Where I mix career information and career decision making in a test tube and see what happens

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How to Research an Employer

In last week’s blog, I discussed some reasons why job-seekers should research employers, together with some specific questions worth investigating. I did not have room to discuss how to do this research.
With a large employer, the company webpage is often a good place to start. Here are some important topics to explore:
  • An “About Us” link usually leads to important basic information. If there’s no mission statement there, use the Search box on the homepage to find one.
  • A “Press Room” or “In the News” link can lead to stories about recent developments at the business.
  • An “Investors” link can lead to statements about the company’s recent financial performance.
  • Click the “Careers” link to see what other kinds of workers are being hired.
  • Look for indications of the various products or services that the company offers.
  • Look for indications of the markets that the company targets.
  • Many websites are designed to steer you toward contacting sales staff. Avoid these links; they are not helpful for your purpose.
Keep in mind that the company website is designed to make the employer look good. It says only positive things about the employer. However, it’s useful for you to see what image the company wants to project, even though this is not the whole story of what goes on there.

Hoover’s Online (www.hoovers.com) is another place to find information about large employers. The basic information here is free; you do not have to subscribe or buy a report. On the company’s page, the Overview tab gives good basic information. The Competition tab tells you what other companies compete with this one and in what industries. The Financials tab provides many figures showing trends such as sales, assets, and liabilities.

LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) also can provide much useful free information, although it’s more powerful if you register for the free membership and build a network of contacts. At the search box, select Companies and enter the name of the employer. The Overview tab shows basic information about the company and recent news items. LinkedIn also identifies any of your contacts who have some connection with the company. You may want to get in touch with them and ask them to share their insights.

Another way to identify knowledgeable contacts on LinkedIn is to select People at the search box but enter the name of the employer instead of a person’s name. You’ll see the names of your first-degree contacts who have some association with the company or, if you lack these, people linked to your first-degree contacts. Take advantage of these links to get in touch with these second- and third-degree contacts.

If you don’t have any contacts at the company, even through an intermediary, use the technique called “X-ray search” to identify people who work at the company and link to them directly. An “X-ray search” using Google or Bing employs sophisticated search strings that specify text you do and do not want to retrieve, so your search results only in profiles of people who have a connection to the employer and whom you can ask to be LinkedIn contacts or perhaps contact through other channels. The technique is too complex for me to cover in this blog; for detailed directions, search the Web for “X-ray search LinkedIn.”

The information you glean about the employer will enable you to ask more intelligent questions at the interview and to respond to the interviewer’s questions in ways that will highlight why you’re a good fit for this particular company.

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