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1. Start your research early. Don't wait until you've secured an interview. Researching companies and the industry overall may point you to companies you never even considered applying to. Likewise, you may read up on a company only to find out that they have just laid off 10% of their work force, or are in the midst of a hiring freeze.
2. Your first step should be to visit the company's Web page and read any recruiting information you can get your hands on. Familiarize yourself with the company's products, services and policies.
3. After you've seen what the company has to say for itself, search for media coverage of the company. Check the archives of online publications such as Business Week, The New York Times, Fortune, and more industry specific titles like The Industry Standard (Internet), AdWeek (advertising), MediaWeek (media/entertainment).
4. Research the industry. You'll want to be familiar with the top companies, the latest trends and growth areas, and the impact of new technologies on the industry as well as the particular company. This will help you to formulate smart questions for the interview.
5. Find financial information on the company. It will give you an idea of where the company is headed, and may come up in the interview. Publicly traded companies are required to report certain financial information - annual reports, stock prices, and other related information is easy to find on the Web. Privately held companies are a bit harder to research, but a little sleuthing can get you what you need.
6. Get information from impartial third party providers. Companies like Vault.com collect and distill information from a variety of sources, including people who work for the businesses they cover. They present thorough, well-researched company overviews, and because they have no corporate ties, they can do so in an impartial fashion.~7. Check your facts. There are few things worse than spitting out an incorrect piece of information during an interview. Especially now that the Internet makes it so easy to check things out. If you can't find a piece of information, ask your interviewer. They'll be pleased to know that you were doing your homework.
8. Talk to people who work for the company you're interested in. If possible, try to contact people who work in the position you are applying for. At the very least, talk to people in the department you are looking at. People in different departments may have a sense of how the company works, but they can't really comment on life in the area you're targeting. If you are introduced to people on the team you would work with, make the most of the opportunity. Ask them what they do and how they like their jobs.
9. Use your networking skills. Tap friends, family members and alumni networks for possible contacts in the company and in the industry (even people who work for competing companies). Even if you've been out of school for several years, your alma mater's career center can still be an important source of information and contacts. Most schools keep records of where alumni live and work. Chances are, fellow alumni will be happy to offer advice and/or job leads.
10. Keep records of all your research. File away interesting articles, even they seem irrelevant. You may not be able to use them, but you never know when another job seeker will tap you for career advice.
Things to Avoid
1. Avoid beginning your research with a preconceived notion of what the company is about, how successful it is, and how well it's run. ~2. Don't get sucked in by sexy brand names or job titles. "Corporate Lawyer" has a wonderful ring to it, but that ring fades when it's three in the morning and you're staring at a document while your significant other is at home sleeping alone. Likewise, very popular companies tend to offer low salaries because everyone wants to work for them. At the same time, don't give up too early. Never dismiss a company on the strength of one discussion with an insider or article you read.
3. Don't depend entirely on a company's Web site, press releases, or recruiting information. It's in a company's interest to publish only positive information about itself. You can only get an objective overview by checking out a wide range of information sources.
4. When reading media coverage on a company, avoid articles that seem overly skewed in one direction.
5. Make sure to look into facts about the company that may not apply to you now, but might be important to you in the long term. These include things like 401k plans, health care, maternity leave, employee development programs and tuition reimbursement provisions.
6. Be wary of overly negative company employees. If they hate it so much, chances are they would not still be employed there. Similarly, recognize that if you ask HR to introduce you to someone in the company, chances are they'll gloss over any negative aspects of the job.
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