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Exploring the Employer's Website

By Parmelee Eastman

You found the names of organizations that match your job hunting criteria or a network contact suggested an interesting company.

Now you need to research the company before writing the cover letter or picking up the phone.

The quickest route to information these days is just a few clicks away; the organization's web site. Even dog walkers have web sites these days so your targets, even if privately owned, should definitely have developed a web site for marketing and customer support purposes.

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Finding the Website

The website name may not be obvious. The shorter web site names were taken long ago, and many other names were reserved for possible sale. Jones & Associates may be jonesassociates.com, jones-associates.com, just jones.com, or some other variation.

Go to Google or another search engine and type in the company name. The search engine will return a list of citations with the most likely web site first.

[Related: Ground Rules for Google Search.]

If the right organization is not listed, use a phone company yellow pages web site to find the legal name or the DBA (Doing Business As) for the firm.

Or your target may be a subsidiary of another company and therefore has placed limited information on its web site. The relationship is usually mentioned, but not always -- and frequently in small print. The parent company's web site may not have enough detail on your area of interest.

Many large organizations support multiple web sites targeting different audiences. The main web site is generally for marketing and often recruitment. Other web sites may exist specifically for recruitment, customer interaction/transactions or country-specific activities.

Consumer product entities frequently separate corporate from product information and consumer interaction activities such as sweepstakes. For example, www.pepsico.com contains the corporate information for food and beverage conglomerate PepsiCo while www.pepsi.com, www.fritolay.com, www.tropicana.com, etc. focus on specific PepsiCo product lines.

Another common situation occurs when an acquisition with a strong brand name is gradually transitioned to the parent's web site. Ticona, formerly a joint venture of Celanese and Hoechst, developed a strong brand name. Celanese subsequently bought out Hoechst. Ticona maintained its own web site for a while, but now typing www.ticona.com will send you to the Celanese website with a section that indicates that Ticona is now Celanese.

Delve into What the Company Does and Where the Opportunities Could Be

Once you find the web site that you want, click on "About Us" or "Company" for an introduction to the organization's business, history and size. This section may also include a mission/vision statement, locations, or community affairs.

The majority of web sites, even for small, private, or non-profit organizations, have extensive sections on products, services, or activities.

A careful reading of this section will reveal not only the specific products, but often the target markets, customer testimonials, and channel partners/distributors.

Note especially any statements about products or divisions with prospects for growth or plans to re-vitalize a business. These are indications of potential resource allocations (jobs!) to those areas.

Words such as "re-structure" or "re-size" are red flags for additional layoffs.

Unfortunately, layoffs are now viewed as normal business practice at many organizations so an announcement of layoffs should not discourage you for investigating further. Firms may lay off employees in one business unit or department while hiring staff in another location or with a different skill set.

Figure out, if you can from the announcements, which businesses or functions had layoffs.

Find More than Jobs in the Career Section

The career heading often includes a section on values or culture and benefits as well as open jobs. Even if you are looking for an unpublished job, read the descriptions to understand what characteristics/experience is generally sought by the company.

Does the company need certain skills, or change agents?

Is it hiring to support new expansion into new markets?

Note any hint of the working conditions. There's a world of difference between companies touting "a family friendly workplace" vs. "seeking high energy person with two years of experience for fast-paced environment."

Background on the Executives

Public, and some private firms, will list the top executives and board members with biographical information.

How well does your experience/education match theirs? Do the majority have engineering degrees, advanced degrees, attended local colleges or name universities?

Having a different background is not necessarily a stumbling block to fitting it at the company, but you may need to position what your different background brings to the company.

Signs of Layoffs in the Future

Public companies will include financial information under the heading, "Investors."

Obviously you want to check to see if revenue is growing vs. shrinking and if the company is profitable or not...

Some private and non-profit organizations will reveal some information about their finances.

Does the company list venture funders?

Venture capital funding used to mean that a fledging entity could go back for future rounds. Now, VC firms are much less likely to support a firm through the difficult times.

Does the firm describe the previous year as "difficult, the economy "challenging," and the president faced with "hard decisions?" Or has the firm already cutback and reorganized so the company is "positioned well for the current environment" or "at the planned trough level?

Bottom Line

You can learn a lot about a potential employer by examining the Website. And, you'll be better prepared for the cover letter and the interview, too, when the time comes.


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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