Researching a Company Before Applying (Part 1)

When you come across a promising job posting, your first instinct is probably to settle in and start putting together your application materials. But wait — have you ever heard of this company before? And if you have, are you sure they're a company you'd be happy working for?

Before putting time and effort into a job application, it's worth taking some time to research the company or organization offering the position. Today we'll discuss finding existing information, and next week we'll look at seeking out additional information from real people.

There are a number of sites dedicated specifically to allowing employees to rate and review their workplaces. Two of the most established (and therefore with the most reviews to draw on) are Glassdoor.com and Careerbliss.com. Indeed.com, which I recommend for finding job postings, also offers some reviews of companies.

Approach these reviews with a critical eye. One review written by a single disgruntled employee may not be indicative of an entire company culture, though it may give you an idea of things to look further into or ask about in an interview. Also pay attention to the department and title of the person writing the review, if available, as culture and management can vary widely from one department to the next.

Be aware that some marketing or HR staff members may write reviews of their own company to try to boost their ratings. Look for reviews that offer honest pros and cons, and be skeptical about those that make an organization sound like heaven on earth.

Larger organizations are more likely to have reviews and ratings out there than smaller organizations, but don't worry — this isn't the only way to get information on a company. Type a company name into Google News or a similar site to find out if there's been any recent press about the company. Search the Internet for the name of the organization and the specific department you're applying to, and scroll down past the top results from the company website to see what else is out there. Searching for the company name + "I worked at" may also turn up one-off reviews from personal blogs and the like.

You don't have to spend all day on this, but it's worth taking a few minutes to see if there's anything out there you should be aware of before you put together an application. There's nothing worse than starting a new job, running into lots of problems, and then discovering that there are lots of online reviews that could have warned you before you even applied.

Can't find anything, or just want a more personal opinion? Next week we'll talk about contacting former employees to hear about their experiences.