1. What you need to research
Finding the information you need should be a step-by-step process. You should look to categorise your research as follows:
• The organisation – start with the essentials: the company’s history, its product lines, recent developments and details of any new projects or innovations.
• The sector – what are the main trends and developments taking place in the industry? Who are the main players and where does your employer sit within this ecosystem?
• The people/ culture – the culture of a company will usually start with its founder or CEO and filter down. Find out as much as you can about the people running the organisation, their background and values. Make sure also to research the person (or persons) who will be interviewing you for a better idea of the kind of questions you’ll face.
• The role – review the results of your investigation against the job specification. Can particular skills be deemed more important given what you now know about the employer?
2. Where you need to research
The web is a good place to start your research; here’s where you should be looking
• Company website – your first port of call. As well as the ‘About us’ section, be sure to scour the bios of the key decision makers. Skim the annual report for details of the firm’s strategy and future ambitions.
• Financial information – publicly listed companies will allow you to download details of their recent earnings and financial health. Registries like Companieshouse.com store details for smaller, private companies.
• Social media – LinkedIn and Twitter can be great ways to check up on what your employer is thinking and doing and to get a feel for the culture. Read updates and postings, and check out the profiles of the key stakeholders.
• Industry news sites/ blogs – these can be great for gossip on what the company is up to and for noting wider industry trends.
3. Who you can talk to
Those connected with the employer can usually offer a deeper insight into the culture of the company and what it takes to work there:
• Speak to current/ former employees – reach out to your network for first-hand testimonies of working with the organisation. Work through your LinkedIn connections or tap your alumni network.
• ‘Insider’ websites – sites like Glassdoor or chat rooms are useful for getting a warts-and-all impression of the firm and how the application process works.
• Ask HR – employers will usually provide information on the structure of the interview and who you’ll be meeting, so don’t forget to ask for it.
Of course every industry and employer is different, but the list above should provide a solid framework to build your research around. Information will differ from place to place and will sometimes be out of date, so remember to vary your sources as much as possible.