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Home  > Article

Doing Your Homework

By Bryn Canner

How to use research tools to your advantage, both to help to figure out the corporate culture and give you the interview edge.

If you know what your resources are, you can conduct a quick, yet comprehensive search.
Whether you've landed an interview (congratulations!) or are just poking around to find companies that match your interests and goals, it's time to hone your research skills. Some of the tools used for researching a company or industry are the very same ones you would use if writing a feminist critique of Moby Dick for your 19th century literature class; other tools, however, are specific to your career search.

Understanding a company's mission and the focus of its work will allow you to answer questions (both to yourself and to a potential employer) about how you see yourself fitting into a company's culture. You don't necessarily need to study stock prices and business ratios (though this information would be pertinent in a finance-related interview), but you should have a sense of the company's direction, as well as major industry trends and forecasts.

Where to look
In order to feel prepared for an interview-and confident of your interest in a company - it's not necessary to embark on a rabbit hole research project. Check with your school's career center first. If you know what your resources are, you can conduct a quick, yet comprehensive search.

  • The Internet
    If you simply enter the name of a company into a search engine (such as Yahoo!, Google or Excite), you'll get lots of listings, among which should be the company's web site. Read it. Press releases--statements written by or for a company that announce and promote company news--can be found on the Web as well. While these pieces are biased toward company interests, they can offer valuable data and up-to-date info. You might discover that the newly appointed Chief Financial Officer, who will be sitting in on your interview, is a graduate of your school.

  • Periodicals
    A periodicals search at the library can help you find recent newspaper and magazine articles about a company. Almost every industry has a trade magazine for professionals in the field. If you want to go into advertising, for example, read Ad Age or Adweek. If information services is your field of choice, pick up an issue of Information Week.

  • Trade Magazines
    Beyond trade magazines, you can look to newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, particularly to follow industry trends. The marketplace section of the Journal offers an index of all the companies mentioned in that edition.

    If you're interviewing for a financial position, these periodicals can give you the information you need about significant movements in the Dow, S&P 500 Index, federal lending rate, and unemployment rate.

  • Company Call
    You also can call a company directly. If you call the HR department, ask for a brochure. If it's a publicly traded company, call the investor relations department and ask for an annual report. (It's okay to pretend you're a potential client or investor.)

  • The Reference Section
    Directories and lists (found at the library) are another good tool for locating company information. The Yellow Book series (with volumes such as media, law firms, and government) gives full-page descriptions of the top thousand companies in a particular sector. The NASDAQ 1000 lists the top thousand companies traded over the counter on the NASDAQ exchange.

  • Professionals
    Finally, don't forget to use professionals in your field or company of interest as resources. Ask them if they read a particular publication, if they have an opinion about a developing industry trend or company decision, and how they stay informed. If you're short on contacts, check out your career office's alumni network. They often organize listings by industry.

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