How to Research a Company or Non-Profit

Congratulations!  You have an interview.  You wrote a great cover letter and an even better resume.  The HR Department called and has invited you in for an interview.  Now the work really begins.

Every person who interviews at that company or non-profit goes to their website to learn all they can.  Some may memorize what is written there.  Some may devour their annual reports.  Everything on that website is information you must have.  But that is not enough.  You need more.  The website is the minimum.  You have to differentiate yourself from the competition by knowing the maximum.

The first thing you should do is to make certain that the company/non-profit is duly registered in the State where you are going to interview.  In New York, visit the New York State Secretary of State’s website and do a search.  It’s very easy.  If it is not there, try Delaware.  If nothing comes up you may have a problem.  You definitely have something to ask them about.

There are a few websites you can go to to get information on corporations.  The most known is Hoovers which is a Dunn and Bradstreet company.   You may also want to try Workstreamer.  With Workstreamer you can set up an account, for free (you have to pay for Hoovers) and track the web presence of whatever company you are searching for.  Which brings me to the obvious: Google the company, the key leadership and, if you have them, the names of all the people with whom you will be meeting.  At a minimum use LinkedIn.   Do a company search so you can see who works at the company.  Learn what you can about them.  It will reveal to you a great deal about the corporate culture.

If you are applying for a position at a non-profit you will have an added tool, Guidestar.  Guidestar is a database of all the non-profits in the country.  Most importantly, you can download, in most cases, the organization’s 990.  The 990 is the tax form that all non-profits with annual revenue of over $25,000 must file.  From the 990 you will learn how much the organization raises in private contributions, from the government, and in programming fees.  You’ll also be able to see their budget and find out who their leadership is and what they earn.  That will obviously be very helpful to you in your salary negotiations.  You may also want to visit the Better Business Bureau for both charities and non-profits, and Charity Navigator for an analysis of business practices specifically, what percentage of donations actually goes for services.   A non-profit that spends too much (over 25%) on administrative costs, may not be well-run – although there are exceptions to every rule.

One word of caution: Think twice before you pull out photocopies of the information you have downloaded.  You may actually know more than the person interviewing you about the company.  Wait until you are being interviewed by a decision maker before asking the tough questions.

Good luck!

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