How to Research a Company
Every interview guide out there will tell you to research a company before walking into a job interview. It sounds like a no-brainer, right? But many candidates don’t take the time to do their research in advance—even though failing to do so can cost even the best candidate a job offer.
But the research doesn’t stop there. After the interview, it’s important to keep learning about the company. And if you get a job offer, there’s even more work to be done. Thankfully, learning how to research a company doesn’t have to be painful or difficult. We’re here to show you where to look, what to focus on, and how to use your research.
Table of Contents:
Why is researching a company a good idea?
You’re feeling great about the interview. You meet all of the qualifications. You were born for this job. That’s enough, right?
Unfortunately, no. If you’ve been invited for an interview, the hiring manager already knows you’re a good fit on paper. Now, it’s all about figuring out what kind of person you are: Will you be a good cultural fit? Do your values align with the organization’s? Are you looking to grow with the company?
In order to hit all of those marks, you need to do your due diligence. Taking time to research the company before the interview enables you to gather the information necessary to have an informed conversation with the interviewer—and this can really set you apart from other candidates.
In fact, Glassdoor recently conducted a survey of 750 people in hiring positions. The results were clear: Almost 90% of those surveyed indicated that an informed candidate was an ideal candidate. You can’t just speak to your own experience; you should know about the company, its values, and its culture. And it’s easy to spot the job seekers who do their homework. Those who are serious about a position demonstrate their knowledge throughout the interview and come with thoughtfully prepared interview questions that show they know something about the company and the industry.
Heather Barron, a public library director for nearly a decade, says, “I expect candidates to know the basic services and materials we offer here.” She finds it a turnoff when candidates are unfamiliar with the library and the role they play in communities, adding, “It shows a lack of initiative.”
What should you research before the interview?
There are hundreds of things to know about a company and about as many ways to learn them. While you may not have the time (or brain capacity) to learn them all, there are some key things we believe you should know before the interview. If you’re well versed in these areas, you’ll get a better understanding of the organization and, more importantly, be prepared for the interview itself. You should research:
1. The basics.
As obvious as it sounds, you need to know what the company does, who their customers are, and what services they provide. The best place to find this information is on the company’s website. Many companies have pages like “Who we are” and “What we do.” Those are excellent places to start.
During the course of your research, ask yourself the important questions. These might include: What products do they sell? What’s their best-performing product (i.e., their “bread and butter”)? If it’s a service-based company, what is the full line of services offered? Who is the target audience or primary user of the service? Is the company based in the US or is it global?
Oh, and know how to pronounce the company name properly. Don’t be the person who walks into an interview for the fashion brand Hermes and pronounces it “Her-MEES.” (It’s “AIR-mez.”) Next, it’s time to dig a little deeper.
2. The company’s mission, culture, and values.
Many organizations have a whole page dedicated to these areas on their website. You can also look for these terms on the “About Us” page if you can’t find dedicated statements. Still no luck? The “Careers” page is a great place to find a description of the type of candidate they’re looking for—and it often gives insight into the company’s culture. Culture is abstract, and it’s difficult to get a true picture without experiencing it yourself. But reading between the lines of the company website can certainly give you a better idea of what to expect.
Once you’ve combed the company’s website, check out their social media accounts. What do they post? What is the tone? What seems to be important to them?
3. The industry and where the company fits in.
It doesn’t matter if you’re interviewing at Google or at a non-profit whose only pens are from hotels and bank drive-throughs. You should have a baseline understanding of the latest happenings in the industry and how they’re affecting the organization. This is good intel for piecing together your long-term career outlook and general morale within the industry. But even better, it gives you something meaningful to discuss when the inevitable “So … what questions do you have?” comes up at the end of the interview.
- Candidate A, who asks, “What are the next steps in the interview process?” or “Why do you like working here?”
- Candidate B, who asks, “I saw that the recent legislative proposal to increase the medical device tax didn’t pass. I’m assuming that really helps companies like this boost product development. Can you tell me your thoughts on how that impacts the company?”
Knowing about the job? Meh, ok.
Knowing about the company? Great!
Knowing about the job, the company, and where it fits into the economy and industry trends? Ding-ding-ding!
If you go above and beyond in researching the company in a dynamic and thorough way, chances are you’ll do the same as an employee.
4. The company’s ethical and financial health.
Prior to your interview, it’s a good idea to check on whether the organization seems to be in good shape. Larger companies will often have a section on their website for press (and financials, if they’re publicly traded), so start there. Then, put on your super-sleuth hat and Google the company to see what their online image looks like.
Is the CEO being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission? You may want to think about politely declining the interview. Was the company just fined for a major ethical misstep? It may be best to move along, friend. Is the industry itself taking a big hit? Think twice. You may be surprised to learn that companies will continue to hire during times of duress because current employees are jumping ship. Avoid situations like this by being informed.
Honing in on these four must-know topics prior to the interview should have you well-prepared for the interview, but don’t stop researching just yet.
What should you research after the interview?
You’ve survived the interview (or interviews), but your work isn’t done yet. Use what you’ve learned to do more research and paint a complete picture of the role and company. Then, you’ll be able to decide if this is truly the place for you. You should research:
1. The employees.
It’s likely that you got to meet a few people while you interviewed. If so, do a little snooping by reviewing their professional profiles. You can find out on LinkedIn whether they’re new employees or if they’ve been with the company or industry for a long time. What other experience do they have? What does their career trajectory look like?
2. The work environment.
Go back to the company’s social media accounts and see who’s commenting and what they’re saying. Look for insights about work culture and comments about what it’s like working there. Glassdoor can also be quite useful for this type of research.
3. Connections in your network.
If you have the names of a few people, or at least the person who interviewed you, it doesn’t hurt to check websites, such as LinkedIn, to see if you share any connections. You can also search for accounts linked to the company or the job title (within the industry) to see how long people generally stay at the company. This information can be valuable for discussing pay, benefits, organizational structure, and career growth, when it’s appropriate.
What should you research before you take the job?
You may think that once you’ve received a job offer, you can sit back and relax. Not quite. The hard part may be over, but there are still a few more things you need to research before accepting the job. You should research:
1. Pay and benefits for the company, industry, and specific job.
Comb through different online sites to research what others are making at the company. Then, determine whether your offer is in line with industry standards and living expenses in the area. This information will prove helpful when it’s time to negotiate your salary.
Likewise, you can review benefits information ahead of time. This will also provide peace of mind and negotiating power. If the salary offer is below industry standards but the paid time off is stellar, there could still be a deal.
2. What employees are saying about the company.
Again, review any comments on social media about the company. What are employees, past and present, saying? What are the pros and cons? Your network can really come into play here as well. Now that you have a job offer, don’t be afraid to reach out to anyone you know who currently works (or previously worked) at the company. The more you know up front, the better off you’ll most likely be when it comes to negotiating.
3. The details.
They say the devil is in the details, so get them up front. For example, if you care for an ailing grandmother in the evenings but the job requires you to be on call several nights each week, that presents a conflict. While it may or may not be a deal breaker, addressing issues up front can save both you and the employer a lot of time and hassle.
Remember: All the little things add up and significantly contribute to the experience you’ll have as an employee. With an offer in hand, it’s not silly to ask about lunch breaks or where employees should (or shouldn’t) park. It’s also a good idea to know whether you’ll have a mentor during the first 30 days, what the training is for a new hire, and what the expectation is for the onboarding period.
All of this information is available if you simply ask the hiring manager. Companies expect applicants to have questions and to negotiate. In fact, hiring managers may be concerned when applicants accept an offer full-stop with no questions. And if an employer balks at your curiosity about what it’s like to work there day-to-day, that should be a red flag.
The road to interviewing for a great job, getting that job, and navigating the offer can be exciting but harrowing. Knowing how to research a company before the interview, and before you take the job, is vital. An informed candidate will always be a step ahead. Time to get to work and do your research.