How to research a prospective employer

In the current economic climate, it may feel like there is little opportunity to be too picky about which company to apply to. Nevertheless, building up a picture of how a business functions, what its core values are and what your pay is likely to be will help you stand out at interview and determine whether it is a company where you are likely to thrive.

Targeting a company

It may sound like an obvious first step, but you’d be surprised how many people apply for a job without having looked carefully at a company’s website. Everything that a company is proud to display will be on there, including case studies of work, key employees and any awards won.
You’ll also get a clear idea of the company’s brand by looking at their website. However, rather than being struck by the logo or colour scheme, pay attention to the set of core values that the brand is built on to ensure they are compatible with your own.

You can also look to see if an organisation belongs to a sector body, demonstrating they are keen to strive for best practice in the sector and demonstrate commitment to values and high standards of work. Sector bodies or publications also often hold industry awards and publish league tables which can be something to mention in your covering letter to demonstrate why you would like to work at a particular company.

Preparing for an interview

If you are fortunate enough to secure an interview, it is always worth asking who will be interviewing you. Search on LinkedIn or Twitter to see what you can find out about their career history, areas of expertise and interests. You are likely to feel more confident in the interview if you are conversing with someone you know something about.

Interview time

Your best opportunity to find out more about a company is at the vital ‘Do you have any questions?’ stage of the interview.

Your future development and prospective career path is a good question to bring up. At a graduate level, training is vitally important and it can be a good indication of how the company views the future progression of new recruits. A recent CMI survey of UK managers showed that 43% anticipated that training budgets would be cut further in 2011. While this may be a sad truth of the financial climate that we’re in, it is vital that managers still take time to develop their staff, especially their new graduate trainees.

This is also the time to ask what your day to day work will entail, who you will be reporting to, what the work-life balance is like and more about the social side of the company. Don’t be afraid to ask open ended questions such as ‘What is the company like to work for?’ – this is your time to let your interviewer do the talking.

Also, don’t be afraid to be forthright about pay – so long as this is a topic brought up by your interviewer. Don’t treat it as an opportunity to make outlandish demands. Rather, do some research to see what is average in the sector, using tools such as the CMI salary calculator and use the information to demonstrate you understand industry value. When asked what you would expect to be paid, don’t be tempted to quote a lower salary in desperation for the job. Suggest the standard industry entry level salary and then back this up by demonstrating the experience and skills that you can bring to the role. Of course, if you are applying for a role through a recruitment agency you should allow them to do the negotiating for you.

It’s also worth asking for details about the company’s CSR policy and seeing if it stands up to questioning. Working for an organisation with values aligned to your own is a hugely motivating factor.

It is important to bear in mind that most organisations won’t tick all of the boxes on your dream employer wish list. However, by being fully aware of a company’s values and asking the right questions at interview, you are in a strong position to choose a place where your career will flourish.

Ruth Spellman OBE is chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute. Her first book ‘Managers and Leaders Who Can: How You Survive and Succeed in the New Economy’ is out now published by Wiley. Follow Ruth on Twitter at @cmi_ceo.

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