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WRT 272 Communicating Your Professional Identity in Biology

Library resources for Developing a Professional Biology Writing Portfolio

Getting Started

When it’s time to learn about organizations you are interested in working at or interning for—or if you already have an interview lined up—how do you best go about finding the most important and credible information about that operation? You'll want to find out as much as you can ahead of time to get a competitive edge and show that you have done your homework! By doing this research ahead of time, you can impress the recruiter or interviewer by showing that you were prepared enough to ask the most relevant questions, that you are aware of the organization's current challenges and opportunities, and have a heads up on any important recent news and developments such as the release of a critical new product or service or launch of a major new initiative.

Of course, you can check the organization's’ own Web site, or do a Google search on its name to find some of this—and you should!—but there’s a whole lot more available to you to dig really deep into the enterprise. You can discover harder-to-find and more “insider” type information like its competitors, strategy, key staff and contacts, financial health, and even what it’s like to work there.

In this LibGuide, I’ve pulled together some favorite sources and strategies for finding information on for-profit and non-profit organizations, all from a student's perspective who's looking for a job or internship--and all organized into the tabs below. I’d suggest starting with the glossary at the below right as well, to help you understand the difference between various types of organizations and how your research strategy will vary based on those distinctions.

If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact me, the Outreach Librarian for Business here at U.R. You’ll find an easy way to contact me just below and to the right.

Good luck with your job searching!

Bob Berkman

Outreach Librarian, Business

Job Search and Internship Resources

Library Databases That Provide Snapshots of Companies and Non-Profits

The following library sources all can help you find a quick snapshot of the organization or organizations you are researching.This means information like where it is located, what it does, number of employees, when founded, CEO, competitive positioning, and more. We've organized these into the following categories:

  • All purpose company snapshot databases (large public companies, U.S. and International)
  • Screening/building a qualified list of types of companies (by size, region, etc.)
  • Organization analysis databases (strategic direction, competition, positioning, outlook etc.)
  • Private company databases (focuses just on privately held companies)
  • Non-profit databases (charities, educational, and other non-profit organizations)
  • Very small, new/entrepreneurial company databases (venture funded start-ups)

All purpose company databases

Building a list databases

Reference USA

Comprehensive company/residential directory; build lists using 30 variables or Map Based Search. Includes consumer demographics and historical business data.
 
Company analysis databases
 

Private company databases

Non-profit databases

By law, non-profit entities must file complete financial and operational disclosures with the U.S. government. These are known as Form 990s, and there are in fact made available to the public. You can search and review these filings by searching either of these two sites, which not only provide the ability to search and retrieve the forms on the target non-profits, but include a wealth of other information on researching and understanding the non-profit world.

The Foundation Center 

GuideStar

Very small, new entrepreneurial company databases

These databases provide recent news and can give you a heads up on what is going on with the organizationyou are researching so you can show the interviewer that you are interested in following its activities. You'll find out things like latest product releases, new executive appointments, possible mergers or acquisitions, financial news, consumer reaction to products and much more.



Best Databases for Industry Research

When you are learning about a company, it is also wise to learn as much as possible about the industry that company operates in.  This will provide you an even deeper understanding of how and were that organization fits with its peers and competitors, and increase your knowledge about the larger forces impacting the organization when its time for your interview.

Here are our best sources for digging up information about an industry. Be sure to also review the "Organization News" database tab too, as those sources contain information from trade journals, newspapers, and magazines that also provide news, leading companies and organizations in the industry, trends and outlook for the field and more. 

 

The following databases are more focused on specific industries:

Best database for  consumer - research:


When you need to locate any indepth financials about an organization, or if  you are researching a publicly held company (see the glossary) and you want access to its official filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), you can use these sources listed below.

In the age of the conversational Web where everything is made transparent, you can also find sites that will provide you with some insider type information on what it's like to work at a particular organization. And there's one site called Vault, that is available directly to you from the U.R. Career Center or the Simon Career Center. Vault not only provides reviews of all sorts of enterprises, but also ratings and reviews of colleges and universities; lists of new daily updated job and internship opportunities; links to career guide manuals and more. To sign up with a U.R. account, just log in and create your account here.

Probably the best known and most comprehensive free organization rating site though is:

Glassdoor

With employee reviews for over 500,000 companies--including non-profits, universities and all sorts of employers--Glassdoor has become the largest and most prominent player in the "what it's really like to work here" type site on the open web. It provides information from current and previous employees such as the company culture, opinions of the CEO, what works and what does not in the organization, an overall rating of what it's like to work there, and more including even job interview questions in some cases. There's also salary range information by position, and more. Glassdoor has described an extensive email and content analysis check to ensure that those who say they are or were employees of an organization truly were, and through its methods says it rejects about 20% of all entries.

Caution: Be careful and judicious on how much stock you put into organizations that have been rated negatively by employees. Although Glassdoor has a good reputation, keep in mind that the reviews these are not scientific surveys, but self-selected opinion.  It is known that those who have a strong opinion about something are the most likely to share them, and so you may sometimes be swayed by those who truly loved--or perhaps more likely--truly hated something about the firm. Be particularly careful when reviewing companies with only a handful or less of reviews. You are more likely to have credible information when there are many many people who say the same thing or report similar themes.

Thinking about graduate school? There are resources out there to inform you on which programs to apply for. You can use the sources below to search for graduate schools based on things like available programs, research areas, location, cost, and reputation/rankings. Check out these links; consult campus resources like faculty you trust, the Career & Internship Center, and librarians; and talk to real graduate students to hear their experiences. The Princeton Review has a list of 5 Tips for Choosing a Graduate Program to get you to kick things off.

Although the real in-depth nitty gritty and insider type information about companies and non-profits is found in our library's full strength and powerful searchable databases, as you know, you can also find quite a bit about all sorts of organizations on the open Web. Here are the sources and strategies we recommend you take when doing your open web research:

  • The Organization's Own Web Site. It's a simple matter, of course, to plug in the name of the target organization you are looking for into Google and link to its Web site to learn more about the operation. But there can be a lot to wade through, so here is what we'd recommend you be sure to click on and review to pinpoint the most relevant facts you need:
    • "About Us" page. Here you'll typically find the history of the organization, names and titles of key executives, its mission, description of its products/services, and what it claims are its competitive strengths.
    • "News" Most organization's Web pages have a "news" link where you can browse and read articles written about the entity, as well as press releases it has recently issued announcing some new initiative or development. Reviewing these press releases are very important to get the very latest information about what the organization is doing, and what it feels is important to tell the public. Remember, however, that these are stories the enterprise wants its audience to read. You can search more broadly in Google and UR's news databases to gather a more comprehensive story about the organization--the good and any bad news!
    • "Products/Services" Click here to get a quick overview of the latest offerings of the organization so you can be familiar with its most current line of offerings.
       
  • Google Search. It's also just as easy as possible to enter the organization's name into Google and see what surfaces. Here are a few tips to make a simple Google search as effective as possible.
    • You can ensure that you don't find old information from or about the organization by clicking on the "search tools" link after you run a search, and then choose the down arrow for "Any time," where you can enter a time parameter such as one week, one month, or a custom range. See below for an illustration of this.
       
    • Limiting a Google search of Paychex by currency of information
       

    • Often the most substantive documents from or about any company or non-profit in Google are in PowerPoint or in PDF. If you go to Google's Advanced Search page and scroll down to the "file type" box, you can specify to only get results in one of those formats.
       

      Google search for Paychex

       

      Google search limited to file type

      Advanced search setting under gear icon
    • If you want to find only the most recent open Web news about the organization, don't search Google's general Web search, but click on the "Google News" tab instead.

      Google search for Paychex limited by news category
       
  • Wikipedia. Yes, librarians do like Wikipedia!--when it is used appropriately and wisely, of course. If the organization you are researching is large or prominent in some way, there is likely to be a Wikipedia entry on the enterprise, where you can typically obtain harder to find information such as its history, mission product development over time, founding, controversies, and names of key executives.

Now, of course you know that when searching any of these open Web sources, you do need to always be mindful about the origin, authenticity, and credibility of what you find. Be sure to click on the relevant tab in this LibGuide (best to right click and open up in a new tab/window) to learn some strategies in evaluation.

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion--but not their own facts"

That statement by the late Daniel P. Moynihan, who served as a New York U.S. Senator, aptly sums up the problem so many of us face in our digital age when our source for knowledge-the Internet--is a gigantic mix of facts, opinion, anecdotes, "sponsored" news, scientific evidence, influentials, reviewers and bona fide experts.

In this age of viral and trending news, the so-called wisdom of crowds, citizen journalism and social media, so many ordinary people now can and do share their experiences, perspective and knowledge online and as a result it has become harder to know who and what to trust. It also becomes harder to avoid the pitfalls of confirmation bias, as there are so many possible viewpoints out there on the Web, that if you seek the answer you "want" to something...you will surely find it.

There are the traditional methods of evaluating your sources, of course:  these are the tried and true techniques like finding out the background of the source and author (where has he or she written, spoken, degrees and credentials etc); and looking for signs of bias and hidden agendas. And these techniques are still very important, but there are some other points to keep in mind today when you come across some piece of information with unknown origin or veracity to help increase the odds that you are using a credible piece of information.

Here are our tips and strategies

  1. Remember that while there's no such thing as a "perfect" source, when you search library databases, all of the information there has been gathered from reputable, verified sources, which were created purely to inform, and not to sell or convince you of something.
  2. When searching Google, keep in mind that the algorithm that Google uses to rank results, though complex and multi-faceted, relies largely on a popularity type metric where sites that have the highest number of incoming relevant links are ranked highest. This can be very useful for locating sources that others have used and found relevant, but is still just one method for surfacing results, and popularity does not necessarily always mean credibility, and can mean that newer and/or lesser known but still valuable sources remain hidden.
  3. There's lots of numbers floating around the Web, but always be careful in how you use them. For example, when you come across a survey, find out how (and when) it was conducted and if it was a scientific survey or just a Web-based self selected one. Be particularly careful of forecasts too--as the great sage Yogi Berra once said "prediction is difficult--especially about the future"--after all, forecasts at heart are really just a guess!
  4. When you are reading an article, report or study that references some original document, try to find it and read through it yourself, rather than taking the word or the summary/interpretation of it you are reading.
  5. Take a page from what good journalists do when they are unsure of a piece of information--always try to get a second or third source to confirm it.

Ultimately, you will want to develop your own selection of "trusted" resources. These are the sources that over time, have a track record that you can rely on. And these sources could be certain newspapers, scholarly or trade journals, Web sites, bloggers, podcasts, or even individuals on Twitter whose information has proven to be consistently accurate, credible--and provides you with new insights and a greater understanding of what you are trying to research.

What are my trusted sources? Over time, I have come to trust a handful of general news and business resources that I find to regularly provide me with excellent knowledge and insight. Among them are the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, the Atlantic Magazine, The New York Review of Books, NPR radio, The PBS News Hour, Frontline documentaries, and C-Span, among others.

Finally, for one of our favorite takes on the distinctions between facts and opinion--enjoy this clip from John Oliver's Last Week Tonight show.

 

 

 

 

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Standard Classifications & Codes

Industry Codes

Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) - SIC is a system for classifying industries by a four-digit code established in the US in 1937. It is being supplanted by the six-digit NAICS code, which was released in 1997; however certain government departments and agencies still use the SIC codes.

North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) - NAICS is the standard used by Federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments for the purpose of collecting, analyzing, and publishing statistical data related to the U.S. business economy.

To learn more about other industry codes check the information at the SICCODE.com website.

Occupational Codes

Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) - SOC used by Federal statistical agencies to classify workers into occupational categories for the purpose of collecting, calculating, or disseminating data.

International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO) - ISCO-08 was adopted through a resolution of a Tripartite Meeting of Experts on Labour Statistics held in December 2007. This resolution was subsequently endorsed by the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in March 2008.