Our four step guide to acing your pre-interview research.

Job interviews are the only opportunity most of us get to convince a potential employer face-to-face that we're right for the job. You may think you know how to prepare—review the job description, run through practice questions with a mate, dress professionally—but how well do you really know the company you're interviewing for?

Proper research is an essential part of job interview success. But what does it mean, and how do you do it? Here's our four step guide to uncovering the vital company intel.

Figure out their business model

Business models determine how a company runs their business—it may be as simple as "providing X service" or "selling Y product to Z market", but no matter which company you are interviewing for, you have to understand this essential part of their operations. The easiest way to determine a company's business model is to follow the money—how and where do they make a profit?

Once you've worked out the business model, take a look at the job description and think about how the role fits into the company's wider aims. Having a clear idea what the company does and how you can help them do it will provide you with valuable information to use in your interview.

Ask yourself: industry leader or up-start?

Every successful company occupies a specific niche in their particular industry. They may be a big player with a large market share, or a smaller organisation making a name for themselves by doing things differently.

Whatever the company, there is something unique which sets them apart from their rivals—and understanding what is key to getting yourself hired. You also need to be aware of the company's competitors. Competition drives business motivations and can directly influence a company as they move forward.

The more companies you research, the easier it will be to see how they differ. As you develop your commercial awareness, you will be able spot what sets each business apart.

Look for Associations and Awards

Nearly every industry has its own way of recognising the best in the business—you need to know what your company is winning for and why. These awards are often run by industry-specific associations or magazines and awarded yearly. For example, The Sunday Times runs a ranking for Top Companies and Top Small Companies to work for.

If the company you are interviewing for has won something in recent years, it shouldn't be hard to find. Keep an eye on the company's website, particularly in the footer, as this is a common place to promote achievements and badges.

Analyse their social media strategy

Social media channels offer countless opportunities for brands and companies to interact with the wider world. If you're passionate about working for a specific company, you should be pouring over their social media channels to keep on top of developments, new products, industry-relevant news and more.

Every company's level of social media involvement is different. Some will simply stick to a Facebook and/or Twitter account, while others will have a dedicated social media strategy including Instagram and a blog. All of these outlets are fantastic resources for you to learn more about the company's outlook. Understanding how a company sees itself, or how they want to be seen, can help you show them how you fit in.

Don't be afraid to interact with companies on social media. Showing some interest and engaging with their posts will help you think more about the company's message. Plus, you never know who might be running the social media account and how getting involved might improve your chances.

While most of the information you gather during your research will not come up directly in your interview, it is vitally important you have a well-rounded grasp of the company. The more hints you can drop that you understand what they are all about, the more attractive a candidate you will be.