Dear Matt: How do I thoroughly research a company before applying to or accepting a position there?

Matt: This is a tough question because everyone has different values, opinions and elements of a job that make them happy. I've been happily employed with the same company since 2005, yet at the same time, I've seen many people come and go. Something is working for me, but not for others. You can read press releases, scan the company website and look for news related to the company through online searches but chances are that your findings won't tell you what it's really like to work in that company's marketing department, or what the corporate culture or working environment of the sales or IT department is like.

That's why it's important to search for advice from two groups of people - those who currently work there and those who have previously worked there, said Catherine Byers Breet, a Twin Cities-bases career coach. Get on LinkedIn and ask your contacts if they know anyone that currently works or has worked at the company you're researching. Can they connect you? Check out the company profile page - who works there (or has previously worked there) that you can utilize as a resource?

When you find that person or people, ask these questions, said Byers Breet:

  • What do you/did you enjoy most about working at your company?
  • If you could sum up the company culture in just a few words, what would you say?
  • What kind of people are successful at your company?
  • What kind of people are not successful at your company?
  • I'm looking at a job in (abc department), can you tell me of any experiences with that group?
  • If there was one thing you could change about your company, what would it be?

Also, check to see if the company has a Facebook fan page and start following it. Search for information about the company on Twitter. Learning about the company through how they handle their customers is a great way to also learn how they treat employees.

"Social media may provide a great real time snapshot of current customers, clients, service and reaction of the community to the products, services and brand," said Pamela Muldoon, owner of Next Stage Business, a Twin Cities-based marketing and coaching firm.

Muldoon also teaches a class titled Target Your Ideal Employer. In that class she emphasizes the importance of understanding your own personal/professional values and trying to align that with the values of your future employer.

"Once you better understand your own values, you can ask better questions of the future employer in the interview," said Muldoon.

- Matt Krumrie
Twin Cities freelance writer specializing in career advice