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Research employers: essential preparation for graduate applications

Employer research is central to graduate job hunting success. Don't even think about starting on an application form or CV without doing it.

The temptation to skimp on employer research can be strong, particularly if you’re up against the clock with application, degree or decision deadlines. However, if you want to give yourself the edge, appear informed and make the best choices, find some time to fit it in. Graduate recruiters will expect you to have unearthed some understanding and awareness of their organisation and the business sector in which it works.

Practical and efficient graduate employer research

Focus your investigations on the following areas:

Background information Find out:

  • what the company does (products made/services provided)
  • where it is located
  • company history and defining moments
  • who its customers/clients are
  • where it operates and in which markets
  • who its main competitors are
  • how, where and why it is growing
  • big news from the last year to two years – new launches, effects of the economy, regulatory changes, mergers and acquisitions, etc
  • what it offers that’s unique compared to its competitors – what makes the product or service different.

Break down your research into bite-sized chunks. If you’ve got a structure, you won’t feel swamped.

Recruitment information Find out:

  • what roles are available for graduates and what the scheme or job involves
  • what degree background and qualifications are required – minimum requirements
  • what general competences and specific skills are needed
  • what the recruitment process involves – type of application and stages
  • contact details for applying
  • the application deadline.

Company culture and general feelings You need to:

  • find out about the company’s ‘core values’ and aims
  • think about how the company likes to see itself
  • consider how it is viewed externally
  • review any personnel policies
  • think about how you view the organisation
  • ask yourself why working for the employer appeals.

Where to look for information on graduate employers

Make sure you look at our employer hubs and make the employer’s website a port of call for your initial investigations – look at both the careers section and the main corporate site. As well as information about the graduate programme and application process, read recent press releases, and scan financial and market reports.

Draw on a range of sources to build a fuller picture of the employer’s sector and follow stories in the news. In general, it’s useful to make a regular date to check the relevant industry and business sector tabs on the websites of quality newspapers, like the Financial Times, and online industry magazines.

It’s possible to find out all sorts of things about employers on the internet. However, you need to be picky and surf trusted and respectable sites. Finding comments on social networking sites could add an interesting twist to your research, but remember that it can be delivered with a bias – keep your critical thinking switched on and be alert to the reliability of your online sources of information.

Don’t forget your university’s careers service. It will hold information on employers and you may also find reports from alumni that give an insider’s view. Find out when employers will be visiting for fairs and employer presentations. Information straight from the horse’s mouth is invaluable.

In your own words

If you are using your research to prepare for applications and interviews, think about how you can summarise what you find in your own words. Pasting phrases from an employer’s website into your application, or learning them off by heart to recite at interviews, may seem quicker – but it’s false economy. Bring your own thinking and understanding to the information you glean.

You won’t be able to pin down everything, but even a small amount of focused research will boost your chances of getting a job and will give you the confidence to make informed decisions.

Keeping a checklist

It can help to have a document or spreadsheet where you keep track of information you find. You'll need to refer back to your research before interviews and assessments, so it can also be a big help to record the best sources you used. Set up your own system, or download our employer research checklist.