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Researching Employers

guy studyingNow that you have an idea for organizing your job search you can begin conducting research in order to find openings and employers you seek to work for in the future. By researching an industry, occupation or employer, you gain a better understanding of job availability, company culture, potential growth of businesses and industries, and how your skills could be applied to a different profession, if that becomes a necessity.

Finding out about potential employers gives you a chance to measure your qualifications against those required by a particular company. They force you to determine whether you need more training in a certain area and whether the skills you have match the talent employers want.

Structuring Research

When beginning your research, start gathering information on specific occupations, industries, individual companies and job availability in your area. Your research will naturally become more specific as you gain momentum. Company websites, career information resources, trade journals and online job boards are all good resources for discovering what experience, training and knowledge are required by employers.

Create an online or paper filing system containing research pertaining to companies you want to reach. That way, you don't have to rely on Google every time you want to look over the content you found last week on the target of your research. Sometimes articles mysteriously disappear or land much further down the list of hits on search engines; better to print it out, send a copy to your email account or cut and paste content into a Word document.

What should you look for? Study a company's products or services, size, history, location(s) (especially in relationship to where you live), mission statement or philosophy (or "value proposition" if such a document exists) and financial situation, as well as potential for growth. You should dig a little deeper and find out what changes the employer has undergone in the last five years and what kind of human resource policies it has, from flex time to a commitment to provide community services.

Finally, read local media stories on technology and updates and events on new or expanding businesses. Think plant expansions, new product roll-outs, or sponsorship of events, which are potentially great information for job seekers. An expanding workforce may show up in a press release but not in local wanted ads.

The same information will make you look good should you get an interview in which you can show how well-informed you are by saying, "I noticed you're opening a new plant in Kentucky..." or "I'm really intrigued by that new product you released, the biodegradable coffee cup..." Companies not only appreciate that you found them through diligent research, they are equally impressed when you display knowledge of their recent actions and address issues within their industries.

Labor Market Survey

Labor market surveys are tools that can help determine if an occupation or specific line of work is appropriate for you. Labor market surveys can be effective because they can help you gain insights into fields and occupations.

The pace of business is so fast today that calling people and asking questions about their occupations may result in few call-backs or answered emails. The Internet has voluminous amounts of information on careers, potential job openings in those occupations and even reflections or articles by bloggers, journalists and others that describe what it is like to work in a field. Many job search books have suggestions on doing a labor market survey even though it seems unlikely, given the pressures of an average workday, that many people have the time to answer a series of questions from someone they have never met.

If you want to conduct a labor market survey, try to keep it in your network of contacts so you at least have an opening when making that call: "Jim Schmidt told me to give you a call. I'm interested in working at 3M and want to learn more about the company's culture," sounds better than "I want to work at 3M. Can you tell me what it's like to work there?"

Be clear, be precise, tell the individual you will not take up more than a few minutes of his or her time and hope for a return call. Keep in mind not everyone will tell the truth about an employer to a total stranger, even one recommended by a friend. You may gain some insights or you might find the practice of labor market surveys a waste of time in an age when so much information about companies is widely available on the Internet and at your local library.

A Deeper Data Dive

If you know the specific occupation or line of work that interests you, consult the Occupational Information Network (O*Net) or the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Other reference books are available at CareerForce locations or your local state employment office, public libraries, technical schools, colleges and universities.

Libraries are a great place to access databases that may not be available for free on the Internet. In Minnesota anyone with a library card can register with the Hennepin County Public Library system and then access its vast repository of online databases. Other library systems may have similar arrangements. The following are among the best business databases:

  • Business Insights: Essentials
    • Research and compare companies and industries using industry rankings, company profiles, market share data, investment reports, charts, graphs and more.
  • Business Source Premier
    • The database holds economic data, company profiles, industry information, market research reports and much more.
  • ELM
    • Electronic Library for Minnesota is an online virtual library specifically for Minnesota residents. It contains full-text magazine, newspaper, and reference articles, as well as videos, images, and information from encyclopedias, almanacs, directories and other information resources. You can use ELM from home, work, school or any place that has Internet access.
  • ReferenceUSA
    • The directory of U.S.-based businesses provides a way to search by business name, industry, city county and ZIP code while offering a panoply of information.

These databases are available online, too, but the fees charged for their use is often substantial. That's why it's better to physically go to the library to use them or to register so you can gain Web access with a library card.

You can also tap into social networking sites for content on jobs. In that setting there may be members of networking groups willing to offer you insights into a particular field. Networking groups in an occupation such as project management or medical technology or communications are great settings in which to glean insider knowledge and observations of what is required of practitioners in that industry, training, openings, salaries and so forth.


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