Researching the Company or Its Industry before Going for Job Interview

  Dated: Aug 04,2013

It's shocking how many job-seekers go on interviews knowing hardly anything about a potential employer. By researching a company or its industry prior to an interview, you'll realize the following benefits:

  • First, the information acquired through research will enable you to ask insightful and penetrating questions.
  • Second, when you evidence through conversation that you have researched an interviewer's company, or industry, you'll immediately convey your initiative, motivation, seriousness of purpose, and commitment to your career. All interviewers are impressed with these qualities.
  • Third, an interviewer will usually ask what you know about his company or why you're interested in working for the organization. Your research will enable you to provide credible responses.
  • Last, the more knowledgeable you are about a potential employer, the more relaxed you'll be during the interview. In turn, you'll project a confident and positive attitude.

In fact, a survey taken by a leading market research firm found that not being familiar with a potential employer will make a poor impression on 75% of the interviewers you'll meet.

At the very least, you should be aware of a company's products and/or services as well as its size, either in dollar volume or number of employees. If a company is publicly owned, you should also know whether it's earning or losing money, how much, and the current trend.

An interviewer will be especially impressed when you're knowledgeable about the following:
  1. who the company's competitors are;
  2. how the company compares with its competition;
  3. significant events that have recently taken place in the organization or in its industry;
  4. any special problems the company or industry is facing;
  5. measures being taken to overcome these problems; and
  6. the company's prospects and plans for growth.

If you're seeking a senior-level position, it's particularly important to be knowledgeable about a potential employer. Not only will an interviewer expect you to have researched his company, but not having done so may lead him to feel that you lack the resourcefulness and motivation that a senior-level position demands.

If you're seeking an entry- or junior-level responsibility, conducting research will give you a competitive advantage over the other applicants, since most job-seekers neglect to take this step at this level.

Researching a Company

Moody's Industrial Manual, Value Line Investment Survey, Standard and Poor's Stock Reports, and Standard 6- Poor's Corporation Records contain write-ups on over 10,000 companies. Thomas Register; Standard Directory of Advertisers; Standard & Poor's Register of Corporations, Directors and Executives; and Dun & Bradstreet's Million Dollar Directory and Middle Market Directory list the products, services, sales volume and/or number of employees of over 150,000 companies.

The state directory lists companies' products and/or services, number of employees, and approximate sales volume. If you want to learn about a company that's a division or subsidiary of a larger organization (and it doesn't appear in the above directories), there are two sources to use. Directory of Corporate Affiliations gives the address, type of business, name of the chief executive officer, sales volume, and number of employees for over 40,000 companies that are owned by other organizations. The subsidiary companies appear alphabetically. The name and address of the parent organization is also provided. International Directory of Corporate Affiliations covers several companies that are owned by larger organizations (both American and foreign) located in the United States and abroad. Name, location, and type of business are provided for the subsidiary companies. Name, address, number of employees, products/services, and names and titles of key personnel are furnished for the parent organization. The listings appear alphabetically by parent organization. The parent and its subsidiary companies are also cross indexed by type of business and geography.

If you want to learn about a company that's located outside the United States, in addition to International Directory of Corporate Affiliations, the following are available:
  1. Directory of American Firms Operating in Foreign Countries.
  2. Directory of Foreign Manufacturers in the United States.
  3. Bottin International Business Register

Newspapers and business magazines continuously run articles on companies and are additional sources to consider, especially for learning about an organization's recent successes, current problems, and future plans. If you're interviewing for an executive-level responsibility, these articles may also shed light on the position the company has available.

In addition to conducting research at the library, here are other ways to learn about a potential employer:
  • A company's annual report, 10-K report, and Dun & Bradstreet report will be helpful. The last will be particularly useful for learning about an organization that's privately owned.
  • Most large companies have house organs (in-house newsletters) that discuss current activities and future plans. Reading these publications may also give you a sense of the company's work environment or corporate culture. To find out if an organization has a house organ, call the company or look through the All-in-One Directory, which lists the different publications.
  • Ask a company's personnel, public relations, advertising, or sales department if the organization has been written up. If an article recently appeared and it was favorable, reprints will be available. In addition, these departments will be able to tell you about the company's products and services, as well as its size.
  • Current and previous employees are also sources to consider. These individuals may even be able to give you important "inside" information, either about the position or the type of person the manager likes to hire.

If you were referred to a company by a recruiter, he might be knowledgeable about the organization. Recruiters from executive search firms will always have a great deal of information. Employment agency representatives, however, usually won't. In addition, you must be careful about what agencies tell you, since the people there work on straight commission and don't get paid unless the company hires you. Thus they will often present a biased assessment of a company.

If your interview is with a publicly owned company, your stockbroker might be following the organization or be knowledgeable about its industry. If not, he might be able to put you in touch with someone who is or provide you with a recent brokerage report.

The company's suppliers, customers, and competitors will always have a wealth of information, particularly about recent developments and any significant problems the organization is encountering. These individuals might be difficult to reach, though.

Researching an Industry

There's also a great deal of information available about different industries: U.S. Industrial Outlook and Standard and Poor's Industry Surveys give overviews on several manufacturing and service industries, with comments on prospects for the future. Business magazines such as Forbes, Fortune, and Business Week publish an Issue near the first of each year that reports on the status and outlook for different industries. Standard Rate and Data Service Business Publications, Business Periodicals Index, Business Index, and F&S Index will tell you which trade journals to read for any industry of your choice. The Wall Street Journal Index cites the editions of the Wall Street Journal and Barron's that discuss a specific industry.

In order to have sufficient time to conduct this research, try to schedule your interviews several days off. Don't let employers pressure you into meeting with them after having given you only a day's notice.

In the event that you're looking for your first job or are considering making a career change, you might also want to research the position(s) you're considering. The Occupational Outlook Handbook describes several occupations, including their responsibilities, educational and work experience requirements, projections for growth, and income potential. This publication also lists additional sources for information on each job category of Encyclopedia of Careers and Vocational Guidance covers many occupations, including sources for further information. The Dictionary of Occupational Titles details numerous jobs.
Just as in researching individual companies, researching the industry in which you’re interested will enable you to ask better questions and shows employers that you’ve done your homework and are committed to becoming part of their team.