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How to research hiring companies using free (and surprisingly effective) methods

Research companies before applying.
Recently, I wrote about how to use LinkedIn to find a ton of surprisingly useful information about hiring companies that could help you in your job search (View article). 

Now, let’s talk about how you can find valuable information about hiring companies from other free sources.

Company web site
An obvious, but often overlooked place to find information about a hiring company is on its own web site.
Check out a company's "About Us" or "Who We Are" section,
read the news, visit the Investor Relations section, learn about 
new products, its stock price and much more.

When you visit a company’s site, pay particular attention to the “About Us” or “Who We Are” section so you can learn about the company’s history, leadership team and its titles, philosophy, mission statement, and much more. But don’t stop there.

Learn about its new products, read its latest news, check out its stock price and study its growth plan information.

Also read through its investor section and press releases to learn if they are growing or whether they are encountering issues, such as lawsuits or regulatory concerns, which could be catastrophic to its future.

A company’s investor section is probably the single best way to determine what’s on the minds of company leaders.

Fully researching a company's web site can give you lots to talk about on phone interviews, at in-person interviews and in your cover letter. It can also give you ideas for how to keep in touch with company contacts year round even when there is not a specific job opening.

For example, if you were interested in a position with Monsanto (site shown above), you could write to company contacts and congratulate them on their Genuity Roundup Ready alfalfa product receiving approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Or, you could research the World Economic Forum’s new vision of agriculture mentioned on its site and learn how Monsanto is involved in that effort. You could then write to them and express how passionate you are about the future of agriculture and how you want to get involved in feeding the world through new innovations.

Consider how much you would stand out from other job seekers if you took such a real, personal interest in their company and products instead of just applying for an open job using your standard cover letter.

Google/Other Search Engines
Another obvious, but often overlooked way to research a hiring company is to look them up on a search engine such as Google.com. When you conduct such research on Google, search under both the Web tab and the News tab so you can see both the latest information and company news.

Research the company and it's industry.
Remember to check the news tab, too.
In addition to researching the company, also research industries in your area. For example, type in “Kansas City ad agencies” to find a directory that lists all of the ad agencies in that town. Many organizations, such as in this case, the American Ad Agencies Network, compile free geographic directories of their member companies, including contact information, that can help you target companies in your job search.


Check out a company's Facebook page.
Search for target companies on Facebook and become a fan so you can read about its history and other important information and make note of promotions, events and more that would be great to mention in an interview or cover letter.

In this example, the Coca Cola fan page leads to a fun video and pictures and videos of things people made out of Coke cans or bottles.

Job seekers would do well to not only mention the fan page, but reflect this fresh, innovative style in their conversations with Coca Cola.

If you have a Twitter account, follow the company on Twitter, like I have done with Caterpillar Inc. below. Why? If you’ll note on this example, the company has posted an event that is open to the public.

Follow companies on Twitter.
Smart job seekers interested in working for Caterpillar could show up to such events to introduce themselves and to let company reps know they learned about the event on Twitter (thereby reinforcing that they “get” social media and that they are so interested in the company, they’ll show up to support its company events.)

Business publications
Find valuable industry information in your
city's Business Journal's Book of Lists.
Another way to learn about hiring companies is to conduct research using available business sources. For example, your local Business Journal publishes lists of dozens of industry categories, such as largest corporations, nonprofits, universities and much more. They rank these organizations by revenue and include useful information, such as the number of employees, the CEO’s name, a brief list of their products or services, their web address, and more. Most libraries carry the annual Business Journal Book of Lists so you can see all of these lists at once.

While subscribing to your local print Business Journal costs money (and is worth the expense), you can receive daily news e-blasts from your area Business Journal for free. These e-blasts often contain news about companies who may be hiring in your area.

Your regular daily newspaper may also offer free news e-blasts that contain business news and information about local companies. Use this information to keep in touch with your target companies.

FORTUNE magazine spotlights the 100 best companies to work for each year and briefly explains why each was chosen. You can also find the largest publicly held companies by revenue in its annual Fortune 500 listing.

While it costs to subscribe to FORTUNE, or similar publications such as Forbes, you can find much useful information for free on their web sites.

Take the time to know your target companies
I encourage you to research hiring companies to make a better impression with them and to learn whether you really want to work there or not. Taking the time to really get to know them shows that you care, which can help you land a job or get a better one. -- Kathy 

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