When you’re looking to take the next step in your career, it’s natural to set your mind on a target company, a title, rank, or location and focus on those details as you embark on your job hunting journey. When it comes to selecting your next organization, research is paramount to ensuring that you will appreciate the culture, align with the mission and values, and work with a team you will be proud to call coworkers.
With so many avenues to find roles that spark excitement, how do you start researching an organization during your job search?
Chances are, as you’re selecting roles for which you feel you might be a good fit, you’re already checking out their website and social media. It’s a simple way to find red flags that might deter you from applying, or conversely, to see if the organization continues to appeal to you outside of the carefully crafted job description. While these avenues are a helpful start, don’t forget that an organization has complete control over its image on its owned platforms.
The Organization’s Website: When you visit a company’s website, scroll through each section with a critical eye. Take note of the overall feeling you get. Does it seem messy and unorganized, or is it professional, organized, and informative? Many companies choose to highlight their mission, vision, and values on their website, especially if company leaders are proud of their work in this area. Your comfort with the culture is essential. If you read these statements and don’t feel inspired or excited, the opportunity may not be one you want to pursue.
Take the time to read their blogs or publications, look for press releases, annual reports, and financial statements, which help create a full picture of what is important to the organization.
Company Social Profiles: Depending on the type of organizations you’re looking at, the social platforms may vary. Many companies keep up with LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, no matter their area of expertise. Others may use platforms like Pinterest, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat, or even Reddit.
See how the company presents itself across platforms and if it sends a consistent message, sticking to its brand and overall themes. Is the content well thought out or sporadic, light-hearted or serious, helpful or controversial? How a company behaves on social media can sometimes be a window into its internal culture. One social mishap might not be the end of the world but look for patterns and how it projects itself. This is also a good time to see if you have any LinkedIn connections working at the organization who would be willing to provide you with an introduction or informational interview.
Checking the organization’s social profiles is important, but equally enlightening is its leaders' social profiles. Review public LinkedIn and Twitter feeds for the organization’s top executives to gain a better understanding of their background, what led them to where they are today, the types of content they share and interact with, and even what others say about their leadership or work. Length of time with an organization may shed light on the overall management structure and organizational foundation.
A word of advice: don’t friend company leaders! It’s ok to take a look at their profile (note: on LinkedIn, they may be notified you reviewed their profile), but don’t send a connection request; instead, follow their organization. Remember that once you apply to a role, HR, talent acquisition teams, and even your potential manager may review your social profiles as well. Be sure to polish your online presence to make sure you are putting your best foot forward.
Glassdoor, Indeed, the Better Business Bureau, GuideStar by Candid, and even Google My Business are helpful tools in learning more about a company.
Glassdoor and Indeed: Glassdoor allows businesses to optimize their profile with photos and “about us” content, but they can’t delete or alter reviews. That means job seekers can read authentic comments from current and past employees. You can search by job title, keywords, or company name. Whether they were presented with an offer or not, previous candidates can share their overall experience, how they landed an interview and the average difficulty of the interview.
Both Glassdoor and Indeed offer information such as benefits, pros and cons of working there, whether the reviewer would recommend the company to a friend, and CEO approval rates. The larger the company, the more robust its reviews may be. That said, take single instances of negative reviews with a grain of salt. Disgruntled employees can leave negative remarks as much as happy employees. If something you read throws up a red flag, search other reviews for similar experiences and note how dated these complaints are before you hit the panic button.
GuideStar, by Candid: If the organization is a nonprofit, check out their IRS Form 990 and GuideStar profile. A 990 is an IRS-required form tax-exempt organizations must fill out as part of their annual reporting. GuideStar can provide insights on financials, people and leadership, mission, salaries of top-paid employees, funding sources, and other data derived from validated sources.
The Better Business Bureau: This nonprofit organization is focused on advancing marketplace trust. People can leave reviews and file complaints easily. Even if the company is not BBB accredited, people can skim profiles and find other business details like when the company started, alternate business names, business managers, and contact information.
Google My Business (GMB): Google My Business allows businesses and organizations to manage their online presence across Google, including search and map results. When you search for a company on Google, their GMB profile will appear in the panel to the right of your search results. Customers can leave reviews and companies are expected to respond to negative comments. See what others are saying and how the organization responds. While these reviews might not be from an employee’s perspective, an organization's proactive and helpful response can help show the organizational structure and how issues are managed internally.
Search Google News for the company you’re researching to see the most up-to-date insights. Searching leaders or the person you would report to might show you outside organizations they’re involved with and how they promote themselves and the company. Ask your network for referrals, pros/cons, or if they can informally put you in touch with someone who works at your target organization.
Look to see if the company has been recognized with an award as a "great place to work." Several organizations like Glassdoor, Fortune, Forbes, HRC.org, and the Vault provide annual rankings around company growth, culture, and diversity. In the nonprofit sector, Forbes publishes a list of America’s Top Charities. Charity Navigator, a charity assessment organization that evaluates charitable organizations in the U.S., also has robust “Top 10” lists for everything from those earning perfect scores, to most followed, who to watch, and more.
Researching may seem like an exhausting task, and it can be—but following a path for finding out about a potential organization to work for will help you determine if taking the next step is a good investment in your time, energy, and future. In short: it’s worth it. Don’t let all that research go to waste, either. When you land an interview, use what you found to create informed, educated questions to ask the interview team.
Impact Opportunity would like to thank Karen Butterfield for her work in writing this article. Karen is the Founder of KE Butterfield, LLC., a communications firm. Prior to launching the company, Karen served as a Director of Communications for an executive recruiting firm and spent nearly a decade as a reporter and editor for an award-winning community newspaper and publishing company. During her tenure there, Karen earned more than a dozen state and national awards for her work. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Webster University in St. Louis.