At what point does researching your interviewer before a job interview go too far?

Probably well before this point.
Probably well before this point.
Image: AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi
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Q: How awkward is it to look up your interviewer on LinkedIn before your job interview?

Dear 007,

Uninformed is unprepared, and you should do ample research on the person in whose hands your professional fate may soon rest. The more you know about your interviewer’s individual interests, personality, background, and approach to doing business going in, the better-equipped you’ll be to have a conversation.

Yes, if you look at a potential interviewers’ LinkedIn profiles, and you’re not in incognito mode, they’ll be able to see that you did so.

If you’re worried about this, a simple skim of online searches or social media channels is often enough to uncover useful details without LinkedIn letting others know that you’ve been snooping. Friends unknown to the party in question can also help you by logging in to the service and loaning you their web browser.

However, you might also consider that it’d be weirder for interviewers to discover you hadn’t done some homework up-front. They aren’t likely to fault you for looking at their LinkedIn pages.

It is, however, important not be too overzealous when it comes to playing private investigator. Case in point: Cursory details that are in the public eye —say, your interviewer’s passion for artificial intelligence or history working for household-name consumer electronics brands—are fair game to mention in interviews. By contrast, should you become aware of more personal or private info (say, that your interviewer has three young children, loves Notre Dame football, and was once part of a popular boy band in high school) through your searches, it’s best not to mention it. You might use these insights to subtly steer conversation in an advantageous direction, say by mentioning how excited you and your family is about the position or how the job would put you back near your alma mater. Without revealing that you know more than you let on, you can drop subtle bread crumbs that lead to where you know your interviewer may share your interests.

There’s a fine art to small talk. The more you can learn about your interviewer before your first encounter, the better, and the subtler you are about applying these insights, even more so.

Scott Steinberg is the author of The Business Etiquette Bible.

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