Know About the Specific Company, Job, and Interviewer
You should evaluate employers just as carefully as they evaluate you. Doing research on an employer is especially important if you plan on interviewing with an organization that particularly interests you.
The best employer information comes from people who work (or used to work) there. These people can often provide you with inside information that can be invaluable in an interview. But let's say that you don't know anyone who works therewhat can you do? Go to the source. Often, a receptionist can get you product catalogs, brochures, reports, or other literature that explains the purpose, products, or services of the organization. You can also find much of this information online at the company's Web site. If you study this information well, you will have more knowledge of the organization than most other applicants.
You can also go to the library and ask the librarian to help you locate any local or national information about the organization. You can often look up recent newspaper articles and, particularly for larger organizations, information in various industrial and other directories.
The more you know about the job, the industry, and the employer, the more likely you are to present yourself well in the interview. More importantly, you will be better able to evaluate whether a particular job is right for you.
Researching the Company
When doing research on a company, you want to focus on company missions, ethics, areas of recent growth, and weak spots. According to librarian Mary-Ellen Mort in Oakland, California, the best sources for information on local organizations are local newspaper articles, local directories, and area trade journals. Some libraries have clipping files of articles on area companies, CEOs, and industries. Ask a reference librarian for ranked lists of local companies in your field. Depending on the library's size, you may
even lay your hands on annual reports and various promotional literature, too. If the library doesn't carry copies of these materials, request them from the organization itself.
If the organization is a small, privately owned company, this type of information may not be available at all. In that case, explore comparable companies and apply what you find. Don't forgetit's never a mistake to pick up the phone and talk with the organization's suppliers, customers, and current employees.
Online Resources for Company Research
This section provides some general sites for researching employers online (from Best Career and Education Web Sites by Rachel Singer Gordon and Anne Wolfinger). Remember that one of the best sources of information on a company can be its own Web site. Search for employer Web sites by using your favorite search engines.
CorporateInformation.com (corporateinformation.com): You
have to register to use this company research site, but basic registration is free. Type a company's name into the search box on the front page to find information on specific companies, which includes a brief analysis from this site as well as links to articles and company profiles from other Web sites. Although much information is targeted to investors, you'll find useful background material for your job hunt as well. You can also pick a state to find information on every company the site covers in that state or use an alphabetical list to browse corporations. This site is best for information on large companies.
Google News (news.google.com): Search and browse 4,000 news sources from leading search engine Google. Find the most up-to-date news stories on specific companies, or simply pick the Business section to read current articles. This site is a great way to keep current on industries and specific companies. You can find out what's going on before applying or in preparation for an interview. Articles stay in the index for 30 days.
Tip: Offer to drop by and pick up the organization's material in person rather than have it mailed to you. This action fosters several positives. It allows you to meet with the receptionist and make a positive impression with an insider (good news travels fast, especially when it concerns a future employee). It also strengthens an impression that you are well-organized and very interested. Finally, it forces you to travel the route in advance of an interview and scout out potentially slowing traffic patterns, confusing addresses, and so on.
SuperPages (superpages.com): Verizon's SuperPages is an electronic Yellow Pages with a twist. Search for U.S. businesses by name and location, or browse by category. Each listing contains contact information as well as a Web site link when available, plus a map and driving directions. Register to create your own directory of saved listings. You can also search for businesses by geographic location if you're looking for potential places to apply in your area.
Thomas Register (thomasregister.com): Thomas Register takes its print manuals online, allowing registered users to search for manufacturers and companies and view their catalogs and Web sites. Check out the demo to see how searching works and what information is included in manufacturer listings. Although the site is meant largely for locating suppliers, it's a useful way for job seekers to locate companies in their industry as well.
Company Research Tutorials
For tips and instructions on researching employers, check out these Web sites:
Industry Research Desk (virtualpet.com/industry/): This 19-step process walks you through researching a specific company or a specific industry. A ton of links to useful resources are included among the steps, so take some time to explore. You'll also find ideas on potentially useful print resources that you can look through at your local public or college library.
Researching Companies Online (learnwebskills.com/ company/): This step-by-step tutorial from Internet trainer Debbie Flanagan contains surefire tips for locating free company and industry information on the Web. Topics here include locating company home pages, monitoring company news, learning about an industry, identifying international business resources, and researching nonprofit organizations. Each topic includes useful links and instructions, and you can also access her Web Search Strategies tutorial from here.
Riley Guide: Using the Internet to Do Job Search Research (rileyguide.com/jsresearch.html): The first section provides general tips on doing effective Internet research, and the second gives specific advice on finding company information. This step-by-step tutorial shows you how to do research on all aspects of your job search, and it links to a number of sites for additional information and ideas.
Essential Questions Your Research Must Answer
Now that you've gathered all this raw data, how do you apply it to the interview? Here are some questions your research should answer:
What is the prospective employer and what does it do?
What has the organization done in the last three years?
Where is the organization headed? What new products or services are on the horizon?
What/who is the competition? Where is this organization at an advantage or disadvantage?
What are the success factors?
How can the job you are pursuing contribute to the organization's success?
Granted, translating columns of numbers and sales slogans into tangible answers to these questions takes some thoughtful application on your part. However, don't let it scare you into not even trying. For starters, pick up a copy of Lelia K. Kight's Getting the Lowdown on Employers and a Leg Up on the Job Market (Ten Speed Press) for some down-to-earth, instructive steps in interpreting annual reports. Be sure to read the CEO's message at the beginning of each report. This carefully crafted editorial sets the tone for the year past and the organization's direction in the years ahead.
Researching the Job
If you became aware of the job opening through an advertisement in a publication or online, start with the job posting that led you to it. Study it well and become aware of the skills, keywords, buzzwords, and concepts it uses. If any are unfamiliar to you, do your research and find out what they mean.
If you found out about the job through networking and don't have a job posting to refer to, you can request a description of the job from the company. Many companies are required to write detailed descriptions of the job's parameters and needed skills. This information is gold when you're preparing for an interview.
You can also use your network to find someone who works in a similar job. Ask that person what it takes to succeed in the job; then find ways to communicate these qualities to your interviewer.
Researching the Interviewer
Ultimately, when it comes to finding out information about your specific interviewer, you may have to rely on the telephone once again. If you know any of the current employees, politely and unobtrusively ask them about this person's style of work, how he or she spends the day, what types of behaviors earn a frown from this person, and so forth. The information you can dig up could be invaluable.
You'd be surprised what you can find out about people if you "Google" them on the Internet. Basically, go to your favorite search engine (such as Google or Yahoo!) and type the person's name, surrounded by quotation marks, in the search box. Several articles might come up, some of which could be about the person you will be speaking with. For instance, you might learn that your interviewer volunteered to train runners for the local charity marathon. Or you might hit pay dirt and find a press release about the company's new product that specifically quotes your interviewer. You have to use your judgment here, though, because lots of people in the world share the same name, and the information you dig up could be about an entirely different person.
Key Points: Chapter 3
Being well-informed about the industry you want to join will help you present yourself well in the interview and during salary negotiations.
Learning more about your career area can help you discover career paths you may not have considered before and better target your interview responses and resume to the skills your career requires.
You can find information about the employer and the position you are applying for from former or current employees, trade publications, or the company's Web site or publications. This information is indispensable in preparing for an interview.