In today’s tight job market, it’s more important than ever to be prepared when making a career transition. Preparation begins with knowing who you are and the value that you bring to a company. It continues as you learn as much as possible about your target companies. Job seekers often fail to proactively identify target firms and underestimate the importance of researching companies and industries in advance of interviews. Conduct an internet search for the most common interview mistakes and “not enough knowledge of company” will undoubtedly appear on the list.
To help alumni prepare for interviews and networking meetings, Columbia Business School has partnered with information giant Hoovers to bring alumni remote access to the Hoovers and First Research databases. Hoovers is a company database and First Research is an industry database. Both databases provide access to critical information to help build target lists of firms and learn about new industries. Job seekers need only log in to the Alumni Web site to prepare. Below are three common job seeker scenarios and advice about how each database can be used.
Job Seeker 1: “I want to work in the same capacity at a similar company.”
Hoovers is a great resource if you want to work in a similar industry and job function. Using Hoovers’ directory of thousands of companies, you can look up your current company or a reference company – let’s say, Unilever. Hoovers will provide you with a snapshot of key financials (sales, net income growth), key executives (and their bios), recent changes in management, and an industry profile (in this case, personal care products manufacturing). Moreover, Hoovers will give you a complete competitor list that includes the usual suspects like Kraft, Avon, General Mills, and Johnson & Johnson. The competitor list also includes companies that you may not have considered such as Smart Balance (butter and dairy products company), Church and Dwight (the makers of Arm and Hammer products), and Alberto- Culver (the maker of Noxzema, Mrs. Dash, and Nexxus hair products). The competitor list for Unilever provides more than 35 similar companies that will make a great start to your target list.
With this list, you can now gather more detailed information on the company’s strategy, finances, expansion plans, etc. Review 10Ks, annual reports, press releases, and investor presentations. But, review company web sites with a critical eye, as such web sites are primary marketing tools and may not give the complete picture.
Job Seeker 2: “I want to use the same core skills in a new industry.”
If the industry where you currently work is shrinking or less profitable, you might consider leveraging your existing skills in a new industry. The First Research database provides deep industry overviews to quickly augment your knowledge base. Transitioning a finance or accounting background to another firm is somewhat straight-forward. But, let’s say that you previously worked in real estate development for a real estate developer. As an industry, real estate activity slowed significantly in 2008 and 2009. Job seekers who fall in this category might consider looking at non-real estate firms that have a significant real estate footprint – think Starbucks, Duane Reade, Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, and satellite campuses for for-profit universities. Several of the aforementioned firms continued to expand during the most recent recession. First Research provides an in-depth industry overview that includes highlights of the competitive landscape; recent developments in sales, marketing, and technology; current business challenges; trends and opportunities; insight from senior industry executives; and call prep questions.
Job Seeker 3: “I have no specific firms in mind. I am moving to a new city or I simply want to work for a mid-sized firm with great growth potential.”
For job seekers who seek opportunities in new regions or who care more about the size and direction of a company, Hoovers can help you build a list of firms based on your own personal criteria. Hoovers can help you develop a target list of companies based on one or all of the following criteria: location, company size, industry, company type (public, private, or subsidiary), people (job function, age, and compensation), financial data (margins, R&D expense, and recent IPOs), auditing firms, exchange listings and more. Again, once you have this target list, start your deep dive to learn as much as you can about each company’s strategic direction, expansions plans, financials, and so on.
As a complement to Hoovers and First Research, alumni also have remote access to Factiva (a database of business news), Business Source Premier (database of business magazines and journals) and more. The research career web page on the Alumni Web site outlines each resource. Back on campus in Watson Library, alumni will find that they have even more access to proprietary business resources including analyst reports; hedge fund performance; IMF trade statistics; Bloomberg terminals and recent transactions in the private equity, IPO, bankruptcy, auction and M&A spaces. Armed with these critical resources, alumni job seekers will be better able to communicate their value, effectively network, and turn interviews into job offers. And, it all starts by logging in.