Written by: Emily Young // Feb 21, 2020
Last updated: Feb 24, 2020
You’re a job seeker who needs info on a potential employer. Put on your trench coat and fedora. Got a fake mustache? Good. Now set up shop in a dingy office near Hell’s Kitchen. Whenever possible, walk down rain-slicked alleys with a camera in your hands and a sliver of hard-bitten cynicism in your heart.
OK, you don’t really need to be a detective to research companies (although who doesn’t love a good fake mustache?). If you’ve got access to a laptop and have a few hours on your hands, you can uncover key data about organizations. Let’s get started on these simple ways job seekers can use social media to evaluate potential employers.
Start with the Company’s LinkedIn Page
In a perfect universe, you’d find all of the following information on a company’s LinkedIn page. As a hardboiled detective, you know it’s not a perfect universe. Not all organizations will have filled out a complete profile, but you should be able to find at least some of this data.
View Company Posts
When you peruse an organization’s LinkedIn feed, you should ask two questions:
- Does the content resonate with you? Let’s say you’re considering a career at the University of South Florida. A quick glance at USF posts reveals a focus on research and community outreach. If this aligns with your values, that’s a good sign.
- Can you join the conversation? If something piqués your interest, comment on the post or make a note to bring it up in the interview.
Compile Company Data
Under the about section, look at the company’s overview to determine its mission.
Below the overview, you should see a list of facts, such as the date the company was founded and whether it is private or public. If the company is public, it’s time to take your investigation to the next level. Because public companies “sell their stock on the market,” you can get more information about them, explains USF’s Career Center. “Public companies make available their annual reports and other documents required by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in the database EDGAR.”
Compile Employee Data
“The people make up the organization,” explains Artemio Ramirez Jr., professor and assistant director of USF's Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications. To get a sense of the organization’s culture, learn as much as you can about its people.
Under the people section, you’ll find several easy-to-digest paragraphs:
- Where employees live
- Where (and what) they studied
- What employees do
- What employees’ skills are
- How closely you are connected to these employees (first connection, second connection, etc.)
After these data sets, you’ll see a list of employees at the company. Click on their profiles to learn more about each of them. Look for the following information:
- How long do employees stay with the company? Have the employees been there less than two years, or do most remain longer? Some companies hire recent graduates and expect them to move on. Other organizations “put people on career paths,” explains Ramirez.
- See whether the organization offers employees a pathway to promotion. “How long did it take them to move from one position to the next in that same organization?” Ramirez asks.
- Compare your own profile with the employees’. Do you share interests or an alma mater? You can use this common ground to reach out for an informational interview.
Evaluate Posts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook
Analyze the company’s social media posts. “If the company’s website shows foosball tables and a Slurpee machine, but you don’t see a single photo of them on Instagram, that could indicate employees are too busy to use them,” says this article on Fast Company. On the other hand, “selfies at after-hour outings suggest good office camaraderie.”
As you peruse a company’s profiles, ask yourself:
- What kind of events do they hold? Do they offer professional development days or host keynote speakers on topics that matter to you?
- Based on the articles they share, is the organization aware of industry trends?
- From the tone of the posts and the dress code in photos, is the company formal or informal?
- Are staff recognized for their efforts?
Detective bonus points: If the organization has a well-known brand, search for its hashtag on Twitter and see what comes up. What are employees and customers saying?
Expand Your Research
Step away from social media and dive even deeper.
Contact a Reference Librarian
Make an appointment with a reference librarian and let them know you’re seeking information about a potential employer. Your joint sleuthing should uncover documents that help you answer the following questions, suggested by USF’s Career Center:
- What are the company’s current challenges?
- Who are the competitors?
- What is their market share?
- Have there been recent shifts in management or products?
- Is there evidence of lawsuits?
- Has the company recently downsized?
- What positions are open? Why are they open?
Read the News
Search respected publications such as The Wall Street Journal for news — from mergers to scandals — about the organization.
Use Review Sites
Look at company reviews on websites such as Glassdoor or Indeed.
If you live in the Tampa Bay area, you can also check the Tampa Bay Times’ “Tampa Bay’s Top 100 Workplaces” to see whether your prospective employer made the list.
Compile Job Data
If you don’t know the average salary for the position, you won’t be able to properly evaluate an offer. You can learn the median wage through these websites:
Schedule an Informational Interview
After all this research, you may still have a list of questions. Time to schedule an informational interview. Reach out to an employee at the company “to grab some coffee and chat about their experiences,” suggests this NBC News article.
If you’re not sure how to network with employees at the company, you may benefit from reading our post on the topic: “How to Grow Your Professional Social Network (Without Being Annoying)”.