A Weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch




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Researching People and Companies

by Douglas E. Welch

May 28, 1999

Researching companies is an important part of any high-tech job search. The more information you have going in, the better prepared you will be. Company research can tell you if a company is having financial or work environment problems or if their new product is going to take the world by storm. Either way, this knowledge can help you make informed decisions about what companies you would like to work for and why.

Recent past/New Future

Even in the recent past researching companies was a hit or miss proposition. It required trips to the library to search through printed periodical guides or, if the company was publicly traded, lengthy SEC and annual reports. Often information on private companies was difficult, if not impossible, to find. With all the other work of preparing resumes, applying for jobs and going on interviews, company research often took a back seat.

Today the issue is much changed. Now, from the comfort of a computer, you can obtain more information about a company than ever before. Along with electronic access to the information mentioned above there are new resources that allow you to look into company information in ways that were impossible years ago. Using the World Wide Web, Usenet News and other online discussion groups you can even find out deep dark secrets that most companies would rather remained hidden.

World Wide Web

A good place to start in researching any company is the companyís own web site. Most companies have a web site now that lists the most basic of information. You might be able to find names and information about the principles of the company and what they might be looking for in an employee. Overall, though, it is important to remember that this information is going to present the company in the best light possible. In fact, for all the research, you will need to keep in mind the source of the information and any bias that might be ingrained but unstated.

SEC reports and other public documents are also available online. This allows you to access annual reports and easily search them for the pertinent information such as profitability, debt and important upcoming projects.

Usenet News

The rough and tumble world of Usenet Newsgroups can provide a wealth of information that might not be available through other more traditional means. Especially important are the personal comments of people who have worked for or had dealings with a particular company. While you must carefully watch for bias in these messages as well it can be invaluable to know that a company has a lousy reputation for support if you are thinking of interviewing for a tech support position with them.

Viewing comments over time can also point out a company that is headed for success or headed for failure. You can gauge the quality of a company through the ebbs and flows of the comments about them. In some cases, you can contact users directly to ask further questions about a company that interests you.

Watch what YOU say

The converse of all this easy research is that companies can also find out a lot about you. It is an easy task to search the various Usenet News archives for postings you have sent. Be sure that you are presenting an appropriate business face to the world. A host of scathing personal attacks in alt.bozos might lead a potential employer to believe that you are just too much trouble to have around. Consider the messages you have sent to mailing lists or web-based communities. These too can be searched easily. Knowing what is out there in the online world can help prevent embarrassing questions later.

You web site should also present the best picture of you as a potential employee in the same way a companyís web site is slanted towards their best interest. If you are going to refer people to your web site explicitly, make sure everything is neat and clean and in working order. The state of your web site will give an employer an impression of you and it should be the best one possible.

It is now easier than ever to get to know a company before you apply or interview for a job. There is no excuse for being unprepared with all the tools now at your disposal. You might find that the research you do today means the difference between getting a job and looking for one.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at: http://www.welchwrite.com/

He can reached via email at douglas@welchwrite.com