(This column was originally published in SNEWS, the most trusted outdoor and fitness industry news source since 1984. www.snewsnet.com)

OK, you've secured an interview for a position that really interests you. How can you differentiate yourself from other qualified candidates under consideration?

Research on your potential employer will help you stand out from the crowd. The more you know going into the interview, the more comfortable you'll feel and the more confidence you'll project. Knowledge is indeed power in the interview environment.

To the hiring manager, your research is simultaneously a sign of respect and a signifier of interest. Coupled with a clear and direct verbal expression of interest, you are likely to move further and faster in the hiring process than the candidate who is less prepared and does not articulate interest.

Much -- but not all -- of your research can be done on the Internet. But don't be complacent. While the Internet is a powerful tool, there are things you can miss if it is your sole source of information. Be prepared to leave the friendly confines of your desk to get a deeper understanding of the company.

To perform comprehensive research, focus on these four primary areas:
1. Company
What you should know: Is the company public or private? What is its sales volume? How many employees does it have? Where are the locations of its operations, warehousing and manufacturing? What divisions are there? What are its channels of distribution? What are its growth pattern, trend line and future direction?

Tools you can use: The company's website and annual reports; industry websites and publications; competitive word of mouth; retailer and independent rep impressions; and informal discussions with current employees. (Too often past employees have skewed impressions of the company, so we suggest you leave them out of the research to avoid a potentially jaundiced perspective.)
2. Products
What you should know: What are the company's product categories and product families? What is its total number of SKUs? How many new products are introduced each season? What is the average product's life cycle and price point? Who are the company's competitors? What is its unique selling proposition and market niche? What are its areas of growth?

Tools you can use: Visit retailers to get your hands on the company's products. Attend trade shows. Also check out product catalogs, retailers' product information sheets, as well as trade publications or websites with "best buy" guides. Talk to customer service reps at the company.
3. People
What you should know: Whom will you meet? What are their position titles and career histories? What are the reporting relationships? What interaction do they have with the position you are considering? Who is successful in the organization? Why are they successful?

Tools you can use: Use social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. Talk to previous colleagues or employers; tap into word of mouth from industry friends. Utilize the company's website, Google search, trade magazine articles, industry-specific sites and press releases.
4. Position
What you should know: Why is this position available? Why is it important? What is the mission? What needs to be accomplished? What areas need attention? What are the key projects for the first 90 days? How much travel is involved and will it be domestic or international?

Tools you can use: Check out the company's job description and written descriptions of related positions. Use your own industry experience and have discussions with people in similar positions or have had this role in the past. Also talk to vendors and factories for input.

Keep in mind that research is conducted on the computer, on the telephone and in person. If you ask your industry friends and contacts, they can help you network with people at the target company or in positions like the one you're considering.
And, as much as we like to do things online, there is still a wealth of information to be gained at retail. Talk with the people on the sales floor, talk to the repair people, see the packaging and learn about the competitors -- all of which can set you apart in the interview process.

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