The more you know about companies where you plan to apply, the more targeted you can make your resume/CV and the more likely you’ll ace the interview

As a candidate striving to stand out amongst the crowd, researching a target company should be a core element of your job hunt. In addition to helping you gauge what might lie in store, this simple strategy can give you a competitive edge at every stage of the process.

Getting off on the right foot
First impressions count. The majority (60 per cent) of human resources managers polled for a survey by our company said they form positive or negative opinions of a candidate within the first 10 minutes of an interview, and 18 per cent make up their minds in less than five minutes. From tailoring your cover letter to prepping for an interview, doing your homework on a potential employer early in a job hunt can help open doors, land interviews, impress potential employers and net a job offer with a competitive salary. All that’s required is a little time, initiative and healthy curiosity.

Here are some steps to help you better understand, and then impress, your target companies.

1. First stop: company website
Kick off your research by exploring the company’s website, paying particular heed to its mission, values and goals. Try to glean as much information as you can about the organisation’s history, background, motivation and aspirations. The About Us tab is a great place to start.

There’s no need to memorise a mission statement word for word, but showing that you understand a company’s business needs could enhance your perceived suitability for the role and the corporate culture. Don’t neglect its press centre, which is chock full of good info, such as statements from the CEO, data on profits and losses, new services and plans for growth. The Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) section also sheds light on what it considers important.

2. Go broad
In the media or press centre, you’ve read what the company wants you to know. Now it’s time to get other perspectives. Do some online searches for general media coverage and weigh what you read — the good, the bad and the ugly. Think about how this information could affect your role and influence your approach.

But don’t limit yourself to mass media. It’s wise to check out what trade publications and industry blogs are saying about your potential employers. Getting a broader perspective can either spur you on to do your best to secure a job there — or curb your enthusiasm about wanting to get involved with such an organisation.

3. Suss out who’s who
After reading about the company, get granular by sleuthing for Intel on some of the people who work there. Lest you think this is frowned upon or even creepy, know that potential employers often do the same for candidates. You’re not digging up dirt, per se, but rather adding to your knowledge base in order to make informed decisions.

If the job posting lists a contact person, enter that name in a search engine and see what comes up. If there are no names mentioned, see if there’s a People or Key Contacts section on the company website. From there, move on to LinkedIn. It’s worth seeing if you share common ground with anyone you might end up working with. Did you go to the same university? Belong to the same professional organisations? Have past employers in common?

Use your own professional and personal networks to ascertain whether anyone you know has a heads-up on the company or, better yet, is still working there. Inside information can be worth its weight in gold, and knowing someone currently employed there is even better.

4. Stay in the loop
Researching a potential employer is not a one-off event. As long as you’re engaged in a job hunt with particular companies, you need to remain informed on what’s happening in real time. Set Google Alerts and subscribe to updates via their website, blog or LinkedIn page. Definitely check out social media feeds by liking their official Facebook page(s) and following them on Twitter. But exercise caution when following personal accounts or sending friend requests; you don’t want to come off like a stalker.

5. Good research means good notes
If you’re researching several companies in your job hunt, you need to have a system. A spreadsheet is a good place to keep everything organised. Otherwise, you risk forgetting important information or mixing up potential employers.

As you’re doing your searches, jot down any details, quirks and keywords. What phrases or values do you see over and over again? For example, if Company X hires only team members with a commitment to excellent customer service, you had better include that phrase, as well as specific examples, in your job application package. And just as you’re trying to figure out what qualities they want in an employee, you also need to know what are definite turnoffs.

6. Mind the gap
As the research phase of your job hunt draws to a close, try testing your knowledge. While not nearly as fun as a pub quiz, this step allows you to see what important information you’re missing.
•If I had to describe each of these companies in six words, what would they be?
•What traits are they looking for in an employee? Do I possess those traits?
•What are their values, and how do they fit with my own?
•What are their corporate goals, and how could I help achieve them if I worked there?
•Do I know about their short-term and long-term plans?
•What do I know about my interviewers and potential colleagues?
•What makes them different from other employers and their competition?

Applying what you know
Once you’re confident that you’ve covered the groundwork and taken good notes, use what you’ve learned to your advantage.

As you compose your cover letter or — becoming more common for online job posts — cover message, reflect on the language and values of the company’s website. For example, if the potential employer prides itself on its legacy and steadfastness in the market, your communications should have a serious tone. But if the website’s voice is daring and avant-garde, a staid application package will get you nowhere. Carefully tailor your cover letter to convey your suitability, interest and enthusiasm.

Having researched potential employers also makes for a stronger and more effective resume/CV. You don’t have to write new ones from scratch each time, of course, but you do need to customise them to suit the companies to which you are applying. One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to putting together a brilliant application package. Find out what drives the company and its employees, and organise and prioritise your resume/CV accordingly.

When you get invited for interviews, impress hiring managers with your knowledge of their company and industry. In your answers and follow-up questions, let them know you understand their business needs and, more importantly, how you are qualified to meet them. Remember to stay within the bounds of etiquette: don’t discuss anything that could embarrass interviewers, come across as overly friendly or arrogant, or give the impression you’ve been snooping for confidential information.

Researching potential employers is not a luxury. Rather, it is foundational to practically every aspect of the job hunt. Neglecting this important step can hamper your search, but doing the due diligence of becoming informed is the first step to landing your dream job.”

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Robert Hosking is the former Executive Director of OfficeTeam (www.officeteam.com). OfficeTeam is a division of Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm. The company has more than 300 staffing locations worldwide and offers ... (Read More)

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