A little research goes a long way


Guest post by Jason Fischbach, Peppercom intern and future PR pro.

As a lowly intern during my first week on the job, I walked into the manager’s office with my tail between my legs. I had to make a good impression; she was the highest ranked person

Looking for that common ground? Just look around for your "Wayne Gretzky."

I’d be working with on one of my accounts. With no idea what I was about to say, I looked up. Over her shoulder was a picture of (arguably) the greatest hockey player of all time, Wayne Gretzky. I may have only been an intern for a week, but I’ve been a hockey fanatic for years. Suddenly, we were on the same level, talking as hockey fans.

You may not always be so lucky to see an idol pictured behind someone in a room, but odds are that somewhere surrounding the conversation, you can find a way to connect to that person. It’s these connections that really drive effective conversations, and they show you to be alert, insightful and (even if only seemingly) well-prepared.  The simple ability to pick up details, or to do a little bit of research, can be a key differentiator between you and someone you’re competing with in an interview.

Here are a few hints about ways that you can pick up on these subtleties to help better prepare yourself for your next well-informed conversation:

If you have time, do some research!

  • There should NEVER be an interview or similarly-pressured meeting where you haven’t taken the time to fully prepare. If you haven’t met the people before, do a quick search! A LinkedIn profile or Twitter feed can be a great way to learn a few tidbits about people. You’d be surprised at what you might find.

Look around.

  • If you’re at someone’s desk or in their office, odds are they’ve personalized it somehow. See if you have any visibly shared hobbies. If you don’t see something you can immediately connect to, ask some questions about what you do see. At the very least, you’re setting up the other person with a topic they know.
  • If you’re meeting in spontaneously, see what you can take away from the situation. Does their outfit give any clues? How about the location itself? Maybe there’s a third party there? How about the weather? As cliché as that last one may be, it represents the age-old truth that you’re never interacting with someone in a total vacuum. Find something you share, and run with it.

Remember things you’ve experienced.

  • As simple as this may sound, it can be an invaluable and overlooked skill.  If you take something away from a first conversation that you can use to start or bolster a second, you’re at a huge advantage. It’s proof that you’re paying attention, and that you value your conversations as well as the relationships you’re building.

And finally, be yourself!

  • It’s no secret that people love to talk about themselves, but not to themselves. You have to be that second person in the conversation. Presenting someone with information about their own lives doesn’t work unless you add something new into the equation. And if you’ve picked up on the right aspects, that should be easy enough to do. It’s important to note that you must be also be genuine: insincerity is often both obvious and detrimental.

As it turns out, that supervisor is a fan of my rival team. But so far, that’s been the only disappointment in our conversations over the past several weeks. It’s not hard to be a great conversationalist. But it can help you start a relationship that lasts a career, or even a lifetime.

Have any other tips or tricks for continuing the conversation?




Do you think it’s OK to mention that the team is your rival or would you stay away from negatives?


Very interesting post. I think one thing you have to be sure of is walking the line of doing your research and being a “stalker.” When do you think it’s too much?


Paul and Laura,

Thank you both for your comments! I’d like to address these two comments together, because both revolve around thin lines that one needs to walk in any conversation. What’s both fun and scary is that neither of these has a concrete answer: both depend on the individual conversations.
If you’re talking to a potential employer and a situation comes up like the team rivalry I mentioned, it would be best to avoid repeating some of the chants you may hear at games. However, unless your rivalry borders on blood-feud (Bostonians would best declare themselves mere ‘baseball’ fans when applying in NY) I don’t think you’re at too much risk mentioning a different team association: sports are one situation where people understand differing opinions. Not every difference needs to be a negative. Find a way to position “healthy competition” before “rivalry” and you can control the tone so negativity won’t be an issue.
With regards to the stalking issue, it’s all about the flow of conversation. If the person doesn’t seem particularly comfortable with social media, maybe you’re safer avoiding the information you gathered from those sources. On the other hand, if it’s clear that they’ve done similar research on you, use what you’ve found!
The most consistent piece of advice I can give on this topic is to make sure your commentary is relevant. Bringing up topical information shows you did your research, bringing up random facts about an interviewer shows desperation and begs the question “What else do they know about me that didn’t come up?” That’s where the less-than-positive connotations come in.
The underlying key to both of these is to read the conversations and adjust as you go. Be prepared with more information than you need, and you can always save it for a later conversation. Also, be ready for things to go differently than you’d planned, or for people to “follow the rival team” so that you can control the tone of conversation, and keep it positive.

And, of course, let me know if you have any other questions!

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