How much is too much? The subtle art of doing background research (without being creepy)

One of the most common suggestions every job hunter hears is to conduct research on the company and the interviewees themselves before an interview. And, yes, doing research is a critical part of job prep that applicants should invest in.

But with all the information we currently have at our fingertips, what is the fine line between showing you’ve done your homework and totally creeping someone out?

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Here are some rules of engagement for doing adequate research to ace your interview, while finding the happy medium that keeps you firmly out of stalker territory.

LinkedIn Is A Solid “Yes”

As the most “professional” of networks, LinkedIn is the first place you should go to learn important information about the hiring manager, such as their alma mater, former employment, professional accomplishments and any shared LinkedIn groups. Then during the interview, find clever ways to subtly throw in some of the interesting things you have unearthed, suggests Chris Chancey, founder of Amplio Recruiting.

For example, instead of coming right out and saying, “I was doing some background research and saw you won the Top 50 Marketing Managers Award,” (creepy), you could find an opportune time to throw in your discovery. So when the interviewee asks you what interests you about the position, you could say something like, “I am always looking for a manager who will challenge me to be my best so your recent award gave me confidence in your skills.”

Or if you find that you attended the same college or have a former place of employment in common, be sure to mention it. “These types of commonalities can be great conversation points,” Chancey says. Be careful about mentioning shared contacts, though. Some people accept tons of LinkedIn invitations and they might not even know the person you’re talking about.

But Keep Your Sleuthing Anonymous

While this is more a choice than a hard rule, some job applicants prefer to go incognito, rather than broadcast that they’ve visited a particular profile multiple times, points out Rudeth Shaughnessy, retired human resources director and editor at Copy My Resume.

You can use an “incognito” browser in Chrome to view LinkedIn while you are officially logged out, which means it won’t notify the person you have viewed their profile, or you can change your settings to view other people’s profile anonymously, even when you’re logged in.
Just head over to your Account Settings, select “Settings and Privacy,” select “Profile Viewing Options,” and then select “What Others Can See When You View Their Profile”—from your name and headline to your title to totally anonymous.

Of course, others might suggest that it’s smart to leave a record that you did your due diligence through a page visit, but just make sure you don’t end up there multiple times…that’s when it can edge into creepy.

Tread Lightly With Other Social Media

Since people are more laid back when they share information on Facebook or Instagram, this can provide some very casual information that can take the edge off of the interview process. But you want to avoid specifically mentioning you checked them out on Facebook or make an overly personal about what you found there. So, for example, statements such as, “I saw you went to Hawaii for vacation; that must have been lovely!” are too obvious—and thus cringy.

Instead, find smart ways to weave in the fact that you love coastal destinations or that you have kids who play baseball if you’ve seen their sports photos. “Keep these casual conversations very short and read the interviewer’s body to see whether they are comfortable talking about personal stuff,” Chancey recommends.

But Shaughnessy suggests steering clear of these types of social media profiles altogether. “There is no point looking for someone’s Instagram or Facebook profile as you can’t use that information in your interview—but it might lead to negative preconceptions.”

Do Some Other Stealth Searching

in addition to the obvious social media platforms, you can do additional research that is both professional and impressive by searching their name in conjunction with their company name, suggests Deborah Sweeney, CEO at MyCorporation. “You’ll often find articles where they have been featured, which is a great way to see their work and find out more about them.” This type of information is totally fair game, and gives you the opportunity to have some memorable discussion points during your interview.

For example, you could mention something noteworthy you read about their recent marketing campaign and strategy. “Acknowledging this kind of business achievement shows you’re genuinely interested in joining the organization and that you admire their work,” Sweeney says.

Visit the company’s social media accounts to read up on recent public announcements, and you can also visit check out your host’s recent activity on LinkedIn or Twitter and comment or share, which shows you are paying attention to their content.

Bottom Line, Be Subtle

While there are no hard and fast rules, the best way to see if the information you’re using goes too far is to test your own reaction.

“Think about what might make you cringe if you were the one conducting the interview—mentioning kids, pets or hobbies? If you think it would be creepy if it happened to you, consider that a potential red flag not to mention it in your interview,” suggests Kelly Anderson, marketing director at Wealth Continuum Group

“While researching your interviewee can give you a leg up in a competitive job market, the rule of thumb is to avoid mentioning outright that you have been looking them up or making any remark that can be deemed too personal,” says Chancey. “Keep it subtle, light and short.

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