Finding the Information You Need to Make Informed Employment Decisions
The competition for quality employment has always been tough, and if you expect to emerge from this competition with the job you want, you will need to find a way to gain an edge on the competition. At the same time, whether you are a recent college graduate or someone looking to make a mid-life career change, applying for a new job is a significant decision.
Before you apply for any job, there are two reasons why it is important that you find out as much about the prospective company possible: determining if a company and job is right for you and arming yourself for the interview.
The Perfect Fit - You and Your Employer
Most job hunters have a list, whether express or written, of expectations and traits they are looking for in an employer. While some sacrifices and compromises are expected in determining if an employer is appropriate for you, it is the burden of the job searcher to find the match.
- What is the company vision?
- What are the opportunities for advancement?
- What is the corporate culture?
- Are employees recognized and championed?
- Does the employer encourage growth of the employee?
- Is the company positioned for the future?
Arming Your Interview
One of the most appropriate ways to make a good impression on a potential employer is to show them your knowledge about their organization. An informed potential hire is someone whom stands out in the interview above others who know little about a company. With that said, this information is not exactly a secret. The web is full of great resources that can give you, or anyone else, the inside advantage in the interview.
The following is a list of resources and helpful tips that can assist in finding the right employer and prepare you for the interview.
Step 1 – Finding Basic Employer Information
Begin with the basic statistical and historical facts. This information is easily obtained and the foundation of any company. Knowing some or all of this information will be a strength in your interview.
Some core aspects of an employer are:
- The founding date of the company
- Services and products offered
- Names of key competitors
- Growth and expansion patterns
- Divisions and subsidiaries
- Size, including number of employees, stores, assets, annual sales, etc.
- Number of locations, foreign and domestic
- New products or services in development
Some employers will confront interviewees with questions about their company in the interview while others will not. Do not be afraid to find a way to work this information into the conversation. Some suggestions including asking a question about a service, commenting on historical growth, recognizing a company's longevity, etc.
Sources of Information: The Library
"Some employers will confront interviewees with questions about their company..."
Finding the information needed to arm yourself for the interview is generally not far away. Visit the business reference section of your local public or campus library. You will find numerous publications that give the basics on millions of companies operating in the US and around the world. Some of the best reference sources available for information about corporations both foreign and domestic include:
- Directory of Corporate Affiliations, from National Register Publishing
- America´s Corporate Families, Dunn Bradstreet
- Moody´s Manuals
- Million Dollar Directory, Dunn Bradstreet
- Standard and Poor´s Corporation Records
These publications are excellent starting points as you begin the process of educating yourself about the particulars a specific employer. The local library, while effective, is not the only way to research employers. Thanks to the web we can now find a lot of information about potential employers online.
Sources of Information: The Internet
There are many online services that provide facts and figures on businesses in the United States and around the world. Some offer this information for free while others Did You Know?
Most employers big and small have an online job presence. These employer sites generally contain basic job information, as well as interesting details you might not find in other places. One can also find job listings and other factual job information, such as benefits, recruitment and more. Go to your company's website and look for "Careers."provide a combination of free and paid materials. Manta is a site that is a combination of free and paid information. The free information provide on Manta is substantial for basic needs and is highly recommended. One Internet resource that can be especially useful is Reference USA, which contains information on over 14 million businesses in its database. While it is possible to pay for a subscription to this service, there is a good chance your library will already be a subscriber. Go to your library and you should be able to access Reference USA on a library computer. Generally speaking, if you use Google or another Internet search engine, you can find basic information about most companies in a diverse number of places.
Step 2 – Going in Depth
Landing a job at your choice employer might require deeper research. Whether the prospective employer is public or private, digging deeper can help deliver a vivid picture of the company.
Publicly Owned Employers
Information about publicly owned companies is the easiest to find. First, some of the publications mentioned earlier as sources for basic information can provide more in-depth data as well. The Million Dollar Directory can give you important contact information, such as the names and phone numbers of top executives or other key employees. Moody´s Manuals and Standard and Poor´s Corporation Records can provide details about corporate balance sheets, stock and security data, product lines and organizational structure. Public businesses, unless they are small, will also be listed for public trading on the New York Stock Exchange or NASDAQ if you want to find current information on stock prices. Further research of public companies can provide stockholder's annual reports.
Annual reports to stockholders contain important and informative details, such as:
- A letter of summary from the Chairman of the Board of Directors
- Information about overall sales and marketing activity
- An auditor´s report
- Management analysis of yearly performance
- Detailed financial statements covering at least a ten-year period
- Lists of subsidiaries and company addresses
- Lists of executives and directors
- Charts, tables and graphs
- Reports of past activities and future plans broken down by division
A telling aspect of stockholder’s reports is that they contain a combination of objective details and subjective presentation that reveal not only where the company is at the present time, but future positioning and aspirations. This information can be used within your resume and cover letter and/or preparing yourself for the interview.
Because many businesses view stockholder’s reports as good public relations, they are often available for download on most company websites.
Having trouble finding a stockholder's report? The following are sources where reports can be ordered or downloaded on the Internet:
- World Investor Link – these are annual report services from financially oriented newspapers, and individual reports can be ordered for free or sometimes downloaded online
- Annual Report Gallery – claims to have the most complete set of reports available anywhere on the Internet available for free download in PDF
- Global Reports – international in its focus, providing reports for a fee from companies in 69 different countries
- Public Registrar´s Annual Report Service – financial reports and press releases made available in addition to free reports on over 3,600 public companies
The Securities and Exchange Commission requires that all public companies make a full financial disclosure known as the 10-K, which features detailed information about the current financial state of that business. In addition, there are also three other reports that can be obtained from the SEC by members of the public: a Quarterly Financial Report known as the 10-Q; a Report of Unscheduled Material Changes or Corporate Events called the 8-K; and a similar form to the latter called the 10-C, which is for Over the Counter (OTC) companies.
If a company is privately owned, it is not required to file stockholder’s reports or provide detailed financial information to the SEC; however, you may still obtain the information you need. Various directories provide some information about private companies. Three sources available over the Internet that can be quite helpful are:
- Lexus/Nexus Academic – a library database that links to sources devoted to private companies
- America´s Largest Private Companies from Forbes magazine, lists sorted by name, industry, state, revenues and employees
- Inc. 5000 – a closer look at the fastest-growing private companies
At your library, you will be able to find the Business Periodicals Index. This keeps track of 350 publications that cover all areas of business, and you should be able to find something about any company you are considering working for here. Another interesting source of information available online is called Fundinguniverse. This site is devoted to the history of companies both public and private, and provides invaluable information about the evolution and development of many different businesses.
Foreign companies with subsidiaries in the United States present the information seeker with a more difficult veil to penetrate because of their immunity to disclosure laws; nevertheless, sources of information are available that can be at least somewhat helpful. Moody´s International Manual is a publication geared to the needs of investors. Moody's can provide a lot of critical data in the area of finance and general operations for a large number of foreign corporations. The ubiquitous Directory of Corporate Affiliations covers foreign-based companies as well, and trade associations are also an excellent way to gain knowledge of trends and developments in an industry as a whole.
Small Local and Regional Companies
Small local and regional companies are the hardest entities to find in-depth company information. This is in large part since they are not likely to show up in many print or online databases, especially if they are privately owned; however, learning more about this kind of business is far from hopeless. In fact, there are five good sources of information that can provide useful and important data:
- State industrial directories
- Local newspapers
- Local Chambers of Commerce
- Local chapters of the Better Business Bureau
- Public libraries with local collections of interest
These sources are good for finding out details about any company that might be operating in a particular state, city or region, regardless of size, structure or ownership.
Step 3 – First Person Employment Information
So far, the information has been focused on increasing your chances of landing a job with a particular company with mainly outside information. The following sections are four sources of insider information from the employees themselves.
Even if you do not personally know anyone who works at a particular employer, it is possible that through your personal network you have a connection. It has often been pointed out that no one is much more than three or four degrees of separation away from anyone else. As a result, putting the word out among friends and relatives of your interest might be a way to gain valuable feedback about what is really going on behind the scenes. If you find you do have access to someone with insider experience, try to arrange an introduction with that person.
Rankings and Lists
There are a number of publications, websites and other organizations that compile “Best of” lists. These are popular with readers, and can function as a good source of information for the job seeker. Some of the especially useful lists out there and available on the Internet include:
- 100 Best Companies to Work For (Fortune magazine)
- 100 Fastest-Growing Companies (Fortune)
- 100 Fastest-Growing Small Companies (Fortune)
- 100 Top MBA Employers (Fortune)
- 100 Best Small Companies (Forbes magazine)
- 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers (Working Mother magazine)
- 40 Best Companies for Diversity (Black Enterprise magazine)
You can also perform your own online search to find other specialized lists, and do not forget to look for “Worst of” lists as well.
Forums and Social Networking
Social networking platforms like Facebook provide a convenient means to connect with individuals and gain inside information about specific employers. Of special interest here is LinkedIn, a business-oriented social networking site is designed for those who are particularly career and business minded. There are also numerous discussion forums available on job search sites like Indeed.com, which has special areas dedicated to individual businesses.
Job Sites with Inside Information
A newer breed of web site has been cropping up recently that specifically attempts to answer that all-important question: What is it like to work at Company X? These sites welcome both former or current employees and encourage job seekers to review their experience, both good and bad of their employer. Some of the most prominent of these sites include:
Vault and WetFeet require fees for some of their data and collect information anonymously from former and current employees. Glassdoor gives users a sneak peak, then lets people read the reviews of others only after they have left a review of their own. CareerLeak is entirely free and voluntary and provides a deeper look into specific companies.
The Limitations of the Insider Sites
If you are thinking of working for any company, it certainly behooves you to visit these websites to see what other working men and women have to say about the time they have spent employed by your potential future employer. However, there are some weaknesses and limitations to these sites that you should be aware of when you visit:
- This kind of site is still a relatively novel idea. The databases of worker reviews are not necessarily as large as you might hope for, especially in the case of medium-sized or smaller employers. Even larger employers tend to have so many outlets, stores or service providers that only some may have extensive employee reviews available. In fact, some outlets may not have any reviews at all. Over time, this should become less of a problem, as more people become aware of the existence of these sites.
- Even with monitored sites, you have to be aware that the people who leave reviews may have a personal agenda or grudge that create a perspective that is inaccurate. This could be a negative agenda, but it could also be the reverse. Who is to say that companies might not send people to these sites to leave phony positive reviews as a way to counteract the negative ones? In all likelihood, this has probably already happened.
- Keep in mind, even if the reviews for Company X are generally negative, it is not always indicative of the whole. For instance, a manual laborer might be less satisfied than management. Just because there is worker dissatisfaction at one level does not mean it would automatically extend to the department or position you are considering.
- It is a well-known fact that when you solicit voluntary opinions, people with negative perspectives are generally more motivated to call, write or post, than people who have had more positive experiences. It is likely that negative or critical opinions will be overrepresented on these kinds of sites.
How to Use Insider Job Sites
With those caveats aside, let us now look at how you can use these sites properly in your search for more information.
- Look for commonalities in any review about specific companies. Do reviewers universally mention management incompetence, poor benefits or stress-filled environments? Do particular geographical locations or job categories draw more positive reviews than others? When commonalities are present and consistent, it is generally safer to provide more trust in the review.
- Is there something about a review that alarms you? Would you be in a position to make a change? Maybe you are applying for a management position where you could empower your employees. Could your vision could be a turning point?
- Do not just read these reviews passively. If these sites allow you to ask questions, then by all means ask them. Alternatively, you can also go to other forums dedicated to employee feedback to ask people specifically about their experiences with Company X. Once you have established a picture of a job/company, you should take advantage of the other sites, social networks, and personal networks to verify. Using different sources will increase the chance of gaining a more accurate picture of a particular employer. Insider Job Review sites are only going to be as effective as their readers and participants make them. Do everything you can to make sure the opinions offered are being challenged and not just accepted without question.
Every job seeker needs to have an edge on the competition; therefore, it is absolutely essential that you do extensive research before you apply for any job. This will allow you to prepare for the interview and determine if a specific company is right for you. All of your competitors will be doing similar research. Using the tools mentioned above will undoubtedly put you ahead.