In any industry -- and especially one as competitive as Hollywood -- one of the worst mistakes a job applicant can make in an interview is coming in unprepared. If you haven’t done any research beforehand, it’s usually quite obvious, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to get tripped up at some point. The most impressive candidates come in clearly having done their research, and they’re ready to have informed conversations with their interviewer. Not only will the hiring manager appreciate that they took time to familiarize themselves with the company and its projects, but this extra step also shows that the candidate is motivated and detail-oriented -- key qualities any employer looks for. Plus, the best way to tackle nerves in any situation is to be 100% prepared and confidentin what you’re going to say. So what exactly should you research? Here are six questions you should consider before any job interview.
1. What are the company’s main projects?
One of the simplest ways Hollywood hiring managers weed out the truly passionate candidates from the ones who just want any old job in the industry is by assessing how much the interviewee knows about the company and what it does. When you're asked which of the company's shows you've watched or why you want to work there, you'll be expected to give an intelligent answer referencing the company's projects to prove you've done your homework and to make it clear that your taste aligns with the work they are doing. If you're interviewing for a network, show, production company, or studio, watch the content they produce. If you're interviewing for a job in representation, study the company's clients and their biggest work. To make an even stronger impression, formulate some relevant questions to show you’re genuinely invested in the company. Doing this research will convince the hiring manager that you're passionate and enthusiastic and will also help you decide if the company is the right fit.
2. Has there been any recent news about the company?
Take a moment to find out if the company has been in the news lately. Maybe a buzzworthy project has been announced, or perhaps the company has recently completed an exciting merger or acquisition. The information you learn from a quick news search may help you develop some thoughtful questions to ask at the end of your interview (and any negative press may alert you to some areas of discussion you may want to avoid). In fact, depending on the company, you may even be quizzed on your knowledge of current events -- one of the classic Netflix interview questions is whether you’ve heard any recent news about the company. As an added bonus, preparing for this type of question will also show your future employer that you keep up with the trades and current events, which will help make you an asset to the team.
3. Who will you be meeting with?
If possible, figure out the names and titles of the people you will be meeting with, and do a little online search to find out more about each of them. If the person setting up the interview doesn’t immediately offer up the names of the interviewers, it’s okay to politely ask who you’ll be meeting with. Use LinkedIn to get a better sense of your interviewers’ professional histories and job functions, and Google them to see if you can find any interesting personal facts. In an ideal world, you might discover some type of common ground that you can bring up during the interview to develop a more personal connection -- maybe you and one of the interviewers share the same alma mater or are from the same hometown. Think this sounds creepy? It isn't if you keep the references to your personal connections tame, like mentioning your hometown when answering the "tell me about yourself" question. But there is a line -- if the person you’re meeting with has a personal blog about her online dating escapades, you shouldn’t bring up your latest Tinder disaster. Take advantage of opportunities for small talk, but keep it professional -- remember, you’re not gabbing with your best friend.
4. How does the department function within the company?
If you can, try to get an idea of how the department you’re applying for fits into the larger structure of the company. The original job posting may provide a few clues. Sometimes the answer is very obvious, but in some cases, it can be a bit elusive. For instance, at a start-up, the company may not even be divided into distinct departments, so you’ll have to rely on job titles. Try searching LinkedIn to identify the various roles within the company and read any job descriptions you can find. You should also try to figure out exactly what projects the department (or individual) is directly responsible for. Even when you can’t find specifics, if you have a general sense of what the department’s function is, especially in relation to others, you’ll be able to highlight relevant skills that prove you’ll be an excellent addition to the team.
5. What specific qualities is the hiring manager looking for when filling this role?
The job posting should have given you a pretty good overview of the responsibilities and expectations of the role, and if it’s in line with your current career path, you probably know what you’re getting yourself into. However, your potential supervisor may prioritize certain qualities over others, so it’s ideal if you can get some insight into his or her personality before your meeting. This won’t always be possible, but if you can find a way to snag some inside information, do it. Did a friend pass along your resume to her contact in the department? If you feel comfortable, ask her to do a little extra digging to find out what they’re really looking for, beyond what’s on the job posting. Or maybe your former internship supervisor has recommended you for a position in a different department. He may be able to describe what the open position looks like day-to-day and what the hiring manager or department’s reputation is like within the company. Use all of this information to formulate interview answers that will showcase the primary skills the team is looking for. And, if there are any red flags you learn during this process, take them into consideration before accepting an offer.
6. What are some common interview questions you might encounter?
There are tons of online resources that list common interview questions and suggestions for how to answer them (including our very own resource page!). You’ll always get the famous “tell me about yourself” question, and you’re likely to be asked about your career goals and why you’re leaving your current company. Additionally, many companies have a few set interview questions that are unique to them, and you may be able to predict them with a tiny bit of extra work. Glassdoor can be a great resource -- not only does it list company reviews and salaries, but people often post about their interview experiences and what questions they were asked. You’ll also get the added benefit of seeing some unfiltered opinions about the company, which may influence your ultimate decision to accept or decline a job offer.
Does this sound like a daunting amount of research? Maybe. But if you’re serious about the job, you’ll spend an hour or two at minimum trying to get a better grasp of the company. Hiring managers assume that your effort at work will match (or be less than!) your effort in the job application, and they can tell when you haven’t spent any time studying. Not only will you ace your interview if you’re prepared, but you’ll be demonstrating your strong work ethic to the hiring manager who spends as much time gauging your hireability from subtextual clues as she does listening to your actual interview answers.
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan