Accepting the right job at the right time is a good career move, but agreeing to join a company you know little about is a gamble. Whilst it often pays off, it can also result in a reversal of fortune, so it's wise to minimise the risk by doing some groundwork well before you decide to commit.
The Internet is an important resource of information about your prospective employer. There is the company website, of course, but industry-related sites, blogs and social media will also give you some different perspectives.
Becoming familiar with an organisation's online presence helps to get a feel for the scale of its operations, industry ranking, pervasive character and attitudes. There will often be a prominent mission statement, and the organisational ethos should be apparent from the tone used to talk about the company, its staff and products, and its approach to customers. There may be some biographical information about company employees, and factual background information will usually appear on an 'About Us' page, perhaps with links to 'History' page. Beyond general browsing, the site map also gives an overview of company structure and industry links. You should also try to envisage how your proposed job role and responsibilities fit into the company's hierarchy, to check whether the website reflects these priorities in the same way as they are interpreted in your job description.
Social media sites
Many organisations find Twitter and Facebook useful communication tools, and you will find such information adds considerably to the general picture you have assembled – you could also gain further insights using Twitter to follow someone within the company. Social networks also provide a further range of informal feedback about public perceptions of your prospective employer, and LinkedIn could give you some helpful details about the person who will conduct your interview, and others in the company hierarchy too.
Whether or not your 'target' company are mentioned, general industry-related sites help to give you an unbiased overview of current market opportunities together with any perceived issues. Blogs may also offer an 'insider' view of what it's like to be part of the commercial sector you plan to join, and remember that a glance at the websites of company rivals will add depth to your research.
If your job application has been handled by a recruitment agency, you will find they also have their own information about the company. Not only will this give details of the broader commercial aspects of the company's profile, they will know about its hiring patterns, which may give an indication of corporate priorities. In addition, you may also gain an introduction to current employees placed with the company via the agency, whose experience will give you an invaluable appreciation of company culture, protocols and levels of formality, layout and working environment, and future prospects.
Your interview is a two-way street
Having carefully researched the company culture, you have not only given yourself a real interview advantage as a well-informed candidate, you will also have gained the confidence and necessary insights to use the interview process to find out much more about the organisation you plan to work for. This gives you the time and space on your interview day to notice the atmosphere, observe interpersonal contacts, dress codes and much more. Similarly, being well-briefed allows you the freedom to explore your role in depth during your interview. If you can extend that discussion to include the opportunities for professional development and future career-pathway options, you should then be able to make a well-rounded assessment of whether any potential job offer would represent a good match for your personal goals.