Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Work the Web

It's a given. The more information you have about prospective employers, the better prepared you are. Not only can you target your resume, but you can add facts to spice up your cover letter and casually mention during an interview. Unfortunately, you can't always predict what information will persuasively demonstrate that you are a strong candidate for the job. Don't let that stop you—your information-gathering is well worth the effort.

A good start is with a company's Web site. Most companies fill theirs with public relations mumbo-jumbo that you must sift through to get to the company's core. The "About Us" page might be a little PR heavy but it and the mission statement will certainly tell you something about the corporate culture, such as corporate diversity initiatives or employee benefits. Some experts think you should use the same terminology and buzz words found on a company's Web site in your cover letter. Others think that's over the top.

More sources to look for factoids that instantly reveal you are up on what the company does are press releases and articles. Pick apart the press releases from the last six months to find out what the company executives think is important. You will be informed about new products or initiatives—always a positive thing to note. Articles are also useful. General Electric's Web site, for instance, posted articles about the company from The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Vanity Fair, all of which are easy reads and full of information.

Companies don't always publish annual reports on their Web sites, but if they do, you will find ample material to give you a feel for the firm's values and state of its business. Anything that helps you align with that company is what you are looking to uncover. Check out Internet sources such as Hoover's Inc., CorpTech®, LexisNexis®, Dow Jones & Company, and Thomson Research.

Some information on a company's Web site fits the "This is something I care deeply about and so I want to work for this company" category. Employers like to hear positive things about their company and know that if employees are behind their corporate culture, they are much happier and more productive.

Even the design and maintenance of a Web site offers insights about a company. For instance, if you are considering a career in marketing or public relations, you should note if a site's links aren't working or the information is months or years old. PR and marketing obviously aren't a high priority for that company. Or, they might just really need your skills!

Another creative approach to finding information is through company blogs. Do a Web search on a company to find a blog someone is keeping. It might be about a speech given at a convention or just comments about the company picnic. Either way, there are nuggets of information out there to use to your advantage or to just give you the warm fuzzies about a possible employer.

Armed with compelling facts, you can go beyond noting that Company XYZ has been Number One on a business magazine's list for the last five years. Instead you can make the astute observation, "I saw that Company XYZ is launching this unique product line and my experience in ABC can add to the expertise in marketing it."

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