Researching a Company

Hiring managers shouldn't be the only ones allowed to ask questions: You need to know if the position is the right fit for you, too.

Here are the basic concepts involved in the process of researching a company:

Why bother with research, you might be asking yourself. Consider some of the following points:

Common Sense for Self-Marketers:

Career professionals are always telling you to market your skills to get a job. In a sense, you're the product and the employer is your target audience or consumer. You have to research your target to know what they're buying -- in this case, what they're looking for in a successful candidate.


Research is an excellent way to impress the interviewer and show respect for their organization. In turn, you'll be viewed as someone who is motivated, prepared, genuinely interested and has initiative. Strategically dropping key clues of your research into an interview conversation will also make it appear as if you've been tracking the company's progress for some time instead of just recent weeks. This can all make you stand out positively. On the flip side, if all the other applicants took the time to research, you'll stand out in embarrassment and ignorance if you decide not to prepare.


With preparation and research, you'll know the company's history and future trends. That should help you anticipate some of the needs or challenges that may be facing the organization. Once you can pinpoint these, you can emphasize how your qualifications can fill the holes and solve key problems.

"It's important to link your knowledge about the company with the benefits that you offer," urges Neault. "A cover letter and interview should contain information about both you and the company and define the fit between the two."


Sometimes, particularly in conversations with people at the organization, you may be able to unearth information about lesser-known future changes in the company to which you can nicely allude later on. Perhaps the firm will be changing to a new computer program. Wouldn't it be convenient, then, to mention that you have experience with that program?

Two-Way Questions:

Naturally, research allows you to answer interview questions like the direct "What do know about our company?" or "What is our business philosophy?" and the subtle "What work environment do you work best in?" But don't forget that good background knowledge of the organization will likewise let you better formulate some insightful questions yourself!

Other Times:

When slipping in some mention of the company in a cover letter, you're sure to grab the reader's attention because you took the time to tailor your letter to a specific company. And during your initial job search, research helps you compile lists of possible organizations in your preferred industry. At the same time, you can refine those lists when you read about a company whose vision doesn't match yours.

Your Needs

You want to make sure your potential employer is financially stable, with prospects for growth. Even if you always love what you do for a living, liking where you work goes a long way toward job satisfaction."

Ask yourself whether you would rather work for a multinational conglomerate or a small, regional family-owned firm," suggests Kristin Kubly, author of a company research article and user services librarian at Middle Tennessee University. "You want to be sure that it is the type of organization in which you'll feel comfortable working."


There are three main periods during the job search when conducting company or industry research can only be a benefit. The process is basically the same, regardless of when you're doing it. But keep in mind that there will be variations in your research strategy from time to time because the purposes of research will change depending on the situation.

When you're first looking for work

Here, you'll be concerned with "big pictures" and generalities. Conduct a review of the industry and identify the key players in that industry. You'll soon be able to compile a list of major companies that you would consider applying to. If the type of organization and location are also good matches, then your research has helped you successfully find the companies that seem best suited to your talents.

When you're preparing a cover letter

When you're at the stage of composing your cover letter, research will help you locate the name of a specific addressee within the company, as well as information like job titles. Starting off your introduction with the name of a contact or some mention of the company's recent dealings is a great way to attract attention and show the reader that you customized your letter. Examining the job posting (if there is one) and discussing it with current employees will add depth to your letter. You'll have a better understanding of what the position entails and what you can offer.

When you're getting ready for the interview

The most important time to prepare, because an interview is your chance to finally market yourself face to face. You'll have a general profile of the organization from your preliminary studies and good insight into the specific position from the cover letter step. Now it's time for more detail. Get recent articles or press releases. Identify some major trends or challenges or areas in which you'll be able to contribute.


You know why and when to research, but what exactly do you need to find out?

Most research experts recommend moving from the general to the specific. This "funneling" method means that you'd first think about the industry, then the company, then the specific position, and lastly the work environment. Each is important to investigate, but we'll focus on the company aspect since it's usually the one with the most to dig through.

Although you don't need to answer every one, below are some of the questions you might want to consider answering for yourself during the course of your research:


Which industry or industries are you interested in?

What is the history of that industry?

What are some of the future trends or new changes?

What skills appear to be required to be successful in the industry?


The role it plays in its industry? Industry links?

Mission Statement? Business philosophy and values?

Ownership? (Public or private)

Size? (In terms of sales and employees)

Market and market share?

Products and services? Other activities?

Organizational structure?

Location of headquarters and major offices?

Names and titles of top officers? (plus any others you anticipate dealing with)

Length of time it's been in business?

Current reputation and recent issues to affect it?

Competitors? What makes this company unique?

Typical salaries for people in your position?

Financial Stability? Sources of revenue?

Hiring Practices?

Available career paths?

Benefits? Training?

Key internal and external challenges?

Strengths and weaknesses?

Local/National/International presence?

Plans for the future?

potential for growth


new products, mergers

Any other developments or trends that would need special skills?

Specific Position

How does this position fit into the overall scheme of the company?

What could you offer this position that would help the company overcome roadblocks?

Why is the position open? Or is one open at all?

What would be your duties and responsibilities? Your title?

Which skills or traits are required or would be an asset to this position?

What about educational or training requirements?

What would the reporting relationship be like? (superiors, subordinates, peers)

Work Environment

What are all reporting relationships like in general?

What's the management style?

What are the traits and values of your employer? Your co-workers?

Would your voice be heard?

How much autonomy will you be allowed?

What's the stress of the job like (overtime? deadlines? travel demands?)

How are you evaluated?

What's the atmosphere in the work environment? Would you enjoy working there?


Once you've composed a list of some of the key areas and questions worth exploring, it's time to get to work. The best place to go is the library and that includes special career resource libraries, campus libraries, and the business sections of local public libraries. The Internet is full of industry and company data as well, as are the companies themselves.

Since the links provided at the end of the article suggest specific tools and publications, we'll just give you a short list of some of the types of print, electronic and other sources that you can check out. It's always best to use at least a few references, and a lot will depend on what's available in your area.

  • business, industry, organization directories
  • magazine and newspaper articles (periodical indexes, microfilm or fiche)
  • annual reports (try looking at the past couple to see more of the company's growth and history)
  • government publications
  • computer databases and CD-ROMs
  • trade journals and encyclopedias of trade associations
  • company literature: brochures, reports (available by calling or visiting the company directly)
  • press releases or press kits
  • professional associations and their name rosters
  • recruiting, search firms
  • stockbrokers
  • the local chamber of commerce (especially for smaller private companies)
  • company's Web site or other Internet pages (again, see Net Links section!)

Make full use of business references or career librarians. They'll not only help you get the appropriate resources, but be happy to show you how to use them.


The sources noted in the previous section are great for painting a picture of the company from the outside. But you want to be on the inside, eventually. There are three ways you can ride the "inside track" and gain a competitive advantage: networking, information interviewing, and job shadowing or volunteering.


Establish personal contacts who can either answer specific questions or are in a position to get information to you. Everybody has personal contacts -- friends, acquaintances, parents, siblings, professors, former employers, co-workers, clients, career center professionals.

Always make new contacts, especially within the organizations or industries you're interested in. Research should help you find a name. Locate articles about the company and look for names of employees. Or get the member rosters of industrial or professional associations.

Next, call the company up and establish a work-related connection with some of these people, particularly ones who are doing work similar to the work you want to do. Most people are happy to talk about their work or guide rookies toward their career path. Sometimes even customers, competitors or suppliers can give you interesting company information from a different perspective.

Information interviewing

It may be the head honcho at the organization, your potential boss, or one of the employee contacts you found in the previous step. The point is, once you've found someone who's willing to share some insight with you, set up an appointment that's convenient for them (perhaps over lunch) and ask some questions. The following points should give you some ideas:

  • Opinions on the industry or company?
  • What attracted them to the company?
  • General pros and cons?
  • Corporate culture?
  • Job duties and reporting relationships?
  • Skills needed for success in the position?
  • Education and background of people in company?
  • What seems most important for interviews and resumes?
  • ho are some other people that would be good to talk to?

Add whatever else you want to the list, but during the course of the interview, remember a few things:

  • Don't beg for a job. This is not a job interview
  • Stay away from questions about pay, benefits and sick leave until and unless you've accepted a position
  • Be sure to send a thank-you note

Job Shadowing and Volunteering

If you're really keen about knowing what a day on the job would be like, ask if you can volunteer or do some job shadowing. Just like taking a campus tour can often clinch the vote for a particular college, visiting the workplace might just be the ticket to knowing whether or not you could really see yourself working there and liking it!

Hopefully, all the different kinds of research we've mentioned in this article will help you with your job hunt -- and help you to understand why "knowledge is power" should be your motto as you develop your company research skills.