connections like (APQC) or recruiters.    If that doesn’t work,  email me.

I Can Get a Call, Now What?

  • Know what you want to learn.
  • Know what your interest in the company is.
  • Learn about who you will speak with or meet.

Let’s focus on the third bullet.   Why would a person want to meet with you?  What do you have to offer them?   

There are many reasons why people choose to meet.  I have found that people have  really great personal stories and they like to tell them.   How do you react to people that are interested in you?   There will be the questions about why you are interested in speaking to them or learning from them but if you are clear with intentions, many will talk to you.    Well before I started at Chubb, my good friend and mentor Ron B. introduced me to one of his friends named “Chip.”  I interviewed Chip when I first heard about Chubb.  Chip was retiring from Chubb after many years of being with the company.  His insights and understanding were very relevant and he also had relationships that were current.   Chip had thoughts about Chubb, but also offered to coach me.  Chip inspired me!  When I did start going through the process of engaging with Chubb, Chip had messages of faith, hope and inspiration.   I maintain contact with him to this day and he is still an inspiration!

A little known secret concerning very senior leaders is that leadership at the very top of an organization can be a lonely place.   There are many reasons for this, but for some leaders having an outlet to just be themselves is often refreshing.    I have asked many senior military officers about the transition to civilian life and one of the common responses is around relationships as a civilian.

What to Ask

Question #1 – How did you get to where you are today?

This is a personal question and it is important because it establishes the baseline of a story about this person.  Understanding how a person got to where they are is important because it can teach, inspire, instruct and raise awareness.   In the Navy, some people choose to go from Seaman to Admiral.  It is a long hard road, but filled with adventure and many lessons.  Many others have chosen to go ROTC or through the Naval Academy.  There are many benefits to understand the path folks have chosen and the stories that come along with it.

Question #2 – Why are you here at company / organization x?

 This is also a personal question.   Some of the very senior management roles may have newer roles or new leadership.  Many companies are going through transformation and there are many changes.   There is always a chance that you can find people who have been with the company for a long time but it is also likely that you will find people just getting started in their new leadership role.   In mid-senior, manager and supervisor, it is likely that you will find people with more tenure.   Depending on who you are speaking with along with the time and their personal investment in the organization,  you can learn a lot about the organization.   It is important to take this into consideration.

Question #3 – What keeps you awake at night?

Notice a pattern?  Another personal question.  While your intent is to learn about the organization or company, it is important to get a clear understanding of the view of the person you are speaking with.
I interviewed a Partner from Booz Allen Hamilton back in 2007 before the company split into Booz & Co. and Booz Allen respectively.   The Partner expressed frustration with some of the differences between the commercial business and the government business.  He also expressed his thoughts on his staff relative to wage reduction and changes in the industry.  He said “If people don’t like what I am doing, they will show me with their feet.”   That comment obviously stuck with me even after all these years.   He was under a lot of pressure and it was a difficult time for him personally.    This discussion helped me gain insight to the worries and concerns at the top of the company.   I knew changes were coming and I could start to make decisions for myself along with seeking ways to help the firm.

More People

If you have a chance, meet people for coffee or your choice of beverage / food.  Meet them if they are willing to meet you with the intent of learning from them.   If you do have an interest in the organization after you meet with them, be honest about it.   There isn’t a person on this earth that has done everything for themselves.  It isn’t possible as a human being.   Many people don’t mind talking or sharing.   Once they know your intent or what you think, they may have suggestions, recommendations, advice or they can flat out help you.   Being open, honest and clear about your intention is key.

I hope this helps you as I can tell you that people (MANY people) have helped me and I personally have taken meetings, phone calls, coffee, lunch etc. to speak with people that may also need help, advice or a connection.