This article was originally published on the "Association for Co-operative Education" blog on January 23, 2015.
Job searching? Starting out in an industry? Switching careers? Exploring your options? There are many reasons we need to do company and industry research in our professional lives. You may need these skills when exploring new industries or fields, creating a job application or preparing for an interview.
So how do we do effective research? There is a wealth of information online, but this can get overwhelming. The key is to have strategies to help you find what you are looking for. Here are some top tips and sites that can assist you:
1. Company Website:
If you know what company you’re looking for, start here. This is the public online face of the company. Some will be detailed, others will only contain minimal information. But you can often find details about their products/services, information about the organization structure and management, its history, and employment-related information. But be aware that this is only a layer of what you can find out about the company. They only tell you what they want you to know!
2. Google (or another good search engine):
One of our students recently called Google "the oracle" during a presentation. It knows so much! But when you search a company name online, you will likely get a large amount of results, so be strategic about how you search. Aside from the company website, what else comes up in the search? Is there recent press coverage? Did the company win an award? Were they represented at an event or conference?
As you identify more of what you are looking for, use your search terms to narrow down the results. For example, enter the company name and city, the name of a specific product, or names of management or team members you want to learn more about.
LinkedIn is undoubtedly an effective job search tool, for company research and otherwise. Use it to follow companies, find out who works for them, and what networks, associations, and events they're connected to. A valuable LinkedIn connection should be someone you know, so use your research to decide how best to make that connection.
Libraries are your best friend, and not just when you’re a post-secondary student. As an example, the Vancouver Public Library contains a wealth of resources in their Business & Economics division and online through their electronic resources. You can find reference guides, books, and links about specific industries, or look at general industry and sector research guides to help steer your search. A quick website search helped me find a listing of High Technology Industry Directories in British Columbia.
Your post-secondary institution's library will also contain many resources, and they are selected and managed based on the program and research specialties at your institution. Most libraries also have access to annual reports for public companies, and this can give you insightful information about any specific companies you are looking at. Be sure to take full advantage of the expertise of the librarians. They are trained to help you find what you are looking for, and these days are online research experts.
5. Industry Associations:
Not all research can be done online! Find out what industry associations exist in your field, whether locally, provincially, or internationally, and get involved. The website may contain a wealth of useful resources and information, but volunteering, attending events, and presenting at conferences can help you expand your network and build your reputation.
6. Company Rating Sites:
There are some websites that exist to help job seekers do their research. For example, Glassdoor provides information and reviews about companies, as well as job postings, salary and interview information. But beware of the information you receive on these sites, as it is open source (though driven by community guidelines). What you are reading may be purely individual opinion and you don’t know the details of their experience with the company. These sites provide advice, not facts. As with all advice you get from individuals, take it with a grain of salt, and use it to complement or direct your research.