Think and Research Like a Stakeholder

Think and Research Like a Stakeholder

Those who have or hold a “stake” in an organization’s success see the firm from vastly different perspectives than outsiders.

Thinking and researching like a Stakeholder will keep you from focusing narrowly on getting the job.

A stakeholder’s perspective will help you ask what problems could exist at this company so you don’t get forced into another job search sooner than you want to be.

As a prospective employee, the stakeholder perspective can provide you with new insights into potential employers that can be very helpful to you in your interviews and other interaction with the employer:

  • Do you find issues that provide you with an opportunity, some problems you can help them identify and solve?
  • Do you see other opportunities – some aspect of the business or operation that you could help them improve?
  • Are there problems or other red flags that indicate this potential employer is better avoided?
  • Does your research indicate that a competitor might be a better choice for you?

Stakeholders include not just shareholders, but also:

  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Suppliers
  • Regulators
  • Competitors
  • Banks, factoring companies, or other sources of funds

Researching a targeted employer from these different perspectives will provide you with a much better idea of how you could help the company if you join it, your fit with the company, problem areas which could eliminate the firm from your target list, and people who could refer you to hiring managers at the company.

1. Employees

This is the obvious stakeholder role, and you have probably already done some research from this perspective, starting with checking the potential employer’s web site for:

  • Open positions and qualifications
  • Products and services
  • Target markets and marketing messages
  • Executives and their backgrounds
  • Financial situation
  • News and announcements
  • Culture or fit which may be an entry in the HR section, or the impression which you have garnered from the web site as a whole

When possible, your research will include speaking with current or former employees to learn more about the topics listed above.

Also learn as much as you can about the environment, potential hiring managers, and their working styles. Visiting the potential employer’s Website as well as using your favorite search engines are obvious sources of online information, but searching offline, talking to people, can be extremely helpful.

Hopefully, you have received a balanced view of the organization, its financial and industry position, but additional viewpoints can raise red flags about the company or provide you with more insight.

2. Customers

If possible and practical, you should buy or use the product/service to assess such issues as quality, ease-of-use, and value. Contact customer service to determine their responsiveness.

If you cannot buy/use the product, then speak with customers to find out how they feel about the organization’s products, services, and customer service. What is your/their impression and does it match what employees said about its products/services?

Buy, use, or research competing products/services to determine how the potential employer fits into the industry’s product spectrum: price-leader, value-based, quality-brand, etc.

Depending on the organization and its products or services, you may find online reviews and ratings at sites like,, and other similar sites. In addition, don’t forget to check local business organizations like the Better Business Bureau and the Chamber of Commerce for information and insight into competitors.

3. Suppliers

Suppliers of raw materials and other products used at the firm want to have a good relationship with their customers and, most importantly, they want to be paid. So problems, such as lawsuits, with suppliers could indicate financial problems. If you can determine who supplies the organization, see if you can discover how the organization is perceived by the supplier – positive or negative. Again, sometimes, the local Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce may have useful information.

4. Regulators

Is the company in an industry with significant regulatory oversight? Regulators often know quite a bit about the firms that they monitor, including if the organizations have histories of violations. Are regulators are regularly finding problems and imposing fines?

A pattern of problems could be an opportunity for you to help clean it up, or a red flag that the firm has poor management or ethics. Check Google’s search for Federal Government, using queries like this: “law suit” AND [employer name].

[Related: Ground Rules for Google Search.]

5. Competitors

If you are interested in an industry, you are probably speaking with representatives from more than one industry player. In addition to asking about the direction and prospects of the industry as a whole, be sure to ask about each company’s rivals during these conversations.

Avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Ask general, open-ended questions such as “How does your firm compare with AB Company?” and listen very carefully to the answers since the firm will be promoting its own interests. But hearing that “AB is a tough competitor for us.” is actually encouraging if you are really interested in working for AB.

6. Banks, Factoring Companies, or Other Sources of Financing

Financial institutions will not answer questions from individuals about their customers so in this case, you think like a banker in examining the financial situation of the company. Many highly leveraged firms are being forced into liquidation or mergers by financial institutions when loan covenants are violated by organizations.

If the financial situation looks shaky or you hear rumors that the company cannot repay its loans, re-focus your job hunt elsewhere.

Bottom Line

With these different perspectives, you will have a greater understanding of the organization which will help you have better discussions during your interviews. And you will be able to position yourself more effectively as a problem-solver. You want to examine the big picture to be sure that a company is a good career move for you, and a place where your enthusiasm will translate into success.

Note: Be cautious about sharing all of your ideas during the interview process since you don’t know whose toes you may be stepping on – and they could belong to the person interviewing you. An interview is a good time to ask questions about how the organization, and the people you are interviewing with, view and manage change. Perhaps a competitor has a more flexible and comfortable culture.

Parmelee EastmanAbout 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 [email protected].
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