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Researching Your Target Companies: Questions to Ask

Knowledge Is PowerInterested in working for a certain company? Knowledge is power. Certain kinds of information can help you get an interview there – or help you decide if you even want to.

The most effective job search techniques involve making a list of companies you’d like to work for and then gradually becoming well informed about them and connected to them so you’re well positioned to hear about openings before they’re ever announced to the masses.

Researching your target companies generally starts with the internet and then progresses to meeting with people acquainted with the companies. (To learn more about this approach, read my article How to Use Info Interviews to Get Hired Faster.)

In both cases, it helps to identify what you want to find out about the company and the relevant division. For example:

1. Do I want to work there?

This is really more than one question. Of course it’s important what they do – and how well. Opportunities for training and advancement may also be important to you. How are the pay and benefits? How about lifestyle factors like telecommuting?

Then there’s the culture: the unique way things get done there, and the atmosphere. What kind of person succeeds there? If you’re that kind of person, make sure you’re branding yourself accordingly as you network your way into the company. If you’re not, is it the right environment for you?

2. What’s the news?

This, too is more than one question. How is the company changing; what are its opportunities and challenges currently and in the near future? Obviously you need to be well-informed in networking and interviews. This kind of information can help you make a case for how you can be useful to them.

3. How do people get hired there?

The path to hire is not the same everywhere. Do they post openings online or rely heavily on referrals? Do they have an active company page on Facebook? Do they source people through LinkedIn? What search firms do they use? You can also find clues at Glassdoor among other places.

4.  Do they pay a hiring bonus to employees who refer someone?

This can help you get the attention of insiders.

5.  Who are their main competitors, vendors and partners?

People there can tell you about the company you’re researching. You may also want to add these companies to your list of employers.

6.  Who is the hiring manager for your target position? What are that person’s interests, concerns and background?

Ultimately, you want an introduction to this person and an informational interview with them. This may not be easy, but work up to it by talking with others in the company or people they deal with.

7.  Who else should you talk to?

Ask this question only after you’ve built some rapport and made a good impression. Get contact information, and ask whether you may mention your contact’s name, or whether they can introduce you.

Whatever information you receive from people, accept it very appreciatively, take notes, plan to follow up on the information, and keep this person in the loop afterwards.

A Final Note:

You’ll notice I didn’t include “Is the company hiring?” This is a good question, but it’s easy to overemphasize it and make your contacts feel like all you’re looking for is leads, which they may not be able to provide. Look at it this way: there may not be an opening now, but there will be eventually.

Start researching and networking now, and the next job at one of your target companies may never be posted because it was quietly filled – by you.


This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated.

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