Meet the Professionals Night

Researching an Organization

Researching an Organization

Almost every book or article about job searching includes the advice to "learn as much as you can about each organization you're applying to, certainly before an interview, but also before applying. The more you know about the organization and the job, the better your chances for an offer." Ironically, this is a step that many job applicants skip. It contains many of the elements of doing a research project or paper for a class, so you already have the skills. Use all of the resources available; no single source is likely to have all of the information you need. Identify in advance the factors about a prospective employer that are important to you, and take good notes. You may wish to compare similar types of organizations, so research competitors and colleagues. Finally, don't wait until the last minute to start your research. The knowledge and insight you gain through your research will give you critical information to target your job search and confidence for your interviews. Given a choice between two candidates with similar skills, experience and preparation, an employer will always be more impressed with the one who shows enough interest and commitment to take the initiative to learn about the organization. Just as important, you will have a better idea of which organizations offer you the best chance of making a contribution, being compatible with the organization's culture/work environment, and being successful.


  • The Organization
    Call or write the organization you're researching. Tell them you are considering approaching the organization for work, and ask if they would send you any printed materials that would help you learn more about them, as well as prepare for an interview. The public relations office, the college relations office, or the person responsible for external communications are likely points of contact. Mention any of the following as the type of information you seek:
    • Annual Report - summarizes the year's performance and accomplishments, includes financial statements, funding sources (for non-profit organizations), products and/or services, names of key personnel, and a narrative.
    • Organization Chart - shows all departments and how they report to and relate to one another. Sometimes is included in the Annual Report.
    • 10-K Report - a detailed financial disclosure required annually by the U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission for publicly traded companies.
    • Recruiting Brochures - produced primarily by larger organizations for the purpose of attracting college graduates to the organization.
    • Other Publications - in-house newsletters or magazines, brochures describing services to clients or customers, press releases.
  • The Internet
    Many organizations of all types now have home pages on the Internet. Their purpose may be to market information about their products and services, or the purpose may be to provide information to prospective job candidates about opportunities with the organization. Search the Employer Website Links to learn more about organizations. You can also use a search engine such as Alta Vista or Yahoo to locate a specific organization.
  • Libraries
    If the organization (company, government agency, non-profit employer) is prominent enough to get news space, The Reader's Guide, The New York Times Index, and The Wall Street Journal Index can help you find stories about it. Also use InfoTrak, a computer database that surveys most newspapers, magazines and trade journals. Talk to the reference librarian for suggestions about specific publications that may be helpful, such as Dun and Bradstreet's Million Dollar Directory.
  • Career Development Office
    Several of the directories on the Employer Directories shelves contain information about products, services, size and location. Four file cabinets of Employer Literature also contain recruiting literature and annual reports.
  • Professional or Trade Journals and Newspapers
    When you know the field you want to work in, make it a habit to read the related trade and professional journals. Many of the books on the Career Information shelves in the CDO identify the primary professional associations for each field. Refer also to the Subject Index of the National Trade and Professional Association Directory in the CDO. Consult the journals in Reed Library. Make it a habit to read local newspapers for information about organizations in communities in the geographic region(s) in which you will be job searching.
  • People as Resources
    Sometimes people are the best source for the information you seek. This is especially true for small, local organizations, privately held corporations, and some non-profit organizations. Before you ask someone for his/her time, however, be sure you have consulted the written sources so that you are not asking for information that can be easily obtained elsewhere.


  • Size of organization/number of employees
  • Financial size, as measured by annual sales (profit-making organizations)
  • Funding sources and annual budget (non-profit organizations)
  • Main products, services or programs
  • Current initiatives/potential for new products, markets, services or programs
  • Organization history/length of time in existence
  • Location of headquarters/main office
  • Other locations
  • Relocation practices
  • Patterns of growth and/or layoffs
  • Competitors
  • Organizational structure
  • Organizational culture and philosophy or mission statement
  • Structured or informal training programs
  • Dress code
  • Working conditions/work environment
  • Morale of employees
  • Internal job description(s)

What else do you want to know about an organization you are considering as a potential employer?

TIP: If you can't find information about the specific organization you've identified, research similar organizations.

For additional assistance, look on the Job Search shelf in the CDO for these resources:

  • Job Smarts for Twentysomethings, Chapter 11, Bradley G. Richardson, pp. 77-89.
  • Researching Your Way to a Good Job, Karmen N. T. Crowther
  • The Right Fit: An Educator's Career Handbook and Employment Guide, Strother and Marshall, pp. 89-95.