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UR Alumni Research Guide: Researching Potential Employers

Researching Potential Employers

When it’s time to learn about organizations you are interested in working at 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 section, I’ve pulled together some favorite free sources and some 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.

 

Open Web Searching Strategies

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, , 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.

Free "Working Here" /Find a Job Sites

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. Here are a few you should know about:

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.

Types of Organizations: Glossary

Before you begin your research, it's important to understand the different types of organizations "out there" as each type may require a different research strategy, or rely on different types of sources. Here's a quick snapshot of five key different types that you'll likely encounter.

  • Publicly held companies (U.S.) A public company sells shares of stocks to the public and is traded on one of the various exchanges (e.g., the New York Stock Exchange [NYSE]; NASDAQ). Because the public risks its monies when investing in these companies, these firms must file detailed financial and operational statements with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and by law, these statements must be made publicly available The official site for locating these documents, is called EDGAR. Publicly held companies are typically, though not always, very large companies.

 

  • Privately held companies (U.S.). Privately held firms do not sell stock to the public and are typically, but not always, smaller. Because the public does not invest and risk their funds, these firms do not have to file statements with the SEC, and thus detailed information--particularly financial data--is a lot harder to find. However, you can still dig up facts, and sometimes even some level of financial information by searching a business news collection like Factiva or Proquest ABI/Inform, or by searching a database called Privco, which specifically focuses on digging up information on privately held firms.

 

  • Non-Profits. Organizations that qualify as non-profits, such as charities, foundations, and religious organizations, also do not have to file reports with the SEC. However, by law, their tax returns, known as Form 990, are in fact made available by law to the public. You can search and review these filings by searching a non-profit database such as the Foundation Center or GuideStar.

 

  • International Businesses. It can be harder to find information on organizations based outside the U.S. and the U.S. rules regarding public/private are not going to be the same and will vary country by country. However, most U.R. databases are international, and countries typically have the equivalent of an SEC which offers the ability to browse and search filings. You may find more or less data on the companies via these countries' search systems, depending on the particular country and what kinds of companies they require to file, as well as what data they specifically require to be filed. One very useful collection and links to global filing exchanges is available on Wikipedia.

 

  • Start-ups; Venture funded firms. Often the hardest types of firms to find information on are the very small start-ups that rely on venture capital (private investment dollars) to fund their start. However, you can often learn about these firms from business news databases, in local sources where that company is starting up, and through specialized databases like Privco and CB Insights which focus on covering and providing data on smaller venture funded firms.