Researching Companies Online: Do Your Homework
10 critical questions to ask when considering a career move.
By Andrew Klappholz
Very little is guaranteed in today’s business world. A lack of certainty in the global economy can take its toll on your job search. To make matters worse, after landing that plum job you may be stripped of it for reasons that have nothing to do with your job performance in the new position.
Large scale layoffs are all too common nowadays and often the last ones in are the first ones out. Many new hires are shown the door within weeks — sometimes after relocating their whole family for the new job.
This fragility is important to keep in mind when looking for a new employer. Some companies are more stable than others, and you owe it to yourself to thoroughly research those you are considering before making a commitment.
Before uprooting your life to make an ostensibly great career move, try to see past the hiring manager’s rosy pitch or the recruiter’s hard sell. Do the legwork and ask these 10 critical questions about your potential suitor’s operations:
- Who owns it? How frequently does ownership or upper-management structure change?
- Who are the company’s major clients or suppliers and how stable are they?
- How do the sales, assets and earnings look?
- Are there any pending government regulations that could put a wrinkle on things?
- Who are the key competitors? Do they seem poised to gain market share?
- What is the company’s reputation within the industry?
- What do the employees (past and present) think?
- Is there a viable growth strategy?
- Are the customers satisfied?
- How do current events affect upcoming revenue milestones or product launches?
“Google everything,” says Mark Grimm, a communications strategist and political consultant. “During an interview, I want to know everyone in the room and I want to know everything about them.”
When making a huge decision to take a new job, you also want to know about the balance sheet and beyond. Dig into these resources and get an idea if the job will still be there a year after you take it.
- Social media LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are all great resources while researching a company. Many have their own profiles where they post updates about company news, products and promotions. Also, consumers often provide feedback that can be quite enlightening about the organizational outlook.
- Government agencies The Securities and Exchange Commission requires that a publicly traded company’s financial data be made available. You can research any company’s SEC filings and profile using Edgar Online, a comprehensive resource with a powerful search tool. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office can also provide insight into what products might be coming up in the pipeline.
- Business-to-business services Hoovers Online delivers “comprehensive company, industry and market intelligence.” Housing a fine-grained database of millions of companies, this site is the business world encyclopedia: Every executive should subscribe. Business.com, the Google of business information, is a business-focused search engine and directory with tons of listings within many different industry, product and service subcategories. Searching on Forbes.com can also be worth your while.
- Vault Boasting “employee-insider” reviews of thousands of companies and detailed industry profiles, Vault.com could contain the motherload of red flags when researching a company. Be warned, employees and ex-employees could have their own agendas, but it’s better to know if something’s wrong than to go in blind.
- The Public Register Online Formerly the Annual Report Service, The Public Register Online is the largest free directory of annual reports on the Web — get down to the financial nitty-gritty here. Info.com provides similar earnings information. These tools can be very handy but always keep in mind the numbers that the company was expecting to hit and how the reported numbers compare.
- Wires Journalists rely on Business Wire to plan news coverage. Get one step ahead of the evening news here by subscribing or join the PR NewsWire. Search company news releases by industry. Compare “what they want you to hear” to the word on the street. Or try Bloomberg, which has sophisticated business stories that don’t hold back when something is wrong with a company.
- Regional experts Calling regional experts is a fantastic way to grow your network while getting the straight story on a company, region or industry. To find out your regional expert’s contact information, Google the local economic development offices, chambers of commerce and professional associations where the company is based. Hometown newspaper websites also tend to get the jump on layoffs before the Wall Street Journals of the world.
No single source ever reflects the whole story. Using the research tools above to gather the facts will help you outshine your competition in an interview setting and give you the context to decide if that dream offer really is too good to be true.
Andrew Klappholz is a general assignment reporter for Ladders.