How to Research a Potential Employer

By Paula Santonocito

smw-how-to-research-employerCompanies check out job seekers prior to hiring them, and you should be checking out companies prior to applying for employment–or, at the very least, before accepting a job offer.

At Your Fingertips

Years ago, researching a potential employer required a trip to the library. Today, library information and more are available online.

But where do you start?

The first destination is the employer’s website. It doesn’t matter if an employer is large or small; most organizations have an online presence.

Visit search engine Google,, key in the company or organization name, and hit enter. This should return the website address you seek.

Once at the employer’s website, it’s time to assume the role of Sherlock Holmes.

What You’re Seeking

What exactly are you looking for when at a potential employer’s website? Begin at the beginning.

Operations overview of the organization. If you don’t already know, you need to find out what this potential employer does, along with its business approach.

Take a look at the “About Us” section of the website. Also look at its product or service offerings. In addition, check out its list of locations. Next, explore its list of clients, if one is provided, and/or a list of business partners.

If your potential employer is a public company you may want to look at its annual report as well.

Who’s at the helm. Then look at the management team and board of directors. What kinds of backgrounds do these people have? Does your background (or aspirations) match theirs? Are there women in senior-level positions? Does the management team include people of color?

Recent achievements. What has the organization been up to lately? To find out, visit the “Company News” or “Press Releases” section of the site. Press releases that announce record profits suggest one kind of environment, while announcements about consolidating operations and closing facilities suggest another.

Corporate culture. Most organizations articulate their culture with a statement or even an entire section. Pay attention to how the culture fits, or doesn’t fit, with your own.

Also take a look at photos. At Internet search giant Google, for example, people sit on colorful balls during meetings. This is a very different environment from a Big Four accounting firm where meetings are typically conducted around a conference table.

By the same token, even seemingly small things, like whether casual or formal business attire is the norm, speak to culture. Ask yourself what you prefer and see how the potential employer’s environment meets your requirements.

Benefits. Large employers generally have a separate careers website, accessible from the company’s main site by selecting a tab marked Careers.

At the careers site, you’ll find information directly related to employment, including specifics about benefits.

Again, it’s important to know what you’re seeking. If childcare is important to you, look for information about daycare facilities and/or childcare subsidies. If a flexible work arrangement is at the top of your list, see if this is among the offerings.

Advancement opportunities. As a single-minded, career-minded woman, you are also interested in long-range opportunities. To find out how dedicated a potential employer is to your career advancement, look at the organization’s education and training programs. Does the employer provide tuition reimbursement? What about training?

Are career paths detailed? Today, many corporate careers sites feature employee profiles. Sometimes these are video or audio profiles; other times they are text. Regardless of format, pay attention to content. Do employees talk about growth opportunities and how they worked their way up in the organization? If so, it suggests a culture of promotion from within.

Does the company have a management training program? It doesn’t matter if you’re already a manager. Such a program speaks to staff development.

Similarly, look for mentoring and company-sponsored networking groups. These too show the organization supports individual growth.

Other Resources

A potential employer’s website is a great source of information. But don’t overlook independent resources.

Among these is business directory Hoovers,, which provides overviews of public corporations and insight into where companies stand in particular industries.

Not only will Hoovers help you research a potential employer, it provides you with information you can use in an interview. “I know you are the second-largest maker of (fill-in the blank) in the world but, with your recent acquisition of XYZ Company, I see you’re closing in on Mega Corp, the company in the number one spot.” Wow. Who wouldn’t hire you?

Another source of employer information is Vault, Although access to Vault’s Gold Surveys requires a subscription, Vault provides a lot of free details about companies. One of the many terrific things about the site is that you can search by company or browse by industry.

At Vault you’ll find facts and figures that can help with your decision-making process and contribute to more successful interviews.

To get the lowdown on how workers view particular companies, visit JobVent,, a site where employees share their job experiences. Keep in mind the site leans toward the negative because people typically vent when they’re unhappy.

Finally, if there’s a particular issue you want to research about a potential employer, try entering the organization’s name and a brief description of the issue at search engine Google. Thanks to social networking sites and the proliferation of online discussions, you’re likely to find someone talking about your topic.

Making a Decision

Once you’ve researched a potential employer, you’re in a position to make an informed decision-about whether you should apply for or take a position with the organization.

And, hey, thanks to technology, your investigative work has been done from the comfort of your home.

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