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 ( 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 ( 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.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Researching an Employer Before an Interview

Many inexperienced job seekers don’t realize how important it is to research the employer before you walk into an interview.  Here are some reasons:
The interviewer might ask: “Why should we hire you?”
You need to research: The focus and needs of the business.
Advantage you gain: You can explain why you’re the person who can fill the employer’s needs. (This can also be helpful in tailoring your resume and cover letter.)

The interviewer might ask: “Why do you want to work for us?”
You need to research: Advantages of working there, such as chances for job growth, good work/life balance, leadership in the industry, etc.
Advantage you gain: You can convince the interviewer that you’ll be a loyal worker.

The interviewer might ask: “What else can I tell you about working here?”
You need to research: Disadvantages of working there, such as long hours, high pressure, too much bureaucracy, and so forth.
Advantage you gain: You can ask whether these disadvantages apply to the particular job you seek. You also may be able to anticipate questions about how you would cope with stress or with demands for long work hours.

The interviewer might ask: “How do you see your future in this job?”
You need to research: The long-term goals of the business.
Advantage you gain: You can explain how you’ll serve future needs.

(What about how much the employer pays? You’ll need to know that eventually, when the interviewer offers you the job, but not for the initial interview.)

As you conduct research, for each question you investigate about the employer, you’ll need to ask a corresponding question of yourself. Your answer to the latter question will help you prepare for the interview in two ways: (1) You’ll be better able to answer the employer’s questions about you. (2) You’ll have a clearer notion of whether this employer is really where you want to work.

About the employer: What is the employer’s main purpose for being in business?
About you: How do you intend to contribute to this purpose? What qualifies you to serve this purpose? (Hint: For ideas, look at your resume.)

About the employer: What industry is the employer in?
About you: Do you have any experience in it? Are you interested in this industry?

About the employer: What kind of product or service does the business offer its customers/clients/patients?
About you: What training or work experience do you have with this (or a similar) kind of product or service? Do you like working with this kind of product or service?

About the employer: What kinds of customers/clients/patients does the business serve?
About you: What training or work experience do you have with these (or similar) kinds of customers/clients/patients? Do you like working with them?

About the employer: What is the employer’s role in the industry? (Leader, major player, strong competitor, small fry, newcomer?)
About you: What industry role for your employer would you like best?

About the employer: How many people work for the company? (If there are multiple sites, try to get a figure for the site where the job is.)
About you: What size employer would you be most comfortable with?

About the employer: What is the financial condition of the employer? Does it seem stable?
About you: If the employer seems stable, fine. Otherwise, are you willing to take a risk?

About the employer: What is the work/life balance like for workers at this employer? Are work hours long? Is there enough vacation time? Can workers get flexible time, daycare, or other arrangements for a better balance?
About you: What work/life conditions would you prefer (or tolerate)?

About the employer: What are your chances for career advancement at this employer? In this department?
About you: What are your plans for career advancement? Are you okay with the opportunities that the position is likely to lead to?

You may be unable to answer some of these questions about the employer. Don’t give up without a serious effort to answer them. But if the information is very hard to get, that’s okay, because then you have intelligent questions to ask at the interview.

You may also be unable to answer some of these questions about yourself—for example, what size employer you’d be most comfortable with. If you’re uncertain because you haven’t given enough thought to the question, take the time to do so now. On the other hand, maybe you don’t yet have enough work experience to have formed preferences. In that case, give the employer the benefit of the doubt, and express a willing-to-try attitude if the topic comes up in the interview.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Trends in Military Apprenticeships

In last week's blog, I wrote about indications that apprenticeships for civilians are starting to come back from their severe decline in the recent recession. This week, I'm looking at the trends in military apprenticeships.

You may not have known that many veterans leave military service possessing a nationally recognized certificate of completion, indicating that they have met the same requirements as civilian apprentices and therefore have the same mastery of skills required by the particular trade. Such a certificate must ease the transition to civilian employment for many vets. (I discuss this transition in my book 150 Best Jobs for the Military-to-Civilian Transition.) The United Services Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP) is an option for active duty service members in the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps.

 I looked at the recent trends in these programs, as shown in data reported by the Office of Apprenticeship of the Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor. One trend I discovered was a steady increase in the number of new military apprentices.
New Military Apprentices

Of course, not every service member who enters an apprenticeship program completes it. In fact, the number of program dropouts has also climbed steadily. Miltary Apprenticeship Cancellations

This increase in cancellations has caused the number of service members currently enrolled in an apprenticeship program to level off and decline slightly. The trends differ slightly for military men and women, but because women are a minority of those in uniform, the overall trend is closest to the first graph below:
Active Male Military Apprentices
Active Female Military Apprentices

The slight decline in the number of active military apprentices has not reversed the upward trend in the number of those completing apprenticeship--at least, not yet. Military Apprenticeship Completers

I'm curious about future trends. For example, I'm guessing that the coming pull-out from Afghanistan will encourage service members to stay enlisted longer and thus give them a greater likelihood of completing an apprenticeship. I also expect that Stateside deployment, as opposed to deployment in a combat zone, will also increase service members' opportunities to be engaged in apprenticeship programs. Finally, the continuing recovery of the civilian economy is likely to reduce attrition in military apprenticeship programs; as civilian job openings become more plentiful, service members will recognize an increase in the value of a certificate of completion.

But these are just guesses on my part. Stay tuned for future releases of data from the folks at the Department of Labor. I think the world of them!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Apprenticeship Is Coming Back

Apprenticeship is a system of job training in which trainees become highly skilled workers through a combination of worksite learning and classroom learning. It is sometimes called “the other four-year degree” because it often takes four years and it results in a nationally recognized credential that can open the door to income and job security that may be as good as or better than what college graduates enjoy. In my book 200 Best Jobs Through Apprenticeships, I identify many promising careers that can be entered this way.

This route to career entry is not as well-known as it deserves, and it has lost ground to college as an entry route even as college degrees have become increasingly expensive. Nevertheless, there are indications that apprenticeship as an entry route is starting to regain lost popularity.

As evidence of the recent decline of apprenticeship, I offer the following graph. Like all the graphs I prepared for this blog, it is based on data from the Employment and Training Administration of the Department of Labor. All apprenticeships and apprentices referred to in these graphs are registered with the federal Office of Apprenticeship or with a state apprenticeship agency.

The first graph shows the number of active apprentices. You can see that the number peaked almost 10 years ago, declined temporarily, rallied just before the recent recession, and then went into a steady decline.
Active Apprentices
Apparently this downward trend is not caused by a lack of apprenticeship applicants, but rather by a lack of available programs. The following graph shows the number of active apprenticeship programs, and the trend closely parallels that of the first graph.
Active Apprenticeship Programs
You’ll notice a similar trend in the number of new apprenticeship programs.
New Apprenticeship Programs
The good news is that it seems likely that these trends will soon reverse, now that overall hiring is picking up again. The industry with the largest concentration of apprenticeships is construction, and this is also one of the industries that has climbed most rapidly from its lowest ebb in the recession. It needs to recover much more before it takes on large numbers of apprentices, but it is moving in the right direction. The longer-term outlook is good. The Department of Labor projects strong growth for many of the apprenticeable occupations in this field, such as Helpers—Brickmasons, Blockmasons, Stonemasons, and Tile and Marble Setters (60.1% growth projected for the 2010–2020 period), Helpers—Carpenters (55.7 %), Reinforcing Iron and Rebar Workers (48.6%), Helpers—Pipelayers, Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters (45.4%), and Glaziers (42.4%).

You can already see an upward trend in the number of apprentices who are entering a program. The curve has started to recover from its recession low.
New Apprentices
Another good sign is the upward trend the number of apprentices who are completing their program.
Apprenticeship Completers
In case you’re wondering about where apprenticeship programs are most likely to be found, I looked at the number of registered apprentices as a percentage of the total paid workforce in 2011. I found that the state with the highest density of apprentices was Hawaii, with 1.2%, followed by the District of Columbia (0.8%); Alaska, Maryland, and West Virginia (each with 0.6%); and Indiana, Virginia, and Washington (each with 0.4%).

The states with the lowest density of apprentices, tied at 0.1%, were Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming. Because many apprenticeship programs are created by unions, or by a partnership of unions and management, it is probably no coincidence that every one of these low-apprenticeship-density states has a right-to-work law. (Among the states with the highest density of apprentices, only Virginia, with 0.4%, had a right-to-work law in 2011.) Another factor that may explain many of the low-density states is the hangover from the home-mortgage crash; construction is lagging badly in states with large inventories of unsold and underwater houses.

UPDATE: I computed the percentage of the workforce that is unionized in the low-apprenticeship-density states. The average for these 9 states is 5.3%. For the 8 states with the highest density of apprenticeships, an average of 11.6% of the workers are union members.

In next week’s blog, I’ll write about the trends in military apprenticeship programs.