“Know the enemy,” one of the foundation elements in winning a war, was first expressed by Chinese general (and philosopher) Sun Tzu many, many centuries ago.
In business, we apply that principle to many aspects of what we do. We translate it to “know the competition” and “know the other side” in a business negotiation.
A successful job search requires the same approach.. you must know the company!
Of course, employers are not really your enemy in a job search (although it may feel that way some times). So in this case, knowing the enemy means collecting and analyzing information about potential employers to:
- Focus your job search efforts on organizations with the best opportunities for you.
- Find the best opportunities for you inside those organizations.
- Learn the best ways to land a job with each of those organizations.
- Identify contacts that can help you penetrate the HR wall, preferably as someone referred by an employee.
- Make an informed decision when you accept a job offer.
To get to know the company, inside and out, start with these sources and expand and modify as appropriate for you, the job you want, and your target employers:
1. The Employer’s Website
Visit the employer’s website, and learn as much as possible from it. For a successful job search (and job interview), learn as much as you can from the employer’s website:
- What do they do?
- Where are they (local, national, or international)? Where is the headquarters or “home” office located if they have more than one location?
- Who leads the company?
- Who else works there? (Do you know anyone who works there?)
- Do they have an employee referral program (ERP)? Is it described on the employer’s website? Make note of the requirements if you can find them, so you can comply.
- What are the products and/or services?
- How big is it (employees, sales, profit)?
- What do they show as “news” or “press releases” on their site?
- When and where are their jobs posted?
- What are their standard requirements and the technology related to your job that they use?
You won’t find all of those answers on the employer’s website, but hopefully you will find most of them. Make note of the information you find. Your notes will help you prepare for the “So, what do you know about us?” job interview question. Hopefully, you will be able to effectively leverage the ERP program (which greatly increases your probability of being hired).
LinkedIn is an excellent source of information on employers and the people who work for them. Leveraging this resource will help you have a successful job search.
LinkedIn Search | Search on the company name in the LinkedIn search bar. In addition to the Company Profile (next, below), look for employees (current and former) you are connected to, related LinkedIn Groups (like “alumni” of the company), SlideShare presentations about the employer (and their products or services), and related job postings for the company.
Company Profile | Check for a Company Profile on LinkedIn. LinkedIn shows – number of employees on LinkedIn (including how many you are “connected” with), “Updates” shared with LinkedIn, job postings (maybe), and more information on the “Careers” tab.
If you are interested in the employer, click the “Follow” button to hear more about the company on LinkedIn. They often note who follows them.
Employee Profiles | If you are connected with any employees, check their LinkedIn Profiles to see their education, experiences, and other things they seem to have in common. See what LinkedIn Groups they belong to so you can join those Groups. You may pick up interesting information from those observations, and you may also be able to ask questions to elicit responses directly from employees of your target (or possible target) employers.
If you are connected with any current employees and know them well enough to contact them about the employer, reach out and perhaps connect with a referral or get good advice on the hiring process and how to approach the employer most successfully.
Also check out the former employees using LinkedIn to see where they went next, and what you may have in common with them. If you are connected, ask them about their experience working there — the organization, the “culture” and the hiring process.
Research on Google will show you what “the world” has to say about the employer, perhaps contradicting what the employer’s website and LinkedIn Company Profile show.
Look for signs of prosperity or decline. New or pending contracts, product roll outs, and/or locations could mean new hires. A contract loss or closure of a location could mean the opposite. What’s in the news section of the website and in Google’s news search?
- If they sell products or services, search for reviews of those products or services.
- If you find the names of a parent organization, business partners, major customers, or contracts on their website or in news about them, search for information about those organizations, too.
- What does Google “suggest” about them when you start a query with the company name?
- Does Google Maps show you a “street view” of the organization’s location? Is it large or small? Does it look well-maintained and prosperous or in disrepair? Good neighborhood or bad? What you want/expect, or not?
If the employer is a publicly-traded company, Google Finance is a treasure trove of information about the company. Most of it is aimed at investors, but that information is very helpful for job seekers as well. Profits going down – maybe a cutback (with layoffs) is pending? Sales skyrocketing – maybe a big increase in staff is pending?
Look at the stock performance. If the stock price is jumping much higher than competitors, the market is expecting some good news. But, be careful – good news to the stock market may not be good news for your job search. The news could be a hot new product or service being introduced, OR it could mean the company is being sold and investors expect to make a killing. See what the stock analysts think.
Applying the Intelligence
A successful job search that lands you with an unsuccessful employer is not a good outcome. Once you have gathered and analyzed the information, apply it to your job search:
- Discard the employers who appear shaky, have poor reviews, or don’t “feel” right to you.
- Focus your efforts on the most positive employers and the most positive sections of those organizations as well as the managers with the best reputations.
- Develop good questions for the formal job interview process.
- Use the information you have collected to approach the employer – LinkedIn may be best for an employer who values skills with LinkedIn, for example.
- Consider what accomplishments, skills, and experiences you have that would be of value to that employer, and how to package them for that culture.
Once you have collected the information, you will find more ways than I can describe to use that information for your job search. Just take the time to collect the information, analyze it, and consider how to apply it.
For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at WorkCoachCafe!
About the Author: Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management since 2012, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.