How to Stand Out by Researching Prospective Employers

By Sonia R. Lelii

You’ve been out of work for weeks and now you’ve landed an interview with a reputedly good company for a job that fits your skills and salary needs. Now’s the time to find out what the recruiter and job ad isn’t telling you: the company’s real culture, whether or not its profitable, and if the CEO is a good and effective leader.

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Investigating a company and its management team may be one of the most important parts of the job search. In addition to preparing you for the interview, it will help you determine if you’re a good fit for the company – and if it’s a place you really want to work.
Some equate such efforts to cyber-stalking. Others just consider it another form of detective work. In truth, the process of researching a potential employer requires you to do both. While every job hunter has their method, these key steps can serve as a basic guide to this important part of the job-hunting process.


Your Inner Gumshoe…

First, act like a like a detective, and start combing the Web. Give the company’s Web site a thorough read, paying special attention to the backgrounds of the executive team. Then delve deeper into the Internet for articles that either focus on the firm, or at least mention it. Reviewing newspaper and magazine coverage is a good way to learn about important company events and milestones. If the company’s publicly traded, you can request a copy of its annual report to get an in-depth look at its financial situation. (The Securities and Exchange Commission’s EDGAR database is packed with filings, forms, and comment letters on public firms. Sites like, Hoover’s, and BusinessWeek’s Company Insight Center will add breadth to your research.

… and Your Inner Stalker

Once you’ve accumulated enough written data, it’s time to stalk. Figuratively, of course. Tap into your personal network, or make use of social networking tools to find someone who has first-hand knowledge of the business. It’s through real people that you can get a more intimate understanding of the company and how it operates. Sure, it’s important to know the company’s history, culture, diversity and business goals. But what’s it really like to work there? Does it have a flat executive structure, or is it a top-down organization? What kind of training and advancement opportunities does it offer? What’s the annual percentage of employee turnover? 

To get at the people who’ll be your best source of information will take some networking legwork. One IT worker, who asked not to be identified, says he tries "to find someone on the inside that works there, either a friend or a friend of a friend. If they’re in the area of the position that I’m interested in, I usually get the rundown on the types of people who work there and the way management works."

If that part of the process fails to bear any fruit, he gets a bit more creative: "If I don’t know anyone who works for the company, sometimes I’ll blind call them and ask for the voicemail of the manager of the department that I am applying in," he says. "If the organization is small enough, a lot of times they’ll patch you right through."

Some Web sites can help you get some inside scoop. The user-generated is packed with insider information on 30,000 companies, including actual salary figures (reported by the worker bees themselves) by function and location, interview questions used by specific employers, details on the hiring process, and tons more.

Coming to Conclusions

Once you’ve accumulated enough data, figure out the best way to use it in an interview. You can tailor your interview questions to highlight areas you’ve seen the company has in common with your expertise and experience. During the interview, drop bits of information you’ve learned to show you have an interest in the company that goes beyond just finding a job. After all, anyone who’s gotten an interview can just show up. Show you’ve made a real connection with the company and your chances of being invited back get a lot higher. 

Have some researching tips? Post them below.

3 Responses to “How to Stand Out by Researching Prospective Employers”

  1. is good, but only if reviews exist for the companies you wish to find. Also, you need to supply a review of your own in order to get full benefit. The good thing is the site requires pros and cons to be listed, as well as suggestions for management.

    If you find the company you’re looking for, remember to read between the lines of the people’s reviews. Are they just complaining, or do they have legitimate gripes? Are the pros OK with you, and you can live with the cons?

    Notice the location of the people who give the reviews. You may see great reviews in the US, but poor reviews in Europe or Asia. Note also the kinds of people and the reviews. If you see a VP of a department give glowing reviews, but the people under the VP think much less highly, that should send up a red flag, like maybe the VP feels great about the job and his/her bosses, but might not be paying close enough attention to his/her underlings.

    My two cents: The truth is partly somewhere in the middle of all the reviews, the pros and cons are more likely to be true if more people say them, and take all with a grain of salt. Could you deal with the drama for a year or two until the economy gets better?

  2. Will B

    I have to give special thanks to GlassDoor. I had an interview and found GD by “doing my homework”. I saw real quick to read between the lines. The ones who were fired generally were obviously resentful. Some good comments were clearly upper management types bucking for a brown nosing promotion. One ever apologized after getting a raise and felt bad about slamming them, BUT there was continuity and the job turned out to be less IT and more sales. I asked several questions at the end of the interview and one of them was, ¿How can I “wow” my Supervisor into being impressed with me to the point of ultimately recommending me for the next tier and I was told “Keep your matrix numbers up”. Well many, even good comments, talked about the “matrix numbers” meaning sales and up-selling of products, not actual Network Troubleshooting. After being offered the lowest paying job of 20 years, I said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”