We all know that LinkedIn is a very useful tool for job-seekers, from optimising our profiles to attract recruiters, to applying for the many roles advertised on the platform. But, did you know that LinkedIn is also one of the best resources for preparing for a job interview?
Below the surface, LinkedIn is a goldmine of valuable information. With a little out-of-the-box thinking and some good old-fashioned detective work, LinkedIn can offer up a wealth of information that can help you get interview-ready.
As recruiters, we became experienced in using LinkedIn to conduct research and we’ve distilled our top tips for getting the most out of LinkedIn as a pre-interview research tool.
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Put a Face to a Name
If you have been called for an interview you will likely have been given the full names of the people conducting the interview. If you haven’t, then it is perfectly reasonable to ask for a list of names of the people interviewing you. Your first step is to take these names and find the individuals on LinkedIn. This may sound obvious, but the first place to start is to take a look at their LinkedIn profile picture.
Why? Well, the reality is we get nervous in situations where we do not know what to expect. The less we know about the situation we are going into, the more nervous we are. When we have no idea about who will be interviewing us, including what they look like, we feel less confident.
When we can put a face to a name we are able to build in a degree of familiarity. It’s a lot easier meeting someone for the first time when you already know what they look like. It makes the individual feel more familiar to us and helps us to feel more confident.
If you are worried about them knowing you have taken a peek at their LinkedIn profile, don’t be. You will be expected to do some research, in fact, it will demonstrate that you are proactive, forward-thinking and genuinely interested in the role. Plus, they will more than likely have taken a look at your profile too so make sure it’s looking the best it can.
I have done this in the past and have found it very helpful, especially when I have interviewed in less formal settings such as a coffee shop, it really helps to have an idea of what the person looks like when trying to find them in a crowded room.
Understand Their Agenda
It’s obvious that an interviewer, particularly if they are the hiring manager, will have an agenda. There will be certain things that they are looking for that go beyond simple qualifications or experience. Ultimately, they will be looking to achieve something within the organisation or team and will want to hire someone who can help them achieve it.
If you can gain some insight into what is motivating and driving the interviewer you will be in a much better position to connect with them and to speak their language. If you can leave them feeling like you are someone who understands their goals and can help fulfil them, you will be in a very strong position to land the role.
This may sound very difficult; however, a thorough examination of someone’s LinkedIn page can offer some helpful clues:
► Take a Look at Their Background and Career Progression
Understanding someone’s career progression can give you some real insight into what motivates them. It will also give you insight into the kind of questions that they may ask you and where their focus might lie.
For example, if someone has a sales background, even though they may now be the MD or CEO, they will likely still think like a salesperson and therefore be interested in figures and results, so you would need to make sure you have your numbers to hand.
If someone has an HR background they are quite likely to be assessing your cultural fit for the organisation, they will want to know how you work with others, how you have handled conflict, what your career goals and aspirations are and potentially your salary expectations.
Someone with a technical or financial background may be much more detail-oriented and will expect you to talk through processes in a structured manner, so consider this when drafting out your examples.
Try to put yourself in the shoes of the interviewer and consider how they might think and what their priorities may be.
I often find that the more senior a person is, the more you can learn from their LinkedIn profile. This is because executive leaders will often have a clearly defined vision and will articulate this on their profile. Many CEOs’ LinkedIn profiles can be viewed as a microcosm of the company culture and values.
► Study Their LinkedIn Activity
A lot of people are active on LinkedIn so check to see if the person interviewing you has been posting, commenting, liking or even writing articles. To the keen observer, all of this can offer up valuable information.
We once coached a client through an interview process with a major FMCG company. His final interview was with the CEO and together we studied his LinkedIn profile. Our client was surprised at just how active the CEO was on LinkedIn, by studying his posts and his comments along with understanding his career progression, it was clear that this individual was passionate about building global brands, he was a brand-builder through and through. Our client was not going for a marketing role; however, it was clear that his interviewer would be speaking the language of a marketeer and would want to know how my client would help him to create a globally-trusted and recognised brand.
People’s social media accounts tell their stories, they expose their passions, motivations and drivers and can offer us great insight into how they see the world. This is all such valuable information for anyone who wants to prepare well for an interview.
Find Common Ground
Common ground is immensely powerful. We all love to meet people who come from the same city as us, who have connections in common, shared interests or who have studied at the same university.
This is because we feel comfortable with these people, we feel as though we are on the same page, it builds trust and removes degrees of separation between us. When we find we have something in common with somebody, they cease to be a total stranger and suddenly feel more familiar.
If you want to break the ice in an interview and want to be memorable, find common ground! Again, LinkedIn can help us here.
The aim here is not to fake it. but to identify actual areas of interest that you have in common or subjects that you can legitimately chat about, these are great conversation starters.
► Look at Their Education
If you studied in the same place or studied the same subjects you have instant common ground. People’s education is very important to them and they love to talk about it. If you studied in the same place or took similar subjects you have an instant topic of conversation and potentially a lot in common. Briefly reminiscing together can create a strong connection and you will be a lot less forgettable than other candidates.
► Where Are They From?
Have you ever met someone who comes from the same area as you? It’s an instant connection. You will likely have frequented the same places, have similar memories, and maybe even know some of the same people. Look to see if they have listed their high-school details on their LinkedIn, this will give you a good indication of where they are from. Remember, people want to see that you have done your research so don’t be shy about saying “when I looked at your LinkedIn profile I noticed that you are from…”
► Where Have They Worked in the Past?
If you are interviewing within a specific industry you may well find that you have both worked for the same company in the past, even if it was not at the same time. This is another great conversation starter.
► Do You Have Any Shared Connections?
Look at who they are connected with, but be cautious here as most people do not actually ‘know’ all of their connections. It can be quite awkward to mention a shared connection and find that the other person has no idea who that person is.
To find genuine shared connections, you can look at their recommendations (who they have recommended and who recommended them), these are people who they are sure to have some level of relationship with. You can also look at their activity again and make note of who’s posts they comment on. If you are applying for a role within your industry, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that you may know some of the same people. If you have worked with some of the same people be sure to bring it up. This will help you move from being a complete stranger to someone who moves in similar circles.
Think about it, hiring a complete stranger is always a risk to a hiring manager, however, hiring someone with whom you share connections feels a lot less risky. You instantly become more of a known commodity.
► Read Their Whole Profile
We’ve already talked about looking through someone’s profile and career progression to understand their agenda and what is important to them but there may also be information here that will help you find common ground. Take a look at their interests, their volunteer activity and any other sections they’ve completed to check whether you share any interests or passions.
If you don’t have any common ground with someone, then that is okay too. Don’t fake it, the aim is to form some genuine connection and so you need to be yourself and be natural. Taking time to consider the people that you will be speaking to and becoming more familiar with them is a very important use of your time. It is an exercise that can yield a great deal of useful information if done well.
Try to be creative in this process, and take some time to do some deep-dive research until you feel you know all you can about the person interviewing you. Do they have a blog? Have they listed their website address or Twitter feed on LinkedIn, have they written any articles? All of these pieces of information can be accessed to get a fuller picture of the person interviewing you.