How to research a company for an interview or graduate job application

Company research is central to graduate job hunting success. Don’t even think about starting an application or attending an interview without doing it.

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If you’re not sure how to research a company before applying for a job there or being interviewed, this article will show you how. Researching a company will help you give yourself the edge, appear informed and be confident that you’ve chosen the right employer.

The temptation to skimp on researching employers can be strong, particularly if you’re up against the clock with application, degree or decision deadlines, but it’s worth finding 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. While you can, and should, ask questions at interview to learn more about the employer, these should not be around basic information you can find elsewhere. Ideally, they should demonstrate how much you’ve already found out and what interested you most, so taking the time to research a company is likely to help you ask more insightful questions.

Fortunately, most of the information that will help you is easily accessible online, and our company research template or checklist will ensure you don’t miss anything out. As well as providing evidence that you’d be a good fit for the role, it will also show whether the company is likely to be a good fit for you – as well as helping you feel more confident during your interview.

Although we refer to ‘company research’ in this article, the advice will apply to all kinds of graduate employers including firms, charities, the public sector and other organisations.

How to research a company: follow our company research template

Break down your research into bite-sized chunks. If you’ve got a structure, you won’t feel swamped. It can also 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, or when deciding which job offer to accept, 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 .

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.

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 competencies 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 HR policies
  • think about how you view the organisation
  • ask yourself why working for the company appeals.

In addition, you should look into the salary, benefits and incentives that make up the pay package you’ll receive – as long as these aren’t your only motivations for applying to the company.

Where to look for information when researching a company

1. Initial investigations

Your first ports of call should be:

  • the job description: what does it tell you about the work the company does and how the role you’re considering fits into the bigger picture? Does it raise any questions for you?
  • the targetjobs organisation hub
  • the employer’s website – look at both the careers section and the main corporate sections
  • the employer’s LinkedIn pages and other social media
  • recent news or developments from press releases or simply searching online for the company name.

2. Look more widely

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. Also scan financial and market reports.

It’s possible to find out all sorts of things about employers on the internet. However, you need to focus your research on 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.

3. Don’t forget word of mouth

Your university careers service 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 careers fairs and employer presentations . Or, see if anyone in your network (including LinkedIn contacts ) would be willing to have a chat with you about the company. Information straight from the horse’s mouth is invaluable.

When researching a company is useful

Company research will help you at many stages of the job-hunting process:

  1. finding jobs to apply for and making a shortlist of employers to prioritise
  2. filling in application forms or writing covering letters
  3. answering interview questions such as ‘Why do you want this job?’ , ‘What can you bring to the company?’ and ‘What are your career goals?’
  4. choosing between multiple job offers .

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.

Good company research will also help you decide whether the job suits you and whether you feel genuinely enthusiastic about working for the employer. This benefits everyone as you’ll be happier in the role and are likely to stay with the company for longer.

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.

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