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ian douglas
ian douglas

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Effective Company Research tips before your next Technical Interview

aka "hack the networking/outreach"

I'm the author of and I live-stream twice a week on Sundays and Thursdays about technical interview preparation.

A few weeks ago, I made a video about how to research industries and companies where you might like to work. It showcased some of my favorite tips on the topic.

There are lots of tools out there to use for tracking your application status when you apply for jobs. Some of them allow you to add custom notes, etc..

Getting Started

I use Google Sheets to track a list of things which are important to me about a company. For example:

  • company name
  • your application status
  • next step in the process
  • primary contact at the company
  • where are they located
  • do they allow remote work
  • what are the primary technologies they use
  • what's the dress code
  • what is the typical salary range for a role here
  • how big is the company
  • how big is the engineering team compared to the rest of the company
  • do they publish DEI stats
  • company blog URL
  • primary company values
  • top customers
  • top competition

Place this column on tab number 1 at the bottom of Google Sheets. Rename this tab "criteria".

You can add whichever kinds of items are important to you. For example, it might be important to you to know if the office is pet-friendly. Maybe you love taking an office pet for a quick walk, OR maybe you have allergies and cannot attend work at an office when a pet is present.

Finally, I like to add criteria at the bottom of my list that indicates the head of HR, the head of Engineering, and any contacts that my connections on LinkedIn might know. We'll talk about this later regarding cover letters.

Rank these Criteria

Your list of criteria will be different than mine. How you prioritize them will also be different than myself.

Place the criteria that is most important to you at the top of the list, and the less-important criteria at the bottom.

If you think of additional criteria as you do company research, add it to this list.

Next, organize the things on a regular basis. Your criteria may shift over time, and that's okay.

Make a new tab per Industry

Make a new tab at the bottom of the spreadsheet. Rename it to an industry that is important to you. For example, maybe "fitness" or "environment" or "travel".

In that new tab, you're going to create a reference to the "criteria" column and put those references in this tab.

In row/column A1, enter the following formula:

Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

Copy that cell (Cmd-C or Ctrl-C), highlight all cells from A1 through A25 (or however many you want), and Paste (Cmd-V or Ctrl-V) the cell you copied.

You should now see a linked copy of the cells from your "criteria" tab on this sheet.

As you add new criteria on the "criteria" tab, you should see them show up on this tab as well. Note that you may need to copy additional rows if you add more criteria.

Next Up: the actual research

In each new tab you create, such as "fitness" or "fintech" or whatever, you can now add each company in column B, column C, column D, etc.

You might ask yourself ... "self -- how do I actually fill in this grid of information?" I'm glad you asked!

LinkedIn is a great resource, and there are many others such as GlassDoor, StackShare and others where you can find information about a company.

If, in the process of researching a company you also find competition for that company, add THEM as a column in your spreadsheet as well! If you don't interview at the first company, you might get an interview at their competition!

Fill in as much detail as you can find. It's okay if you can't find certain pieces of information. We're getting to that.

"Is This Okay With Me?"

While you fill in this spreadsheet, constantly ask yourself, "Is this okay with me?"

Is it okay that you found this information? Do you like what you found? Was it easy to find? Does it make sense to you?

If you CANNOT find information for a specific criteria, also ask yourself "is THAT okay with me that I could NOT find that information?" Was it hard to find, could you find it at all?

If something is important to you and you cannot find information, it's not a show-stopper.

But it's important to do this check whenever you do research. For example, I never want a job where I have to wear a shirt and tie every day.

If I found out that a particluar job was formal enough to require wearing a tie, I would seriously think twice before applying. That's just a strong personal preference. But so is working for a company who has "Big Tobacco" as a client. It's against my morals to support that industry, and so knowing who a company's client list is is also important to me.

Fill in the Gaps

Now that you've researched as much as possible, you'll notice that you still have gaps in information.

This is where networking and outreach becomes critical.

Through LinkedIn, you can find a company, get a list of their employees. Keep in mind these are people who volunteer this information on LinkedIn and may be out of date.

Find a peer-level employee on that list. If you're an entry-level developer, find another entry-level developer. If you're a senior developer, find another senior developer, and so on.

Connect with them. Let them know in the connection request that you have specific questions you'd like to ask them about the company. Don't just click on the "connect" button -- send a request with a message like this:

Hi Ian. I see that you work at Acme Inc. I'm doing some research on the company and would like to get to know a peer at the business. I have some specific questions about the company, and wondered if you had some time to chat. I'm happy to send the questions to you ahead of time or chat asynchronously if that's more convenient.

When you connect with an employee there, now you have SPECIFIC questions to ask: all those gaps.

I wasn't able to easily find any information about ___, and I was wondering if you could help me find that, or tell me about that.

You can also ask them to confirm information you DID find:

I noticed on LinkedIn that the company size was about __ employees. Is that still accurate? Could you guess at the percentage of employees that make up the engineering team?

Now you're asking very sepcific questions, getting specific answers.

And the whole time, keep asking yourself "is this okay with me?"

Get Contacts

While you're connecting with people at these companies, ask them for the names of the head of HR, or the head of Engineering if the company is small. Most businesses under 40 people may not even have an HR department yet, but most companies near 50 employees will have an established HR team.

If they have an HR team, you will address your cover letter and application to that person. If they do not have an HR team, you will address your cover letter to the VP of Engineering or a Director of Engineering. Typically, a CTO is a last resort as a CTO is really in charge of projects and technologies at a company, where a VP of Engineering will be in charge of hiring and people management.

Now you can apply for that job

In your cover letter you can mention that you've been speaking with someone in the company (mention them by name only if they give you their permission). Mention the research you've been doing, this will be a tremendous benefit to your job search.

Good luck in your job hunt!

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I stream on Twitch on Sundays and Thursdays, and you can subscribe to my YouTube channel to get notified of new videos.

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