One of the most difficult professional situations an individual can face is taking a position with a company, only to find out that its work environment, financial stability, opportunities and overall business practices do not live up to expectations. That's why one of the most important components of any job search is doing a background check on a company to ensure it is where you can build a successful career.
There is a lot of information you should find out about a company before pursuing – or accepting – a position, from learning about its overall financial health and growth strategies to business philosophies and industry reputation. Here are some steps to take to make sure you end up on a team that is right for you.
1. Read the Company's Web Site
This is the easiest place to begin research on any company. While on the site, pay attention to press releases, general facts and figures, executive biographies, community relations initiatives, and overall business philosophy. Has the business grown in the past few years, or has it suffered setbacks and layoffs? Is the company promoting new business initiatives that will sustain future growth? How long has the company been in business, and what is the tenure of senior executives? If the company is publicly traded, download or request a copy of its annual report and other financial statements.
2. Conduct a Thorough News Search
After reading through what the business says about itself, it is a good idea to get outsider perspectives. National and regional media are a good place to start, particularly if you are interested in the country's larger businesses. Most media outlets offer online archive searches that you can use to see if and in what respect the company has been in the news. Local media outlets operating in the company's hometown are another good source of information, as they often cover hometown businesses more extensively and have their finger on community business affairs. You can also conduct nationwide media searches using Lexis Nexus or other databases that are accessible from public libraries.
3. Examine Additional Third Party Sources
There are a wide range of business and career resources that provide company profiles available to the public. Hoovers (www.hoovers.com) offers extensive corporate information, some available only to subscribers. The Investor Relations Information Network (www.irin.com) provides annual reports and information online for any public company. Other informative sites, such as Vault (www.vault.com) provide company information from employees' perspectives. Vault, in particular, has a "day in the life" feature for many corporations that gives prospective employees a better idea of what really goes on inside the company's walls.
4. Learn About the Industry
One great indicator of a company's success is its industry standing. Nearly every industry has a trade association or trade publications that report on industry news and trends. This research will also give you a better idea of the direction the industry is heading in as a whole, which will alert you to the chances of continued success for the company you are researching.
5. Talk to Anyone You Can
You can often learn most about the true goings on in a corporation by talking to employees, former employees, or friends or relatives of employees. What is the morale at the business, and how do employees feel about the company's direction and future? Does the business have a good reputation in the community? Why have employees chosen to leave the business, and why have other employees chosen to stay? Chances are, you can use your own network of contacts to find someone who has an insider's perspective.
These steps – if done early enough – can greatly impact your job search, your interviewing success and, most importantly, your future career happiness. Remember, if you "look before you leap," you'll know what you're getting into, before it's too late.
Copyright 2005 CareerBuilder.com.