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Business & Employer Research


The Riley Guide: Research & Target Employers

You may sometimes get the urge to throw up your hands and exclaim, "I can't find any jobs for me online!" But the truth of that statement depends entirely on who would hire you. In this article, you'll learn not only how to find the employers that you want to talk to, but also how to find out more about employers who've invited you for interviews. While you're at it, you may also be interested in the Riley Guide's pages on Business & Employer Rankings, professional Unions, Associations, and Societies, and career News Sources. And for info on how to get the skinny on employers that interest you (or are interested in you), read on.

How to Research Employers

Doing thorough research on a company that interests you doesn't have to take much time – it just takes a few sources, along with some knowledge about which kinds of information are important. You'll want to start by doing some research on the company's industry – which companies are most successful in the field, for instance; and what the big recent events are. Next, plug the company's name into Google to see if they've shown up in the news lately; and look them up on some of the databases linked in the next paragraph to find out how they're actually holding up. You may also want to check where the company fall on various "Best Employers" lists.

Databases of business information sources are great places to find out the details on a company – and a few websites host large lists of links to these databases. The Business Research Guide from Rutgers University Libraries provides links to help you look up the history and annual reports of many U.S. companies, along with market research studies and job-searching tips. The Ithaca College Library's Research Guides, meanwhile, give you a powerful search engine that looks for the company of your choice in a wide variety of library databases. While access to some resources on these sites may be restricted to university staff, students and alumni, you can still bring your search results to your local library, whose computer system may have access to some of the same databases.

What's It Like to Work At…

Public reports on a company's workings, though, can only give you half the picture. If you're considering working for a given company, you're also probably interested in what current and former employees have to say about them. Plenty of websites exist to provide answers to exactly that question – any of these sites focus on letting employees tell their side of the story, with no oversight from the employer. This means they can provide much more accurate insights into day-to-day life at the company than the news can – but it also means that, as with any online review, you'll want to take these with a grain of salt.

Many websites focus on letting employees tell their side of the story, with no oversight from the employer…

CareerBliss.com is a typical example of a site in this category. The site offers reviews of employers by employees, salary information for those same employers by those same employees, and the BlissFinder, their survey of your work situation designed to help you find what makes you happy (or unhappy) about your current job. Although CareerBliss doesn't require you to register to post a review or look at most of the site, you'll still need to register in order to participate in some areas.

Most employee-report sites provide those same basic features – reviews and salary data, for example – but each one offers its own unique twist on the approach. Reviews on CareerLeak.com tend to lean more toward the negative side, Glassdoor.com focuses on sharing career info via Facebook, Vault.com is a bit more defensive about the companies' sides of the story, and WetFeet.com puts together detailed guides on employers. As you browse these sites, you'll get a feel for which ones suit your own style.

Chambers of Commerce / Business Organizations

If you're concerned that the company in question may be shady, you can look them up on the websites of local or state chambers of commerce, or check up on them through an agency that investigates consumer complaints. Some of these agencies are run by the federal government, while others are private organizations – but all the agencies listed in this section are well-established and respected by businesses and consumers alike.

You can check up on a company through an agency that investigates consumer complaints…

The federal government's Index of State and Local Consumer Agencies is a good place to start – it links to consumer agencies by state, and many of these agencies will be happy to tell you whether the company you're interested in is legitimate or not. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is also a helpful resource for checking up on questionable companies. Their website starts with a simple search form, which will send you to the page of a BBB in your local area, or in the area where the company you're investigating is based. From there, you can search for businesses by name – and the "Contact" link at the top of the page provides direct contact info for that local branch.

If you're looking into an international or foreign company, on the other hand, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's list of American Chambers of Commerce Abroad, on the other hand, allows you to browse for international locations alphabetically – and under each regional list you'll find even more information, including links to business resources for each area and/or country. The United States Council for International Business (USCIB) is among the country's top pro-trade, pro-market liberalization organizations. It currently features an active membership base of over 300 multinational companies, law firms and business associations, all of which are searchable from its website. And the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) provides assistance and accountability for the international companies listed on its site. All these organizations can offer you more information on their member companies.

Business Directories & Corporate Profiles

Free || Fee-based

These directories are handy for creating lists of organizations you'd like to contact. Some of the resources listed here will let you target a particular industry and find all organizations in it, while others will give you industry and company profiles, and still others will only link you to a company's website or give you its contact information. You can also use Telephone Directories to locate employers by industry and/or location – and you can find industry-specific directories under a given industry or occupational category on the Riley Guide's list of Sites with Job Listings.

Free Directories and Resources

CareerOneStop's Employer Locator is one of the most comprehensive directories out there – it allows you to search for companies by industry sector, by occupation, by location or by keyword; and it narrows your search down by category from there. Manta.com is another robust search site – it allows you to search by industry (business category) or location, and even to sort by revenue, by number of employees, by ownership (private or public) and by other traits. Business.com also provides user-friendly tools, including a step-by-step search engine that guides you toward competing companies in a particular niche.

The resources here will help you access the profiles of companies in a particular industry or niche…

The Thomas directories have a long-established reputation for their information and coverage within a variety of industries. The online version of these directories allows you to find manufacturers, distributors and service providers in all kinds of sectors – over 173,000 companies in the U.S. and Canada. You can search by company name, by product or service, or by brand name, and retrieve a list of all companies supplying that product, along with contact info for their offices and a list of all products they supply. The company formerly known as Thomas Global, meanwhile, is now known as SoluSource, and their website provides equally robust search tools for companies around the world.


As a general rule, a fee-based directory will tend to be much more in-depth than a free one, and will often contain more detailed information on each employer listed. But before you pay for a service like this, check with your local public library. Your library may subscribe to the resource you want, and you may be able to access it at no charge through the library's website. You'll need a current library card to do this, of course – but that's also free.

You may be able to access some fee-based directories for free through your local library…

Hoovers.com is probably the best-known and most user-friendly business directory in the fee-based category. Its database provides access to more than 8,000 company listings – each of which includes a profile, a list of contact names, and links to business news resources. The only free resource on this site is the list of company profiles, which enables you to find companies by keyword, by company name or by browsing the alphabetical list – and much of the standard profile information is still free to all views. However, any other search – including industry lists – falls under "subscriber services."

Business Research Collections

For more in-depth research on a company or industry, you may want to dive into some collections of business research articles. Some prestigious U.S. universities have put together searchable databases of these articles – and/or of links to them – and have made these databases available for free to investigators like you. Although it can take some digging to get to the real meat of these collections, they're worth checking out if you want to get a detailed knowledge of a particular company, or of the industry in which it works.

Business research articles can provide in-depth insights on a company or industry…

Harvard Business School's Baker Library provides some extensive business research guides – broken down by category – as well as lists of companies, trade associations, career options, professional associations and other organizations. And as mentioned in the first section of this article, the Rutgers University Libraries also offer a searchable database of business articles and other data. They've divided their collection into 18 sections, including Business News Sources, Job Searching and Market Research. Each section contains links to numerous sites, complete with helpful comments from the librarians.

Know the Industry Codes

A knowledge of the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code for your industry of interest may also help with your investigation. The U.S. established the use of these four-digit codes back in 1937, and they've been used to streamline data-sharing between research agencies ever since. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) website provides a Codes Index to help you find SIC codes by keyword. You can then plug these codes into any business-related search engines that use them, to get data on that industry.

Research agencies use SIC and NAICS codes to streamline and standardize their industry data…

Since 1997, the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) has been rapidly replacing the SIC system, although some companies and industries still continue to use SIC instead. The U.S. Census Bureau's website provides an NAICS search engine, which allows you to find the code you need by keyword. This page also includes an implementation schedule and a comparison guide between NAICS and SIC. In short, you should be aware of the NAICS system – but more than a decade after its introduction, it's still not really integrated into the business information sector.

Helpful links

Researching Companies — A step-by-step guide to finding out the inside scoop on a company that interests you.

Glassdoor.com — Employer reviews and salary data, as reported by employees like you.

Hoovers.com — Profiles and contact info for more than 8,000 companies.

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