To stand out in a competitive market you need know what’s happening in your industry – and that means doing some detective work. Whether your aim is to identify companies to approach or research an organisation in preparation for an interview, here’s how to find the information you need and get ahead of the game.
1. Check the company website
‘Thanks to the internet, researching a company is easier than ever before,’ says Shaun Simmons, Managing Director of Cordant Technical and Engineering recruitment specialists.
‘Look at the company’s website – how interactive is it? Is it a static site? How old is the information and when was it last updated? This will give you a real feel for the business.’
A company’s site may include case studies of their work, key staff, awards won and an indication of their values. If the company belongs to a regulatory body, you can look up what kind of values or standards it has signed up to – and if it appears in a league table or has achieved an award, this may be worth mentioning at interview.
‘You can also visit the website for Companies House to check a company’s financial stability, credit status and future plans – all of this will be detailed in their last accounts. Some company information is free, or you can pay a very small fee to access more detailed information,’ adds Shaun.
2. Pay attention to language
Even if the company isn’t hiring right now, reviewing previous job ads can give you an idea of their requirements, salary, and departments that may be expanding.
John Lees, career coach and author of The Interview Expert advises scrutinising an organisation’s social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook), company reports, brochures and press releases to find out what they are most proud of and how they describe success.
‘Give particular attention to the language organisations use to describe what they do and how they describe job functions. Some organisations put an emphasis on technical language, others on the language of goals, values, customer experience or social responsibility.’
Mirror the same language on application forms and at interview and hiring managers are more likely to see you as a good fit for the company.
3. Talk to people
Good investigation gets under the skin of what it’s like to work for a business and will ideally include conversations with past or present workers, says John.
‘Look up key staff and their career history. Review case studies the organisation offers about career development, or any news you can find about appointments. Look at the people who have been hired – what overlap can you see between their backgrounds and yours?
‘Make talking to people a central part of your research – the more your enquiries lead to real conversations, the more doors it will open.’
Even if there aren’t any vacancies currently, employers are likely to remember you when something does comes up and will know your interest in the company is genuine.
Shaun also suggests speaking to staff: ‘Be upfront that you are looking to join the organisation and ask them for their thoughts. Have a set of thought- provoking questions ready. If possible, speak to their suppliers and clients. What are their views? What is the company really like to work with?
‘You could also speak to a company’s competitors – this might mean trying to casually socialise with other workers at lunchtime at a local café or sandwich shop and asking them questions about what they do and what they think of their competitors.’
4. Find out about the work culture
Don’t limit your research to upcoming vacancies, salary and training opportunities.
Career coach Ruth Winden of Careers Enhanced stresses the importance of researching a company’s culture: ‘Often people find out too late that they are in the right job but in the wrong type of organisation, because of a mismatch of ethos and working styles.
‘Go beyond the image the company portrays on its website: talk to current staff and previous employees (who are often more prepared to talk openly); follow discussions and company communications on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter; search on Google and consult sites such as www.glassdoor.co.uk’.
5. Ask questions during the interview
Before the interview, ask who will be present and look them up via the company’s site or on LinkedIn or Twitter. Knowing their career history and areas of expertise can indicate the kind of questions they are likely to ask and provide some common ground for discussion.
Treat the interview itself as an opportunity to further your research. When you’re asked if you have any questions, make sure you have some intelligent queries prepared.
Are you curious about training opportunities? Or where the company sees itself in the market? This is also a good time to ask about your day-to-day duties, who you will be reporting to, and get a feel for the company’s work culture.
With a little investigative work you can build up a picture of the industry and gain insight into an individual company – helping you to uncover hidden jobs and shine at interview.