How to Research a Potential Employer Even Before Sending a Resume

(U.S. Air National Guard/Mr. Ryan White)

Before you send off your resume and before you schedule an interview as a job candidate, you should first research the potential employer. Most applicants consider it a stroke of luck to land an interview and then prepare for the conversation without deciding, in advance, whether they should even be applying for a job at that company.

When you research a potential employer for a potential opportunity, you shift the dynamic from "I am hopeful you'll like me and choose me," to, "I will first decide if we align on values and goals, and if I'm confident I can see how I fit here."

To effectively research employers:

1. Start at Their Website

Understanding that companies put their best foot forward on their website (and won't list things that are unflattering or problematic), research the website with a critical eye.

Look for consistency across all the values they promote. For example, if the company says it's committed to hiring military talent, does it have an easy-to-use portal on its website for applying? Does it promote a veteran employee resource group (ERG)? How is it demonstrating action that's aligned with its values as a company?

2. Talk to Your Network

Prepare specific questions around the company culture, values, history and growth potential. The more focused you can be in your questions, the better the data you'll find. For example, instead of asking, "Do they have a good company culture?" ask, "Can you describe the company culture?" to elicit a better reply.

Ask your network about its personal experience with the employer -- not just what it's heard or read online. If anyone in your network worked there, why did they stay? Why did they leave? What did they learn?

3. Do a Google Search

Enter the employer's name and first see what appears in the "All" tab for search results. Any red flags? What do you see that tells you about the company's reputation -- and is it positive or negative?

Next, dive into the "News" tab: Does the company appear in active litigation or in articles that are controversial and don't fit with your goals and values? 

Finally, I like to see what "Images" appear on Google. This could reveal team-building photos from social media or logo changes (indicating the company has gone through a rebranding) and announcements that indicate its growth.

4. Check Out Their Financial Health

If it's a public company, you can find its financial information online that can indicate its strength and growth posture (note: While not required, some private companies also list this to highlight its transparency).

Purdue Global offers: "For many large companies, you should be able to find ... financial information from a company's quarterly earnings report, annual report, or conference calls with investors, the latter of which you might find on YouTube. If you're interviewing with a startup, check out its profile on Crunchbase."

5. Do a Social Media Scan

What can you learn about the company, its culture and viability from what it posts online? Is it actively sharing information, highlights and announcements using various social channels? Are there messages from the CEO on YouTube? What's the sense you get from its online reputation and presence?

6. Consider Glassdoor

It's not mandatory that you read reviews on review sites to learn about employers. Much has been written indicating that, while sites such as Glassdoor try to monitor the legitimacy of reviews and posts, some fake posts slip through. If you see something concerning (on this or another review site), use it to fuel other research. Ask your contacts about what you've seen for confirmation.

Researching the employer in advance puts you in a position to be more confident and clearer about how your candidacy aligns with the company's goals and where you might see yourself as a good fit. Then you can better customize your cover letter, resume and interview performance to highlight the strengths you bring that are important to the employer.

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