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Research - People


Enda Goodwin
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Know your audience

Knowing something about the people you talk to in job search can be a significant advantage. The more familiar you are with a person's educational background, work experiences, accomplishments, philosophical approach, and personal history, the better able you will be to highlight those aspects of your own background that may be of greatest interest to them. The key here is to have relevant information so you can tailor your conversations and questions to topics that are interesting and meaningful for the other person; this will help you stand out more and will help establish a deeper relationship.

You can plan what you will say based upon your knowledge of the person and their needs. Online networking can also be very helpful for most people in search. It's about strategically planning your presentation based upon what you know about your audience.

Build your network

Information on people can help you to make networking connections. Specifically, gathering information about people inside a targeted organization can be useful. If you discover that you have something in common with some of them, it makes your networking easier. These "connections” do not ensure that these people will help you, but it increases the chances that they’ll take your phone call or return your email. Research what associations or events the company and its people are associated with.

Ask yourself:

  • Do they have a booth at a conference?
  • Are they sponsors of events?
  • Are they members of certain associations?
  • Who are the people who are most likely to be in the public eye?
  • Who do you want to meet or connect with?

Information on the top leaders of an organization is important even if your job is several levels below them – and essential if you will report to one of them. These leaders shape the culture of the company and create policies that will affect your life at work.

The dangers of being well-informed

Use caution and be discreet with the information you gather. No one likes to feel as if they have been "investigated." By disclosing the research you have done on your interviewer, you may impress some people. But, you may make others uncomfortable.

Don't assume that something in common is always positive. You may have gone to the same college as your interviewer, but it may have been the worst four years of his life; making this a negative association between you. So use common sense and be sensitive to the person you are talking to.

Creatively locating information

There are several ways to get information about a person:

  • biographical profiles
  • articles about the person
  • articles by the person
  • transcripts of speeches they have given
  • talking to people who know them
  • Twitter and LinkedIn (avoid tapping into their personal social media profiles like Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram)

The key to successful "people searching" is using a combination of tools and techniques.

It’s not hard to find formal biographies of senior executives at major organizations. Below that level, you need to think creatively. Even small organizations issue press releases when they hire a new employee or promote someone inside. These press releases often contain the background and work history of the person they are announcing, and are an excellent source of information. They can often be found right on the company's own website.

In addition, announcements of executive-level changes, often featured as "People on the Move" columns in both local and national business journals, as well as industry and trade journals, can be excellent sources of background information on people. Choose the publications that are most likely to feature people you are targeting and check them regularly.

As you begin searching the business press, look for the name of the person you're researching as the author of the article, not just as the subject. Business people sometimes write for professional and trade journal and other publications. Run a search on Amazon to see if they have authored any books. Finding something written by the person you're researching can be enormously valuable, giving you clues not only about their position on the topic they have addressed, but about their style, their business philosophy, etc.

Likewise, reading the transcript of a speech they've given or panel discussion in which they have participated can provide you with significant insights. Many people speak at conferences or association meetings. Transcripts or recordings are often available for no or low-cost.

And, of course, you should Google them. Enter their name enclosed by quotation marks in the Google search box like this: "person's name." If the person you're researching is a prominent or someone with a very common name, you may need to narrow the search with additional criteria.

Sources for information

  • D&B Hoovers, available on some versions of the CRN, is a great "one-stop-shop" for company look-ups, especially when preparing for an interview. Use D&B Hoovers to get the latest information on a potential employer, to better understand the competitive landscape, or to analyze a company's performance. Also use D&B Hoovers to quickly gain in-depth knowledge of an industry, to understand past significant events, and to get conversant in trends impacting the future of the industry. To access D&B Hoovers, go to the QuickLinks tab on the upper menu and select D&B Hoovers from the menu.
  • Marquis Who's Who: Available in print and on the web, this is the oldest and best-known source for business biographies. This multi-volume set, containing more than 1 million biographies, is widely accessible in public libraries. The Web subscription is pricey and not intended for consumer use. See if your local library subscribes. The biographies follow a standard format and include employment history, personal, political, and professional affiliations, and personal history. They often include marital status, family information, and contact information. Prominent business executives from major corporations are included automatically. Others pay to have their entries included.
  • Standard & Poors Directors & Executives: This reference tool (print) provides bios of both the top executives, as well as the Directors, of the companies it lists. If you're looking up a person by name, this is a good tool to know about and is also widely available in larger public libraries. If the person you are researching is employed by a public company, the proxy statement (available on the company website or from the Securities & Exchange Commission) contains the biographies of the Directors of a company.
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