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Research 101: Checking Out a Prospective Employer

It wasn't all that long ago that the only research a job seeker needed to do prior to a face-to-face interview was to find out the best route to take to the prospective employers' offices. Well, guess what? The rules have changed. The pendulum has definitely swung. Today's highly competitive job market dictates that individuals who want to put themselves in a position to win that new job must now have an in-depth understanding of the company they are about to meet with. It's a critical part of the job search process.

There are several reasons for this shift, this need for extensive research:

Today's hiring officials want to make sure you are a great fit for their organization. They are no longer forced to hire just anyone to fill a spot. They want to reduce the chances that after only a few months on the job you don't "jive" with the rest of your team or department. One of the ways they make that determination prior to hiring you is to see if you really have a passion for who they are and what they do. If you have to ask a lot of questions about their company, in their minds, you probably aren't a good fit.

Your research of a company will reveal to you a potential employer's philosophy and values, work culture and it's demands and rewards, employee characteristics and other essentials you will need to make a match appropriate to your career goals and personality.

Minimally, your research will help you uncover information on the company's size, number of employees, new initiatives, reputation, products and services, and competitors.

Additionally, your research will help you write targeted cover letters and resumes and help you develop probing questions to ask in the interview.

So where can you find information on a targeted prospective employer?
There are a number of sources, including:

Search engines on the Internet like Yahoo, Excite, WebCrawler, or Google. Use very specific terms to define the skills you have, the types of jobs/companies you are looking for. Bookmark the ones that seem to bring you good info. If you donít have Net access at home, go to your local public library.

Staying with the Internet, check out these specialty sites that offer both free and paid company research services:

Hoovers.com, a premier business reference directory. This site provides various levels of information on companies depending on how much you want or are willing to pay for. This is a top-drawer site and one used by most business professionals.

Vault.com, an on-line firm that does espionage on thousands of companies to find out from present and previous employees what it's really like to work for that firm. Most of their services are fee-based, but well worth the investment.

Wetfeet.com, a competitor to Vault, with a few added features. They publish several industry specific reports that give readers great insight into various companies in that segment.

SEC's Edgar Database (www.sec.gov), which gives an on-line version of a company's 10K report, or public filing.

The library. (Yes, Virginia, there still are books). Most public libraries have a strong collection of research publications that will give you more information than you could imagine about most every company in existence.

Networking. Still considered by many, including this career coach, to be the most effective tool available. Talk to work associates, family, friends, fellow churchgoers or athletic club members. See if they know someone or know someone who knows someone at your targeted firm. Don't rule anyone out as a potential source.

Company websites. In addition to looking at their careers section, look at their News or What's New or Press releases sections. They will give you the latest information on what's happening and possible clues on new areas or projects you might be able to help them with.

Once you have completed your research on a specific company, you should be able to answer the following questions intended to help you assess whether or not the company is a good potential fit for you:

Maybe another way to look at the importance of doing research on a prospective employer is to think of the interview as a sales call where you get to sell your product...you. The interview may be the best chance to clearly differentiate you from the competition. By showing the hiring manager that you have done your homework, that you have a passion to be part of their organization and can describe in detail why you would be a great fit, that you ask great questions that show your knowledge of the firm, and by proposing the work you would do to help move the company forward, you will land that great position.

-Gordon Miller
Career coach, speaker, and the author of The Career Coach: Winning Strategies for Getting Ahead in Today's Job Market (Doubleday).
gordonmiller@group56.com.
www.group56.com