Employers and recruiters are impressed when a candidate has done research in advance and has knowledge of the company s/he is applying to. Just like a personal relationship grows when you take time and effort to learn about the other person, when you take the time and effort to learn about a company, you demonstrate a genuine interest in the company. You also prove you take a proactive approach to finding things out.
The more you know about a company, the better you can tailor your expertise and sample accomplishments to what the company values. The more you know about a company, the better you can position yourself as a solution to the company’s issues and needs. More research makes you a more competitive candidate.
But what specific information does the job seeker need about companies of interest? Here is a seven-point checklist on what you should know about companies you want to work for:
Basic company description
The basics of a company include size of revenues, number of employees, geographic locations, product or service offerings, and company history. This way, you can pick examples from your background that most closely match your target company. If you haven’t worked at a similar company, pick an example that approximates what you need to do. For example, if you have worked mostly for small mom-and-pop companies but you are interviewing for a Fortune 500 company, give an example of when you’ve worked with a large company, maybe one of your vendors or customers.
This includes who does what, who reports to whom, and who works with whom. If you want to see if you really know your target company, see if you can draw a chart of the department you want to work in and fill it out with the people you would work with day-to-day. An org chart gives you insight into the decision-makers for your role, as well as how entangled or siloed your work might be. Ideally, you get to know the leaders of the group because these are the ones who will influence hiring the most
A great way for capturing company organization information is on LinkedIn where you can see who works at the company and how they describe their roles. As you look at the backgrounds, notice patterns in who the company hires. Do people come from the same alma maters or the same type of work? If you don’t match what everyone looks like, that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker – you can position yourself as an objective outsider or fresh perspective.
As you look at your target companies, you also want to compare them to competitors. It helps you understand your target better when you can see how they differentiate themselves from the rest of the market. More practically, knowing the competitors also gives you additional leads to pursue for yourself.
News and press releases
The company website may post press releases, media mentions and even financial reports. Don’t skip over these! Knowing the most updated news on your target company enables you to address their immediate needs. Reading public announcements and press releases also gives you insight into how the company views and positions itself to the public.
As you look at the news surrounding your target company, pay attention to business challenges. If the company is looking to expand, you can prepare examples from your background that focus on growth. If the company is in cost-cutting mode, you can emphasize your efficiency and productivity. Whatever challenges you uncover, you want to position yourself as the possible solution.
Work environment and culture
Sometimes a company explicitly mentions culture in its description, but even then, that’s a marketing pitch, not the information you need. You need to understand what it’s like to work there – what the company atmosphere is like day-to-day, and it may be specific to the department or region you work at, so check for your particular area. Talk to people who used to work there and can more freely disclose if the environment is more focused on teamwork or the individual, if people are generally laid back or buttoned up, if policies are flexibly or rigidly interpreted.
Conducting research on these seven elements of your target company will enable you to be more competitive as you move through the hiring process. You can emphasize the items that matter and tailor your examples so they’re more meaningful to the people you meet. You will also have more information to make a better decision about the right next move for you.
This post originally appears in my Forbes column.