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Learning from Industry Observers

By Parmelee Eastman

Information originating from the company on its web site, in its annual report, and in its advertisements provides an excellent view of the history and the positive aspects of the company. But that information may not be unbiased. Nor is it the only information available to you.

You have to figure out how the company fits into its industry, and analyze the characteristics of the industry. After all, who would have wanted to join the best-run buggy whip company in the dawning era of the automobile?

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The more you know about the company (the products, services, and organization), its industry, and its competitors, the more you will stand out from the crowd of other job seekers who aren't as well informed. Use this information to customize your resume and your cover letter and to make a good impression during the interview process.

Who are these sources?

Sources that have knowledge of industry-wide issues or who are not tied to a specific player are commonly referred to as third party sources. These sources include industry trade associations, specialized consulting firms, industry publications, government agencies, information providers, and security analysts. They cover multiple, if not all, players in an industry. They provide basic facts such as industry size, growth rate, names of participating firms, and industry studies.

You will find these sources through their web sites, on lists from Job-Hunt.org, at libraries, or at job-hunting resource centers. Trade associations, information providers, industry publications, and consulting firms frequently have web sites with public and members-only sections. The public sections often have information supporting the organization's public relations or marketing goals.

  • Industry Associations

    To find industry associations, use a search engine or go to a public, business, research, college, or university library to see if you can find Gale Research’s publication, Encyclopedia of Associations, whose 135,000 listings include 22,200 US associations with national scope and 115,000 smaller organizations.

    Using a search engine, for example, I entered “candy,” “industry,” and “association” (without the quotes) and found the American Association of Candy Technologists , a US-focused site for candy industry employees. This site lists local chapters with contacts and an archive of articles with the first page accessible at no charge. If you see an interesting article, buy it or call the writer or the association's public relations person (found on the "Contact Us," or similar, page). They might be willing to give you some details over the phone.
  • Specialized Consulting Firms

    Back to search engines. Find industry consulting firms by using industry specific multiple search terms. Entering “biotech,” “consulting,” and “firms” (again, without the quotes) produced pages of results. Two, selected randomly, offered free information on their web sites. Campbell Alliance and Maxion Group had links to articles from industry publications. Consulting firms are unlikely to return your calls so stick to published material.
  • Industry Publications

    Industry publications are valuable sources of information. The majority have web sites which contain some free information and allow searches of all content. An article reprint is relatively inexpensive if it covers a topic of great interest to you. But it’s free if you can find the publication at a local library that has a subscription or, sometimes, on the publication's Website.

    While your town’s public library may have a donated subscription on an industry of local interest, you are more likely to find the publication at a specialized public or business school library. Anybody can walk in off the street to view publications in Boston’s business library branch Kirsten. Or check to see if you can access publications at a local college or university.

    Online, search for relevant publications on Google, or your favorite search engine.
  • Benefit from Your Tax Dollars

    Government information is free or inexpensive. After all, you’ve already paid for it with your tax dollars. It tends to be an aggregate and not company specific, and it is often available with a considerable lag time so it may not be very relevant in today’s fast changing world.

    If you are interested in the relatively robust health industries, the National Institutes of Health (www.nih.gov) contains information about its research and activities, all articles about NIH funded research which are found under the PubMed heading, and references to publicly available tools and data bases from other sources since as universities

    Information on 14 million companies listed in the ReferenceUSA (an InfoUSA company) can be accessed through my local library. Check your local library for resources, both online and hardcopy.
  • Information Providers

    Information providers sell news feeds and research to clients on a subscription or single report basis. Some offer information free for marketing purposes. For example, at www.reuters.com, you can access basic information about publicly held companies and some research reports free. Free basic company info is also available at www.hoovers.com. While Hoovers' information is not as detailed as Reuters' entries, Hoovers includes privately held firms while Reuters contains only information on publicly-held companies.
  • Security Analysts

    Security analysts often do industry studies as well as individual company reports. If you cannot obtain them through a relationship with a brokerage house, check to see if you can access these reports through your local library. For example, Value Line Investment Survey publications are available through my local library.

Bottom Line

You may find that some of these sources are better than others for your industry or your job function. Or you are staying in the same field and already have a solid background. Either way, you need to understand your target company in the context of its industry dynamics to know its long term potential.


About the author...

Parmelee Eastman is president of EastSight Consulting which helps provide more effective utilization of external information in internal decision-making processes. EastSight Consulting clients range from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. Prior to founding EastSight, Parmelee was the vice president of the global technology and communications practice at Fuld & Company and employed for 16 years at Digital Equipment Corporation. Parmelee holds a B.A. from Wellesley College and an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School. She can be reached at peastman@eastsightconsulting.com.


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