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Clever and Intelligent Questions to Ask on your Interview
 

 

Chapter 3

 

Questions To Ask During Your Research

Research is an essential first step in any job search. If you know nothing about the firm, department, job, or boss, you have no real clue of how to position your answers to any of the interviewer’s questions (or target your own questions). That’s why you can’t just go in with a bunch of basic questions that you could have easily answered yourself after a few hours at the library or online.
You have many skills and qualifications and talents, some or all of which may be pertinent, one of which may be key. How do you know? You won’t. So the research is not just to give you a set of questions to ask. It’s to help you customize those questions and target your answers to the interviewer’s questions.
Here’s a complete checklist of the facts you should know about each company at which you schedule an interview:

The basics

  1. Directions to the office you’re visiting.
  2. Headquarters location (if different).
  3. Some idea of domestic and international branches.
  4. Relative size (compared to other companies in the field).
  5. Annual billing, sales, and/or income (last two years).
  6. Subsidiary companies; specialized divisions.
  7. Departments (overall structure).
  8. Major accounts, products, or services.
  9. Major competitors.

The not-so-basics
  1. History of the firm (specialties, honors, awards, famous names).
  2. Names, titles, and backgrounds of top management.
  3. Existence (and type) of training program.
  4. Relocation policy.
  5. Relative salaries (compared to other companies in the field or by size).
  6. Recent developments concerning the company and its products or services.
  7. Everything you can learn about the career, likes, and dislikes of the person(s) interviewing you.


Where to start looking
For a very broad overview of any industry, consult U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://stats.bls.gov), which uses business and economic trends and changing demographics to chart expected growth in employment for occupations in every industry over a 10-year period. The most current edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook (2006-07 edition) is available here, as are online quarterly updates, a wealth of industry and economic information, and the most current (2004-05) edition of The Career Guide to Industries, the companion to the OOH. The 2004-05 Occupational Outlook Handbook, Official Government Job and Career Guide, plus Career Guide to Industries and a Huge Collection of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Documents, a CD-ROM with over 26,000 pages of data, is also available.
In addition, here’s a core list of research sources, many of which should be available in your library:
  • The ENCYCLOPEDIA OF BUSINESS INFORMATION SOURCES (2005, 20th edition) lists some 25,000 sources on more than a thousand specific subjects, including directories, associations, and more. The annual Directories in Print (26th edition now available) organizes companies by industry. Business Rankings includes details on the nation’s top 7,500 firms. (All from Thomson Gale.)
  • DIRECTORY OF CORPORATE AFFILIATIONS (Lexis Nexcis) better be available in your library – it weighs 35 lbs. and costs $1,700!
  • Dun and Bradstreet’s family of corporate reference resources: the Million Dollar Directory (160,000 companies with a net worth of more than $ 500,000); top 50,000 companies (those with a minimum net worth of just under $2 million); and Reference Book of Corporate Management, which provides detailed biographical data on the principal officers and directors of some 12,000 corporations. (Who says you can’t find out about the quirks and hobbies of your interviewer?)
  • STANDARD AND POORS’ REGISTER OF CORPORATIONS, DIRECTORS, AND EXECUTIVES includes corporate listings for more than 45,000 firms as well as 72,000 biographical listings.
  • THOMAS REGISTER OF AMERICAN MANUFACTURERS is an annual profile of more than 150,000 manufacturers and features information on primary products and services plus more than 100,000 trade and brand names.
  • WARD’S BUSINESS DIRECTORY OF U.S. AND PRIVATE COMPANIES including listings of nearly 100,000 companies, the majority of them privately held, and details that are usually the most difficult to acquire about such firms, such as number of employees, annual sales, and the like. The 48th edition (2005) is currently available; the 49th edition will be published in August 2006.
  • THE STANDARD DIRECTORY OF ADVERTISERS (also known as the Advertiser Red Book, because of its bright red cover) lists more than 17,000 companies that commit some portion of their budgets to advertising and promotion. It is available in two editions – classified and geographical. Major product lines and the agencies to whom they are assigned are listed, as well as the names and job functions of key marketing personnel at the listed companies and their agencies.
  • THE FORTUNE 500 is an annual compilation by Fortune magazine of the top U.S. businesses, ranked by sales. It will become particularly important later in your search, when you’re targeting specific companies. At that time, it will enable you to analyze not only where a particular company ranks in the overall U.S. economy but also whether it is falling or on the rise and how it measures up against other companies in its field.

Two other potential sources of leads include The Oxbridge Directory of Newsletters, a listing of thousands of newsletters in a range of industries, and Trade Shows Worldwide: An International Directory of Events, Facilities and Suppliers (Thomson Gale), which lists more than 2,000 trade shows and conventions. Why not consider attending some to learn more about the companies and products out there?
Become acquainted with a key reference resource – the various volumes of the Standard Rate and Data Service (SRDS), all of which are available in most libraries. The volume in which you’re interested is Business Publications. In it you’ll find a list, by industry, of the thousands of business (or trade) magazines currently being published.
These publications are prime sources of information, especially if you are relatively new to the job market. Start reading them regularly (many are collected in metropolitan public libraries). Write for recent issues of the leading publications in the fields you’ve targeted. If you make reading a weekly practice, you will accomplish a number of important goals, you’ll begin to absorb information about:
  • The industry as a whole.
  • Major companies in the field.
  • Trends, new products, and the general outlook for specific product categories.
  • Major players in the industry, both companies and individuals.
  • Industry / professional jargon or buzzwords.

In addition, published interviews with leading practitioners in the field will give you insight as to how they approach their specific jobs. Finally, there are the major newspapers and magazines you should turn to now and then to complete your research: The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Business Week, Fortune, Forbes, Industry Week, Nation’s Business, National Business Employment Weekly, and Inc., as well as the pertinent trade magazines in your field.

 

Finding Information On Smaller Companies

A majority of new jobs are created by small companies, but you may not learn much about them from most of the standard reference resources listed above. If your initial research proves fruitless or only marginally productive, try the following outside sources of information:

  • The chamber of commerce in the community that’s home to the company or division can help you assess how the company has been performing: Has it been growing or shrinking? How many people does it employ? How many did it employ in the community two years ago? Do people consider it a good place to work?
  • Business / industry associations: many trade associations are excellent resources for industry trends and specific opportunities. Three helpful resources are the Encyclopedia of Associations and Business Organizations, Agencies and Publications Directory (both from Thomson Gale) and National Trade and Pro9fessional Associations of the United States (Columbia Books, Inc.).
  • Executive, professional, and technical placement agencies: if you are getting the job interview through an agency, see how much you can learn about the prospective employer from them (and see Chapter 4).
  • Business editors: Turn the tables on the news media – ask them the questions! A community newspaper’s business reporter or editor will usually be the person most knowledgeable about local companies. They’ll know about developments at particular companies, how employees like working for them, and their reputation in the community.
  • Trade magazines: every industry has at least one trade magazine covering its developments. Call a junior (assistant or associate) editor. Ask if the publication has covered the company and, if so, how you can obtain copies of pertinent article (s).
  • School Alumni: A college placement office, your fraternity / sorority, or alumni association might be able to tell you about someone working at the company. Alumni are usually happy to help someone from their alma mater.
  • Stockbrokers/Analysts: if the company is public, it will have an investor relations representative who can tell you which brokers and analysts “follow the stock.” This means that a representative of the brokerage firm has visited with the company, written a detailed report for investors, and analyzed its industry, balance sheet, and management. Call the broker and ask for a copy of the report. It will be objective, revealing, and give you terrific material with which to impress the interviewer.
  • Online: start with the Web Site Source Book 2005: A Guide to Major U.S. Business, Organizations, Agencies, Institutions and other Information Sources on the World Wide Web. There are also a multitude of blogs, bulletin boards which you can track down obscure information to impress a prospective employer in an interview. Your first step, of course, should be to check out the company’s Web site.

Before you check out individual Web sites, consider using a meta engine, such as profusion, dog-pile, or web-crawler, to “search the search engines.” Then consider looking at some of the Web sites I’ve listed below. Most are for research; some are just for advice. Only one (the first) is hosted by a resume writing service. (and that’s because of the excellent links the site offers):

www.1stresumes.com
www.6figurejobs.com
www.acint.org (America’s career infonet, sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Labor)
www.ajb.dni.us (America’s job bank)
www.bestjobsbsusa.com
www.bilingual-jobs.com
www.bizjournals.com (local business news from cities throughout the U.S.)
www.businessweek.com
www.businesswire.com
www.career.com
www.careerbuilder.com
www.careerbuzz.com (hip and happening, but for young people only)
www.careerjournal.com (a Wall Street Journal company)
www.careermag.com
www.careers.org (with 4,000 links to other sites)
www.careershop.com
www.ceoexpress.com
www.collegegrad.com
www.computerjobs.com
www.corporateinformation.com
www.cyberkingemployment.com (56 languages, 130 countries)
www.dice.com (primarily technical careers)
www.Dnb.com (information on 10,000,000 U.S. companies from Dun and Bradstreet)
www.employment911.com
www.eresumes.com
www.fiveoclockclub.com (one of the best job hunt sites)
www.forbes.com
www.guidestar.org (for nonprofits)
www.hirediversity.com (if you’re disabled)
www.homefair.com (to compare cost of living by city and state)
www.hoovers.com
www.idexec.com (online access to 2 million decision makers at 900,000 companies worldwide)
www.jobbankusa.com
www.joblynx.com
www.jobstar.org
www.jobweb.com (college students)
www.latpro.com (if you’re fluent in Spanish or Portuguese)
www.monster.com
www.monstertrak.com (primarily for college students)
www.nationjob.com
www.nettemps.com (temp jobs) www.newslink.org (a worldwide directories of newspapers and magazines)
www.prnewswire.com (news on companies and individuals)
www.recruitersonline.com (more than 2,000 registered recruiters)
www.reuters.com
www.truecareers.com
www.wageweb.com (salary info)
www.wetfeet.com(though most of their insider guides are overpriced)
www.worktree.com
www.wsj.com (wall street journal)

 

vault.com

this site deserves special mention. Go to their message boards (the Electronic Water Cooler), which are organized by industry, company (!), university, law school, business school, even career topic. The day 1 last checked, there were 1,654,610 messages listed (some quite old, but the number is nevertheless impressive). Talk about getting the inside scoop! What a potential treasure trove of information!

Ask the company itself

Once you’ve culled the outside – and probably more objective – sources of information, take a look at what the company tells the public about itself. Check out the company’s Web site and/or call the company’s Investor Relations or Human Resources department to obtain the following:

  • Annual Reports. Mark Twain said that there are three kinds of lies – “lies damned lies, and statistics” – and you’ll find all of them in most annual reports. Road between the lines to learn as much as you can about the company.
    You will be able to tell how the company’s sales and profits have been increasing or decreasing over the past few years, what its plans are for the years ahead, and the health of the industry in which it operates.
    In addition, an annual report should indicate how the company feels about its employees. Note whether the report features accomplishments of particular employees. Does it have photos of people at work? Or does it focus strictly on “the numbers” and highlight the self-aggrandizing musings of the chairman?
  • Employee Handbooks. Be gusty. Ask the company. At the very least, the handbook will tell you about benefits, vacation time, salary – review policies, and other information you might not want to ask about in an initial interview. It also should give you valuable insights into the company’s attitude toward its employees. Is in-house training provided? Is the company picnic a much – anticipated annual event?
  • Sales / Marketing Brochures. Knowing about a company’s products will help you determine whether you’d like to work for the organization and will give you material upon which to base your questions.
  • Company Newsletters. There may be far more details about the company picnic than you would like, but there also might be some personal information about your interviewer, your future coworkers, or your future boss. You’ll also get a better feel for how the company communicates with “the troops,” how they view their future, new products launches, recent awards, and so on.

Although nobody likes doing it, homework does have its payoffs, especially during a job hunt. From the research you doggedly pursued on prospective employers, you should have learned several important things about each of the companies you targeted:
  • What it’s looking for in its employees.
  • Its key products and markets.
  • Whether it’s hired employees from your school and how they’ve fared.
  • Who the hiring manager is and what type of people he or she usually hires.
  • Why you might enjoy working for that company.

All of this information will prove invaluable to you, not only during the interview, but in helping you get the interview in the first place.
Research from books, the Net, phone calls, interviews, and the like is all necessary, but don’t disbelieve what your eyes and ears tell you if you visit the company. When you’re waiting in the reception area, look around and listen up. What do the people seem like? Is it a loose atmosphere? Fast? Slow? Is there a lot of joking around? Does everyone who passes by look like a much-loved pet just died? Are they talking to each other, joking around, having fun? Or does it seem like a row of Dilberts in cubbyholes?
Plan to get to every interview early so you can play a little detective. Talk to everyone you meet: What do you do? How long have you worked here? Do you like it?

Chapter Two Index Chapter Four
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