Guest author Frank Vuotto knows a little somethin’ about effective research, being that he’s a business librarian at a top university. So he’s put together a little primer on preparing for the job search.
As a business librarian at a top-20 business school, I have heard all the eleventh-hour pleas and bargaining ploys from students in need of research assistance. Of course nothing says you’re needed quite like the obligatory e-mail sent late Sunday evening begging for any tips on researching a company before the big interview Monday mourning(sic).
There are four parts of company research to be examined. Think of them as four separate baskets, each containing valuable information that will ensure a successful interview. Within one hour you can gather a vast amount of information-if you know where to look!
Basket I: Company Basics-The basic information about a company must be verified, verified, verified. This includes: company name (variant names), address (including subsidiaries), corporate structure and affiliations, telephone & fax numbers, web page address, number of employees, sales and other financials, stock exchange (if public), officer names, and products and services (try using the Standard Industrial Classification code or the North American Industry Classification System to get this information).
Financial information on publicly traded companies is, for the most part, easily obtainable. Annual reports are collected by most libraries and are a good first step in gathering information. 10-K filings and other financials are available online through a variety of free and commercial (fee-based) databases (i.e. Infotrac/IAC, Global Access, Compact Disclosure, Edgar, DIALOG, Lexis/Nexis, Dow Jones, etc).
In addition, an analyst report (analyst reports are available in Investext) will supply highly detailed financial information. Print sources offering important information you may need include: Moody’s Manuals, Directory of Corporate Affiliations, S&P Register of Corporations, Value Line Investment Survey, S&P Stock Reports, and Vault Guides.
Private companies do not have to disclose any financial information to the public. However there are ways to find information even on small companies. Most states have Services and Manufacturers Directories, which list smaller private companies.
Annual business rankings compiled by most city newspapers provide insight into the top local companies (which may or may not be public) and their competitors. The company that publishes the listings, American City Business Journals, offers over 60 regional business listings/rankings. To purchase copies on-line go to www.amcity.com.
Another important source to locate basic information on private companies is D&B Million Dollar Directory (also available electronically). Private companies are not necessarily small. A quick search on Hoover’s Online (www.hoovers.com) provides business information, links to news, lists, stock quotes, company histories, strategies, market positions, major events, and other information. ABI Inform indexes thousands of journals from 1971 forward. Many recent articles are full-text and offer a wide range of company information, including mergers, sales, marketing, statistics, etc. Another important database is Business and Industry, which indexes over 700 trade journals and is invaluable for gathering hard to find information. ABI Inform and Business and Industry are available through DIALOG (a fee-based service). Ask at your local library what services they offer to the public. Infotrac (Searchbank) is available at most libraries and is an excellent place to find relevant articles.
BASKET II: Market Share & Industry Ranking-A clear understanding of the industry in which the company falls and its position within its industry category (NAICS or SIC) is absolutely essential. The interviewee must demonstrate a high level of knowledge in regard to a company’s competitors, market share, industry trends, and financial norms and ratios within that industry.
Some key print resources that will help: S&P Industry Surveys, U.S. Industry and Trade Outlook, Moody’s Industry Review, WEFA Industrial Monitor, Handbook of North American Industry, Market Share Reporter, Value Line, and Vault Industry Guides.
Electronic databases like Market Insite (IAC) and Dow Jones Interactive provide excellent market and industry intelligence, both general and specific. Infotrac (SearchBank) allows you to create a listing of companies within an industry (SIC) ranked by sales. Frost & Sullivan Market Intelligence (DIALOG File 765) contains in-depth analyses and forecasts of technical market trends. In addition, there are free web sites like Industry Watch (www.industrywatch.com) and Industry Link (www.industrylink.com) that have basic market overviews, and Wall Street Transcript (www.twst.com), which is fee based.
Basket III: Global or International Perspectives-If a company is international in scope many factors come into play. These include imports/exports, trade data, global technologies, and the socio-economic and political conditions that have a direct impact on a company’s operations in foreign lands.
In addition to basic international directories such as Moody’s International and D&B Principal International Businesses, electronic indexes that are international in scope like Dow Jones and Global Access are very valuable. Articles describing the global aspects of a particular company as well as specific trade data, national accounts, and statistics are extremely important and you should be prepared to discuss these points during the interview.
Basket IV: Up-to-the-Minute Information-Knowledge of mergers and acquisitions; IPOs; new laws and governmental regulations; litigation; research and development of new products and services; patents; new officers; LBOs; and other recent developments that effect a company’s operations is of vital importance in preparing for an interview.
Commercial databases such as Dow Jones, Lexis/Nexis, and SearchBank (IAC) offer up-to-the-minute information on companies and industries. I suggest reading at least three recent articles within one day of an interview. At high-level interviews, you are expected to be abreast of important happenings in the business arena. There are many web sites that offer daily business news (e.g. www.ceoexpress.com and www.cnnfn.com).
Finally, HELP! My Job Interview is Tomorrow!-a wonderful book written by a colleague at Emory University, Mary Ellen Templeton-is an excellent research source that will guide you step-by-step through the adventure of gathering company information.
Frank Vuotto is a business librarian at Goizueta Business School and the Center for Business Information at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.