By Susan P. Joyce
Many -- if not most -- employers and recruiters think that job seekers have become very lazy, submitting their application for every job they see. So, learn as much as you can about an employer, both to impress the employer and also to avoid bad employers and scams.
Use the information you've found on the employer's website to differentiate yourself from the large crowd of seemingly lazy job seekers. The state of the website also offers insight into how technically cognizant they are or can afford to be.
Be VERY careful! If there isn’t a website for the employer, the lack may mean that the employer doesn’t really exist (although I have found websites for fake employers, too). Scammers target job seekers frequently, so, if there isn't a decent looking website for the employer, be wary that you may have discovered a scam job. For more information, read Avoiding Job Scams.
Assuming that you find the employer's website, explore it thoroughly! It provides a window into their world -- or what they want the world to think about them. You'll be able to customize your resume and cover letter or job application based on what you learn. Customization will make you stand out from the crowd.
I've spoken to many employers who wouldn't hire a job candidate who hadn't visited their website, viewing it as a lack of interest in the job. So, make them happy by looking, and also use these tips to learn much more about them.
Usually what you see on an employer's website is the "official" information -- what they want the world to know, or to think, about them. It may or may not be close to reality, but it is the "party line" shared with the world.
At a minimum, check out what the employer is telling the world about itself on the website:
Make note of the brand names of products and services. Also note the names of the top managers (including your possible new boss) as well as possible co-workers and colleagues. Research those names further on Google and LinkedIn.
Remember the "party line" presented will typically be on the rosy side, so it’s appropriate to be somewhat skeptical of the claims made.
Use your list of products, services, and people (see above) to see what you can find about the reality of the organization online.
Google (or Bing!) the employer's name so you can visit their website and also learn more about what search engines show (or don't show) about them.
Do searches like these, first for the employer in general and then for their products and/or services:
For more searches, check out 50 Google Searchs to Avoid Layoffs and Bad Employers.
Then, search using the names of the people you find associated with the employer to see what you find. Look for LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media entries. Scan the search results to see what else you find, and be sure to look past the first results page.
Pay attention to what you discover. This research will give you a sense of what the people in the organization are like and, perhaps, show you how you connect with them. You may have something in common with a few of them, like a school you attended or another employer. Maybe you competed for the same customers, against a common large competitor.
This research may also show you that they are not people you would be comfortable working with. Maybe they are nasty or sexist or have strongly held opinions about politics or religion that are likely to put you into conflict with them.
Employer reviews can give you insight into how good or bad an employer may be. However, be careful about using employer reviews.
Since most of us don't bother with reviewing our employer (or former employer) unless we are seriously annoyed, take the reviews, particularly the negative ones, with the proverbial "grain of salt." However, do pay attention if an employer has many negative reviews spread over more than a few weeks.
Pay closest attention to recent reviews vs. those from 3 or more years ago, and use those reviews as part of your evaluation of the employer as a good place for you to work. You might also find some issues to ask about during your job interviews with that employer.
Are jobs posted on the employer site? Easy or difficult to find the jobs?
My sense from looking at thousands of employer websites is that organizations which need a constant supply of applicants make sure that the jobs are easy for casual visitors to find. In a fast-growing organization and/or a growing industry (hospitals and healthcare centers, for example), links to the job postings are usually obvious and on every page of the website.
A poorly run organization usually has high turnover (employees leaving voluntarily to find better jobs), and, therefore, ALSO need a constant supply of applicants. The good news is that, usually, the website is poorly run so they don't recruit agressively on their site, but take care and ask questions when you get to the interview process to figure out what is going on.
What and how much information is available? How well is the information presented? Is the website amateur night or professional? Information rich, only a sales tool, or the we-have-a-website-because-everyone-else-does site? Open organization or closed? For a hint on the site’s age, check the year on the copyright notice, if there is one, at the bottom of each page.
If the website copyright date is several years old, be careful. They could be a poorly run and/or poorly financed organization, or simply bad at websites (which might be an opportunity if you are a Web tech person).
Take the information you have collected and use it to either cross the employer off your list of target employers or, hopefully, to leverage your research to become a referred job candidate.
Using LinkedIn, check out the names you have collected in your research on the website. Also search LinkedIn for more names (both current and former employees):
For current employes, look for information about:
Then, check out the former employees:
Be careful if everyone you find on LinkedIn stays employed by that employer for a year or less. It might not be a great place to work.
Also look for a "company page" on LinkedIn -- schools, governments, and nonprofits also have "company pages" so look regardless of the kind of employer you are researching.
Using the information you have collected about employees, consider reaching out to one or two of them for an informational interview. You will quickly learn more about an organization by speaking with an employee.
Informational interviews have several benefits:
The more you know about the organization, the more targeted you can make your resume and cover letter.
Competition is tough, so the more specifically you demonstrate your knowledge of -- and interest in -- that specific employer, the more you will stand out from other (lazier?) applicants, and the better you will do.
No one in management has an advanced degree, but you do? Maybe this isn't a good fit? Or, maybe you don't include your MBA on your resume unless it's specified for in the job description.
As mentioned earlier, I've had recruiters tell me they automatically eliminated any applicant who hadn't taken the time to visit the organization's website. So, you should beware! In many organizations, the proverbial “bar has been raised” on standards job seekers must meet or exceed to progress through the hiring process.
Ask intelligent questions during the interview based on the information from the website - e.g. "I see you recently opened up a location in London (introduced a new product/service, hired a new marketing VP, closed a plant, etc.). Is your market international in scope? Do you plan to expand to other countries in the near future?"
Overlooking a careful visit to the organization's website is a big mistake! Show that you visited the website, read what was there, and are interested in the organization - not a "typical lazy job seeker."
Read The Winning Difference: Pre-Interview Preparation , 50 Good Questions to Ask in Interviews, and also check out Job-Hunt's Company Research column for more information and tips about company research.
More About Finding Jobs: Find Jobs by Targeting Employers.
Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.