How to research a company – in less time than you think!

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In my article on Interview Dos and Don’ts one of the “dos” I had mentioned was to research the company. As a follow-up, I want to point out that this is not an arduous task and that you can do efficient research on a company in a lot less time than you think.

In my opinion, the best tactic is to break it down into 4 key areas:

  1. What they do
  2. What’s their financial situation
  3. What’s being said about them
  4. Who their competitors are

Remember, you are not only doing this research to wow the interviewers: more importantly you are doing this research for yourself. The interview process is a two-way street. It’s important for you to know what you are getting yourself into if you are hired.

The other reason why you want to do research is that it will help you to uncover meaningful questions to ask during the interview. This always reflects well on one’s candidacy.

1. What they do

This one is fairly simple to find out by going to their website and looking at the “About” section. That one is pretty straightforward. Another way to get an idea of what operations they have in your area is to go to the “Careers” section and search for the jobs in your geographical region. This will help you to draw a rough sketch regarding what areas of the business are run out of your region.

Another area to look at is “How they do what they do” – meaning to understand if they are a good corporate citizen and how they give back to the community. If they are a publicly traded company, this should be fairly easy to find, either in the “Investor Relations” section or in its own section called “Corporate Citizenship” or something similar. If they are a private company, this may be a bit harder to find, but you can also find this when you are looking into their financials, which we will discuss next.

2. What’s their financial situation

If you are in Accounting, Finance or a similar field, you should be spending most of your time focusing on this area and going through the financial reports of the past 3 years as well as any notable transactions. Definitely have at least one or two question prepared based on this specific research.

If numbers are not your strong suit and you are tempted skip this section – don’t. As an employee, it’s important to know the financial health of your company as this will affect your bottom line in terms of your bonus, the probability of being laid off or if your company was recently acquired and your department made redundant. You need to know these things for yourself and for your family.

If you don’t know much about financials, you can still do effective research. While it is good to take a look at the “Investor Relations” section, this is not where you will get the bulk of your information. You want to get a sense for what analysts are saying about the company. Search for the terms “earnings” or “results” with the name of the company and go to articles published by the business section of various news outlets. This will help you to gain an overall understanding of the situation… and maybe even reduce your fear about doing a deeper dive into the annual report.

If the company for which you are interviewing is privately held, this means that their financial information will not be disclosed in the same way as that of a public company. In this case, just do the best you can but set limits with how much time you will spend trying to find information. Also, their competitors, which we will discuss a bit later, can help you with this area.

3. What’s being said about them

This is relatively simple but again, you do want to set limits with how much time you spend in this area. In this day and age with 24-hour news networks and social media, there is an abundance of information out there so you do want to manage your time and energy efficiently.

The best way to break it down is into those two areas: news and social media feeds.

With news searches try to ensure that the information is sufficiently recent to be relevant, that the sources are credible and that more than one news outlet are saying similar things. This will help you to distinguish between actual news and pieces designed to get more clicks.

With social media feeds, I would say the same thing – try to get an overall sense for what customers are saying or how the company is responding to customers in general. There will always be one person who is offended no matter what is said or done, but try to notice if there is a trend in the comments that might be worth investigating.

Another angle with your social media search is LinkedIn. If you notice that you know someone at the company and you are comfortable disclosing that you are interviewing, go ahead and direct message them. Even if you haven’t spoken to the person in years, rest assured that people are always happy to talk about the company they work for – especially if it’s a great company.

4. Who their competitors are

I will use an example in recent history that almost everyone can relate to. Let’s say it’s 10 years ago and you are interviewing for a position at Blockbuster. Great numbers, lots of subscribers, proven business model. Looks good right?

But then you take a look at who Blockbuster’s competitors are and you notice Netflix. Hmmm… new business model that is much more cost effective, extremely fast growth and has serious advantages over Blockbuster.

So while I am not suggesting whether or not our fictitious selves from 10 years ago should interview, I am making the point that it’s better to know what’s out there so that you can make an informed decision.

Some larger companies have different competitors based on industry and also rank differently across industries. It’s important to know this so that you are researching the correct competitors relative to the position for which you are interviewing.

Also, as I had mentioned earlier, if a company is privately held but ranks alongside publicly traded competitors, these can help to give you a rough estimate on the earnings and situation of the company for which you are interviewing.

Researching a company can take several hours but for the sake of your interview, it doesn’t have to. With the guidelines provided above, this should give you a good grasp on the company and hopefully sparked some meaningful questions that you can ask the interviewers. Most importantly, however, is that the information you have uncovered has reinforced your decision to interview with the company because you can now back up your intuition with facts.