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You've been job hunting for a month when you finally find it: the perfect job. Your pulse races as you read the job description: this is it. THE job. The one that perfectly fits your skills and experience, offers a nice pay bump in salary, and (best of all) is located a short drive from your favorite gym.
Hold your horses. Before hitting the APPLY' button, take five minutes out to check the company out online before you apply.
Why do this? Well, for starters, what do the following words have in common?
These are all attributes you want your new company to have. Unless you're literally starving in the gutter and are willing to blindly accept the first job Fate throws at you, there is a compelling argument for conducting your own research into a company before you apply to work there.
Your future self will thank you for it.
Why Research a Company Before Working There?
In this day and age of millions of available consumer reviews on every subject under the sun, and copious online information on just about everything you would want to know (and more), there is absolutely no excuse for not checking a company out online before sending in your resume.
For example, before writing this article, I spent 20 minutes on Amazon reading reviews of a new yogurt maker I'm thinking of buying. If I'm willing to put that much time into reading about a yogurt maker, I'd be a slouch if I didn't at least do a basic background check on a prospective company I was thinking about working for. Companies can (and do) research us as prospective candidates when they are thinking about hiring us, so now we have the tools available, it's time the tables were turned.
So where to begin?
1. Start With Google
Ah, good old Google. Type the company name into the search box and see what comes up. Google 'weighs' it's information according to the most popular and most frequently viewed information, so the entries at the top of Page 1 on Google will most likely be the most-searched topics.
What to Look For: What you want to see is the company's website on the first page of Google (meaning they know at least the basics of SEO), and a nice spread of popular sites mentioning the company, such as maybe Forbes, Yelp and Techcrunch for a large IT company.
The more 'brand name' companies and websites that show up in the company's web results, the more established and publicity-savvy a company is.
When to Worry: If a basic google search brings up page after page of complaints about the company, or includes the word 'scam' along with the company name, you might want to think twice before applying to work there.
If you're applying to work at a small startup firm or a Mom-and-Pop company you may not see good Google coverage, but don't let this worry you. Go straight to step 2, which is...
2. Visit the Company Website
The first time you visit a prospective company's website is a big (and hopefully exciting) moment. Just by viewing their site, you can immediately tell a lot of things:
What to Look For: Is the company website professional looking, clean and modern? Or does it look like it was built for $99 back in 1996 by the CEO's little brother? Chances are, what you see on the website will be mirrored at the company. Want to work in an office with brown hessian wallpaper and laptops that weigh as much as a pile of bricks? Apply for a job at the company with the website text in an ancient Courier font and half the picture links broken.
Blogs and PR Pages: If the website has a blog, take a look. Not only can you see what the company has been up to lately, you can learn important facts about the company's recent history, such as a company purchase or merger. Make a note of any fun facts you find out and use these as a conversation starter at your interview or in your cover letter. If the company blog was last updated 4 years ago, run.
3. Visit the Company's Social Media Sites
Every large, modern company should be an expert at using social media. Even small local firms such as a popular collector's store or jewelry boutique should at least be making an effort to create interesting content based around their stock and industry.You can find a company's social media sites by looking on their website, or by Googling 'Company Name + Facebook' (etc).
What to Look For: A few minutes on the company Facebook or LinkedIn page will provide a wealth of valuable reputation and culture information. Is the page updated frequently? Does the company respond to comments and questions from users? Do they post pictures of the office Christmas party and tag everyone in the most embarrassing pictures? Do employees willingly interact with the brand via the comments, or does every employee post read as though the person was forced to write happy 'I love my company' comments at gunpoint?
When to Worry: Are there a lot of angry user comments? If negative comments have over-run this company's Facebook, Instagram, Google+ or Twitter, you might want to re-think your job application.
If it is a large company, a certain percentage of negative user posts go with the territory. You can't please everyone, and people are more likely to speak up if they've had a negative experience with using the company's services than if everything went hunky-dory.
What you want to look for is how the company responds. If they respond with grace and tact, they are likely to be a good company to work for. But if they respond with sarcasm, anger or return an uppity tirade on how the customer is wrong.... what's to say they won't treat you the same way if you have an issue while working at the company?
4. Check out the Better Business Beaurau
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) was founded in 1912 and provides free business reviews on more than 4 million businesses. It currently handles over 123 million requests from consumers in 2013, handling over 885,000 consumer disputes against businesses in 2013, of which close to 78% were settled. You can search for your prospective company by name and see whether the company has many complaints or even lawsuits filed against them.You can visit the BBB's website at: https://www.bbb.org/
6. For Local Businesses, Check Out Yelp
If the company you're interested in doesn't have a website or much online presence due to the everyday nature of the business - a small local store, dry-cleaners or cafe, for instance - head on over to Yelp.
Make sure you enter the correct location that is hiring, as well as the company name. Many businesses share the same name (such as Bob's Cleaners) or may have hundreds of franchised nationwide stores. See what people have written, and make sure you read a good selection of reviews before making up your mind.
In particular, look for regular patterns in the reviews. Often, people will head on over to Yelp with an ax to grind against a particular person who works at the store who they had a bad interaction with, and their opinion might not reflect other people's experiences. If, however, every other review comments on how dirty the store is or how rude the Dining Manager was to their party, it's a pretty safe bet that working at that particular company might not be a pleasant experience for you in the long run.
Yelped Till You Can Yelp No More?
Here are some popular alternative company review sites:
Angie's List - Angie's List has become a household name in providing consumers with honest, accurate information about local businesses. Users pay a membership fee to read and write reviews, which are given in the form of a letter grade.
Insider Pages - At InsiderPages.com, people share reviews of local businesses and find services they can trust. Millions of people visit this site each month to get the insider scoop on local businesses.
Judy's Book - Judy's Book provides Local reviews, recommendations, deals, and coupons from people like you, including those you know. Find and discover great places and avoid the not so great.
FourSquare - Local businesses who host a profile page on FourrSquare give customers the ability to not only check in, but also leave ratings and "tips" (reviews) for other customers when they visit.
Merchant Circle - Connecting busy people with the best local merchants. MerchantCircle is the largest online network of local business owners in the nation.
7. Read Online Company Reviews
There are many websites out there (including our own) that offer more in-depth company reviews, written by past or present employees from a company. Company review websites allow current and former employees to anonymously rate companies and share their own experiences with others, shedding insight on employer reviews, salaries, CEO approval ratings and information on competitors.
You can use these sites to conduct more in-depth research into a company, although (as with Yelp) be aware that user reviews may reflect the subjective experiences of a single employee, and may not be representative of the overall employee experience.
Once again, read all the reviews you have time to, and look for patterns. If the first review says the company is a wonderful, glowing place while every subsequent review slams the company for being racist, sexist or underpaying, it's pretty safe to say that you should look elsewhere for employment.
CareerBliss - With 3.5 million job listings, 4 million salary comparisons, and millions of real company reviews written by real employees, Careerbliss is an information hub for everyone in the workforce. CareerBliss offers multiple user-generated data points such as job satisfaction, pay-scale and overall employee happiness that will help you decide whether that great-looking job will be worth taking – or if you should stay well away.
CareerLeak - CareerLeak is a partner of the CareerBliss website. By using the research salary data feature, you can find inside data about how much the searched company's employees make. User-submitted reviews provide searchers with some useful opinions, such as if they are/were happy working for the respective company.
Indeed - Indeed has thousands of company reviews that are submitted from current and past employees. Most company listings have more than 20 reviews, while some - such as the listing for the U.S. Air Force - have over a thousand.
LinkedIn - Although LinkedIn doesn't provide user-based company reviews, it does however provide members with the capability to search for companies based on various criteria, including company size, employment opportunities, location, industry and where it fits in the Fortune 500.
Vault.com - Vault.com provides information to prospective employees about jobs, top employers, careers, job search advice, salary listings, message boards and more. The employer rankings at Vault.com are based on the responses it received from survey respondents, who were questioned about their opinions about their own firms.
Monster.com - Monster.com provides access to an employer and company search, but the information provided appears to come from the searched company's own "about me" page, rather than from current and former employees.
Sitejabber - Find and review online businesses.
Why Employer Research Pays Off
Knowledge is power, and armed with key info about your prospective hiring company's hiring and operating practices, salary range and overall culture, you'll be in a much better place to make an informed decision about where you want to spend your next few years working.
Life is too short to work for a company with poor business practices, low staff morale, a poor work environment or bad business ethics, and by following the steps outlined above, you'll be both forewarned and forearmed before your first interview.
Tune in next Tuesday for more great resume tips. Same time, same place!