Researching prospective employers: three tips

Anthony Haynes writes: In a helpful post (‘Researching your target companies: questions to ask‘, 18 July), Thea Kelly provides a helpful list of questions that candidates should consider when developing their lists of prospective employers.

Kelley’s questions range from the obvious-but-nevertheless-worth-including (‘What’s the news?’) to the more subtle: for example, one of the questions is ‘Who are their main competitors, vendors, and partners?’. Kelley’s thinking is that people at these businesses might provide useful information on your targets.

I’d like here to supplement Kelley’s resource with three suggestions, ranging from small to big.

1. The small suggestion: use Google alerts (a surprisingly little used resource amongst candidates, I think) to track your prospective employers. Alerts provide an effortless way to help ensure you receive that piece of information about a company that might make all the difference to your thinking about a company.

2. Medium-sized suggestion: Investigating a company’s competitors, vendors, and partners is useful not only as a source of news about the company: it is valuable too for helping to understand the business environment that a company operates in. This helps to shed light on such matters as potential risks (for example, from relianceĀ on weak suppliers) and changes in market size and share.

3. Big suggestion: do the numbers. Read the company’s annual report, especially the accounts. (In the UK, limited companies’ accounts are available from Companies House.) Look at the obvious figures — revenue, costs, profit, and how they compare with the previous year. Look too at warning signs — for example, if stock levels are rising, is that a sign of over-production or declining demand. In particular, look at cash flow — is the company adding cash balance or running it down? How does the cash position look relative to overhead and debts falling due? Combining a reading of the accounts with information from other sources can help in developing the big picture about an employer.

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