How to Research a Prospective Employer

This article is part of a four part series on the ways to kick start your job hunt. To start this series from the beginning, read the introduction.

Researching a prospective employer is an often missed step when applying for work. It easy to get excited when you find a dream career and the perfect job. But not digging deep into an employer’s current situation and past reputation can prove to be a costly mistake.

You bet your bottom dollar that employers are checking your references, online profile, digital dirt, and credentials before extending an offer. You would be mistaken to not do the same with any prospective hiring organization. So before you rev-up your resume and complete your cover letter, let’s take a closer look at why you should research employers, what to look for, and how to sleuth like Sherlock.

Job Hunting Series:
  1. Choose Your Career
  2. Find Your Job
  3. Research the Employer
  4. Make Your Match

Why research employers?

I’ve worked for many companies over the years. Some jobs have been wonderful while others have left me wondering. I’ve learned the hard way to always spend some time learning about an organization before applying for a job. Here’s why you’ve got to do some detective work and unearth the employer’s dirt:

  1. To determine if the company is right for you. You may just find a dislike towards a particular industry, dig up unfortunate corporate digital dirt, or uncover poor employee relations. It’s also possible to be disinterested in the company’s products or services.
  2. To decide if you’re right for the company. Some companies or industries may not be the right fit for your skill set or for your ethics.
  3. To help tailor your application (resume, cover letter) to the position. Knowing specifically what makes the company tick can turn your application into the bomb.
  4. To help address the needs of the organization. Knowing why the company needs to hire for a position is key to addressing how you can help the company.
  5. To prepare excellent interview questions. Knowing specific industry information or advanced product knowledge can get you closer to an offer.
  6. To demonstrate your interest in the organization. A common interview question is “Why do you want to work for us?” Having an educated answer puts you ahead of the competition. One of the most important ways to distinguish yourself in an interview is to speak knowledgeably about the organization.
  7. To educate yourself about a particular industry. Perhaps this job is in a new industry for you. Get in the know before writing your application and heading into the interview room.

When do I research employers?

It’s a good idea to start snooping before you prepare your resume or apply for a position. By doing some due diligence early, you can quickly rule out any company not fitting your needs, ethics, or desired career path. It’s better to pull the plug early on a job and turn your focus on positions more worth your effort and time.

Where do I start looking?

Conducting employer research is much like preparing any other project or even school assignment. The idea is to put together a list of resources and based on findings, decide whether a particular company is the right fit for you. Be sure to consider your goals, strengths, and passions to see if the company is a match for your direction in life. Here are a few good places to start your investigation:

  • Corporate Website. Look for industry information, product or service details, and management information. Any decent corporate site will list company age, size, partners, and leadership details.
  • Google. You’d better believe any new employer is going to dig for your digital dirt. Why not do the same? Search forums, websites, blogs, and online articles to see what others have to say about the company’s products, services, and employee relations. You may be surprised.
  • Better Business Bureau. Bureaus can alert you to complaints against companies in your area. Be sure to consult them to see if your prospective employer is on the list.
  • Trade Publications. Research the employer’s industry activity in trade papers. Find their contributions to science, technology, or research. Read magazines, trade publications, and journals related to the field and organization.
  • Professional Associations. Is the company affiliated with an association? Consult the association website to see if the prospective employer is in good standing and how they contribute to the profession.
  • Annual Reports. Is the company public or private? Look to annual reports to reveal LOTS of interesting corporate details like their financial situation, health of the industry, mission statement, and staff numbers.
  • Advertisements. Check out any product or service ads the company runs in the media. Seeking out marketing information may be a key to how successful the company is in business and with clients.
  • Employee Handbook. Ask the Human Resources Department for the company’s employee handbook to find details on health packages, compensation, retirement details, vacation time, sick leave, and personnel policies. It’s amazing how a simple handbook can change your mind about a prospective employer.
  • Past Employee References. Do you know of a former employee of this company? Ask them why they left, who they reported to, and if they would ever work there again. A poor reference may be a good tell-tale sign.
  • Current Employee References. Do you know a current employee? Will the human resources department let you speak candidly to current members of staff? Interviewing current members of the team is an excellent way to judge if you want to work with this employer in the future.

What details should I uncover?

You now know where to look, it’s time to make a little list of what details to uncover. Consider finding these details when researching an employer:

  • Mission or philosophy statement
  • Source(s) of funding
  • Company ownership (private or public?)
  • Board of Directors
  • Reputation
  • History or background
  • Clientele list or membership
  • Strategies and goals
  • Areas of specialization
  • New projects
  • Age
  • Size and growth pattern
  • Recent layoffs
  • Number of employees
  • Locations
  • Office condition or facility types
  • Personnel policies
  • Types of people they employ
  • Health of the industry
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Services or products sold or provided
  • Career path or other opportunities available

Be sure to consider other details specific to the field or industry you are interested in. It’s important not to be shy about this process, as any employer worth your time is sure to conduct similar research on you.

What now?

Researching a prospective employer may seem like some work, but the results can be very rewarding especially if you decide NOT to apply for a job based on your findings. It just makes sense to do some homework on a company before applying for a job as you or your family may depend on this paycheck in the future.

When researching any prospective employer be sure to consider your goals, desires, and ethics to see how they fit given the information you’ve dug up. Depending on your findings, the organization may not be an ideal fit for who you are as a person. Short of uncovering criminal activity, everyone’s criteria will be different.

Do you conduct employer research when job hunting? Have you uncovered some dirt which has led you not to apply for a job? Any sleuthing advice for others?

Your two cents:

  1. Shahrokh January 25th, 2009

    This is great ! Keep it up.

  2. Joanne November 14th, 2012

    Thank you for this information. I am currently looking for work and have been looking for ways to rewrite my resume without looking stupid. I greatly appreciate it.

  3. Harry J. Ritchie October 12th, 2014

    Thank you very much, your article is greatly appreciated. I am a homeless Vet, who was laid-off after 22 years with the same organization. I never would’ve imagined myself being in this position after all the years of devotion. However after we lost everything in a housefire, I found my self unemployed 2 years later, homeless in seven. I am back in school to add charm to my resume, even at the age of 56 in hopes of finding something less physically demanding.

    Thanks again,

    Harry J. Ritchie

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