How do YOU do company research?

Are you a librarian? Cyber-sleuth?  You might be now!You should always do research on the company and industry before you go into an interview. That’s what the experts say.

You should always do this type of research to determine potential target companies. The experts say that too.

How do people do this?

Actually, my way of doing the research is simple, and even overly-time-consuming (read: I wasted time “researching” on the Internet (“just one more click!)). I did not think about a model to ensure I was headed in the right direction, like what Susan Strayer or Mike Murray have in their books. I just used Google to search on various things like “product manager” & my city. I would spend a lot of time sifting through job boards, seeing who was hiring for what position, and then use Google to do research on either that job title or that company. I’m not even sure I knew what I was looking for, other than “anything I could find.”

In the last year I’ve met some people that do research for a living. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Research with a purpose. Figure out what do you need to know about the company or industry, and then begin to look for answers to those questions. My “mud on the wall” research sessions had to be inefficient.

Get help and advice. I have friends that are good at research. I have mentors that think a couple of levels above my level of thinking (of course, that’s what a mentor is!). Find out from them what the questions should be, and what tools they use.

Outsource, if possible. I didn’t have the money, and the exercise was good for me, but I know some of you don’t have the time or technical skills to effectively do a research project. It makes sense to outsource the project to someone that knows the questions and can get you the answers quicker and more complete than you can.

Don’t have time?? Even if you are unemployed and dedicate your entire time to a job search, there are lots of things you need to do. Networking is one of them. Don’t neglect some of the harder things (networking is hard for lots of people) to do the easier things (“surfing” the internet is easy for most people). Make effective use of your limited time!

Get familiar with tools other than Google, tools that were designed to do this type of research. I’ve been jealous of the research tools that outplacement companies offer their clients – I’m talking about the expensive databases they have available to do this research. But I’ve found websites that will help you do the same thing – one of these days I’m going to go more in-depth on these tools but for now you can start to get familiar with any of these:

LinkedIn – did you know you can do research here? Just go into the advanced search screen and you can search on companies, industries, titles, etc. Recruiters do it all the time to find candidates (that’s why you should have a good, fleshed out profile with keywords that they might search for – you should also have a network bigger than 5 people, as your search results are limited to your network (I think up to three degrees).

Jigsaw – Inc. Magazine calls it “the world’s biggest rolodex” – basically you upload your contacts which gives you “currency” – you can then get a certain number of contacts out of it. Salespeople use this all the time as they are trying to network into a company (sound like familiar advice?)

ZoomInfo – “The search engine for discovering people, companies and relationships” … go search your name, or your company’s name and see what comes up. This is a great way to find where you have been mentioned, and the way it shows the results is more geared towards this type of research than a regular search engine is.

Google and Yahoo – Ok, so these are incredible tools but I doubt research experts actually use just one. Don’t neglect the easy tools – the results won’t come back as nice or precise as the others, but you’ll likely find different kinds of information.

Have guerrilla marketing tendencies? Find a way to get access to the premium services. I’ve tried ZoomInfo’s premium services and it is INCREDIBLE. But you won’t be able to afford it, personally (if you could, step on over to the JibberJobber upgrade page and buy lifetime access… while you are at it, by two! ;)). Perhaps you know someone that might have access to some advanced tools – maybe a law student that has access to LexisNexis, or something like that. Be creative and think about who you know that might have the access you need.

Of course, when you do this company research make sure you keep good records. This is where JibberJobber comes in. You can either record your notes as log entries, or you can put them in a Word document, put that in the Document Manager, and then link it to the company. And of course, make sure you put all the company contacts in (regular users get one free company contact, premium get unlimited contacts per company).

Finally, if you are interested in outsourcing this check out Fast Track Transition Career Research. If nothing else, sign up for the newsletter to see what they think about, what they talk about. (I think its important to know what industry leaders do, that’s why the links on the left include recruiters and other employment experts – resources for you to better understand the employment space). For some of you they are affordable (and worth it!) and they have a two to four day turnaround – better than you fidgiting around for two to four days!

How do you do research? What tools/techniques are beneficial to you?

15 thoughts on “How do YOU do company research?”

  1. Thanks for linking back to our interview about CogMap. I notified my guest writer Scot about the link. He is out of course — playing GOLF today in a tournament! 🙂 Take care.

    Rex

  2. The phone is still your friend. It is easy to research many companies online, many are not so easy to find valuable information during your due diligence. It is also easy to post and send resumes.
    Picking up the phone to ask questions and pitch will separate you from the pack. You can check companies out by contacting customers, partners, vendor, employees (present and past)

    Taking good notes and organizing with your found info in all the great online resources posted here will empower you with knowledge. The time you take to research companies will improve your chances for a great fit. Oh, and don’t stop researching and keeping tabs on your industry and contacts after you land!

  3. @ Rex – no problem! Someone has to play golf… it just doesn’t happen to be me :p

    @ David – EXACTLY – AMEN! Once you land your job if you think you are done networking, or collecting intelligence on companies, etc. you are just setting yourself up for a hard fall! That’s why I call JibberJobber a career toolset, not just a job search organization tool! Thank you David.

  4. All of this is great for the “behind the computer” research, but I think the most important research is still the “person-to-person” stuff. Calling friends, acquaintances, and others in your network to ask them about the company, the department you’re planning on working in, etc. is always going to yield the best research and information.

    I’m a techie at heart, and would rather stay behind the computer, but the info I get from people is always of a higher quality than the stuff I get electronically.

    I think of this somewhat like doing real intelligence gathering. If you look at the way that the world of intel works, there’s a lot of electronic intelligence gathering, but most of the best stuff still is gathered through direct human intelligence – spies, informants and direct personal contact.

    Just my $0.02…

  5. Great article Jason,

    An elaboration on using Linkedin. 25% of company hires come from referrals. Check out the CareerXroads 6th annual source of hire whitepaper, http://www.careerxroads.com. By using Linkedin, you can find people in your network that know people at your target company. Great way to ask for an introduction and get an internal referral.

    Mike, I agree that the “person-to-person” stuff is the most valuable, but so is everyone’s time. When you can talk with a person I recommend you be prepared. My suggestion would be to have a list of questions, not unlike you would prepare for an interview. Try to get the intangible stuff, culture, ethics, some people call it the “dirt” on the company. Anyone can pull the financials off of Hoovers (another great source of info) but only an insider can tell you if the company lives it’s Mission Statement or not.

  6. I never thought about finding out about a company before going to work for them a good concept i learned a lot form your article very interesting . The jobs I have gotten I just went out and applied for one time I was hired because my dad knew the district manger he was a person friend of dads.

  7. Jason

    I have this topic as one of my job search skills presentation. I have one page summary called “What It Means to Research a Company”. If anyone has an interest, I can pass it along It is reasonably stand alone but does better when presented.
    Ernie

  8. All excellent tools.

    Don’t forget to research blogs for blog mentions of the company itself as well as your interviewer, via blogsearch.google.com and Technorati, to name but two.

  9. Jason,

    Research is so important to a job search and I think sometimes people find the prospect a bit intimidating. Research sounds like something we did in school and probably didn’t enjoy. I often refer to company research as company sleuthing because really what you are doing is sourcing creative alternatives for finding decision makers. The great thing about having a research firm do the sleuthing is that they will have access to tools that the average job seeker will not, and these firms can typically drill deeper into a company or decision maker’s general information. These resources can also be used in conjunction with other tools such as LinkedIn or Google.

    Another great “sleuthing center” is the public library. Reference guides such as Hoovers, Edgars, The Kennedy Guides to Executive Recruiters, Management Consulting Firms, and VC Firms are just a few of the many resources available.

  10. When I need to do unfamiliar research my first stop is at the reference desk to talk to the reference librarian.

    My public library has limited access to databases like Hoovers, but my alma mater has more databases. Example Lexis-Nexis business and industry, Hoovers company and industry, D&B Million Dollar Database, Reuters Investor, and all kinds of print references. If the company is publicly traded I download the 10K (annual report) and the 10Q – public tranparency for investors means public transparency for potential employees and business partners – from the SEC’s Edgar database. Yahoo Finance is also a good source for public firms.

  11. I agree with Brad that it is important to try to get the intangible stuff. If the company you are looking at is big enough, doing a quick search of publications specific to the company’s industry can be very helpful. You can frequently find articles on company employees that give you insight into the corporate culture of the company. For example, this article in Mass High Tech, and this article in The Scientist give insight into for what the corporate working environment at one big biotech is like—dedicated people given the opportunity to really make a difference. (Disclosure: I do research and relations work for Genzyme, which is why I’m familiar with these two articles. I included them in my comment because I felt the concept needed examples.)

    It’s not always easy to find these kinds of articles, but I find that industry publications are the best source. When you look at newspapers or get Google Alerts, it seems everything is about the market share or mergers and acquisitions.

  12. I do a ton of company research, and I appreciate the good tips you’ve put together here. If I can be so bold, I’d like to suggest you visit my page of Google Answers questions that I answered when I was a researcher there:

    http://xooxleanswers.com/business.aspx

    There’s a lot of good pointers in those Q&A’s when it comes to getting information on companies from particularly difficult or obscure sources.

    Let me know what you think.

    David Sarokin

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