Looking for creative ways to research a prospective employer beyond checking out the website? Let us help.

Everyone knows that candidates are supposed to research a company before heading into the interview. However, what exactly does that mean? Is looking up the company's website enough, and if not, how much more should you do?

What amount of research is appropriate and expected isn't just an idle question; candidates are often applying to more than one company. Combine multiple applications with full-time work at the current employer and it's clear that time is limited. How can you structure your research to yield maximum value and give you the edge you need — without spending hours online?

Begin with the company basics

The company website is a great place to start. Keep in mind that, much like your own resume and cover letter, a corporate website presents a professionally-curated image. You will find awards, carefully-worded brand messaging, feedback from happy customers, and other strategically-developed materials. That is not a negative thing, but it helps to understand why you shouldn't check off the “research” box after this step is completed.

If you are interviewing at a public company, find and read its most recent 10K Annual Report (you will find it under the “Investor” section on the company website, as well as on the SEC website). Annual reports may not sound like exciting reading, but they can deliver valuable information about the company's strategy, competitors, performance, risks associated with the business, and much more. Those who are short on time (or who find that reading the entire report cover to cover puts them to sleep) should focus their attention on management discussion and market segment sections.  

If you are interviewing at a startup, Crunchbase will provide similar information about funding rounds, recent hires, company news, etc.

Next, look at social media

Most companies these days have a social media presence. LinkedIn should be your first stop. Look up the company profile, as well as the profiles of key executives. You may also want to look for the head of the department you would be reporting to, as well as the person you will be interviewing with. If the corporate or individual pages include links to published articles, you can get a glimpse into “hot button” issues for the company. Take note, as these make excellent ideas for interview questions.

Other social media websites, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and messaging sites like Telegram, may offer different angles on the company and the people who work there. What do they choose to post about? How do they interact with customers? Do you see incessant advertising? Is the content reflective of thought leadership? Be sure to take notes so that you can easily refresh your memory prior to the interview.  

Run an internet search

A quick online search will produce a list of press releases, articles that mention the company, interviews with executives, and much more. If you are interested in a specific company and have some lead time before the interview, you may consider creating a news alert for the company name, as well as the names of key executives. When new materials that meet your search criteria are published, you will automatically get an email with the link.

Check company reviews online

Glassdoor.com has both positive and negative feedback from current and past employees for thousands of companies. Think of it as a virtual water cooler and gossip room. Reading Glassdoor reviews and comments can be insightful, entertaining, and thought-provoking. On that note, remember that Glassdoor allows its contributors to remain anonymous. Most users are honest, but virtually everything you read on Glassdoor is self-reported, subjective, and hard to verify. Look for patterns without focusing on any one experience and maintain a measure of professional skepticism no matter what you read.

On that note, you may get more reliable feedback by reaching out to the company's vendors and customers. This may not apply in every industry, but if you are able to connect with real people who interact with the company you are interested in, you can get a valuable look behind the curtain.

Don't neglect human research

Social media and internet research will only get you so far. Successful candidates find that LinkedIn and other virtual connections are most powerful when used as a stepping stone to real conversations. Look for professionals who have worked in the company and are open to speaking with you. Come prepared with questions, use their time wisely, and remember to send a thank-you note after the conversation — no matter how brief.

Your checklist for acing the pre-interview research

As you plan your deep-dive into the company website, LinkedIn, and other sites, remember that this research phase of the job-search process isn't just a fact-collecting assignment. Research should solidify your decision to pursue the opportunity — or give you warning that this position isn't right for you.

Look for patterns in everything. Based on the track record of individuals in leadership positions, what skills and experiences do the company value? What can you deduce about its culture? In a perfect world, the research you do should fuel your excitement about the company and energize you for the interview!

You've done your research, now make sure you can answer the questions. Learn more about our interview-coaching services.

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