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Researching Companies and Yourself
Writing an effective cover letter and preparing for interviews require that you know yourself pretty well and have a good sense of what the companies need. As preparation for writing your cover letter, then, you should spend some time thinking about what you want and researching prospective employers.
Finding Out What You Want
Before you can write an effective cover letter, you really need to think carefully about what you can contribute to a company and what you're personally looking for in a company. In general, you should analyze your background and skills, your values and needs, and the kind of setting you'd like to work in. The following guidelines will give you a start.
- Consider your background and marketable skills.
- Think about your education, work, and activities. Why did you choose the specific classes and projects you selected, the jobs you worked at, and the campus and community activities in which you were the most involved? What did you enjoy most and why?
- Look at the following list of skills. What words describe best the things you like to do best? Which describe your real strengths, those skills and abilities that set you off from other applicants?
Which skills do you prefer not to use?
- Think about what you value and need to have in a company you work for.
- What values do you consider essential in any company you'd chose to work for?
- What personal needs must be fulfilled for you to be happy working for a particular organization?
- What sorts of working environments would enable you to do your best work?
- Do you prefer a formal or an informal environment?
- Do you thrive on change? Or do you prefer a more constant environment?
- Do you prefer working in an atmosphere with a lot of interruptions or working without interruption?
- Do you like a quiet or noisy atmosphere?
- Do you prefer a fast pace with tight deadlines or a more leisurely pace?
- Do you do your best work under pressure or not?
- Do you prefer working independently or under supervision?
- Do you prefer working alone or in a group?
- Do you like positions requiring decision-making or not?
- Do you enjoy detail-oriented tasks or more global tasks?
- Do you have any geographical preferences or requirements?
- Are there any other factors or conditions that would determine whether or not you would want to work for a particular company? If so, what are they?
Finding Out What Companies Want
There are lots of avenues for researching specific companies. Print resources can give you a start; people can fill in a lot of useful details. The discussion below provides specific places you can check for information that will enable you to target your letters to specific organizations.
- Print Resources include the following:
- Yearly publications which provide recent information on companies:
- College Placement Annual
- Funk & Scott -- Index
- Moody's Manuals
- Everybody's Business by Milton Moscowitz
- Peterson's Guides
- Standard & Poor's Register of Corporations, Directors, and Executives
- Articles on companies or fields in such publications as Fortune or The Wall Street Journal
- Indexes listing articles on companies
- Applied Science and Technology
- Business Periodicals
- The New York Times Index
- The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature
- Popular press books, like Richard Bolles' What Color is Your Parachute. Perhaps the best book on searching for a job, Bolles' book is updated yearly and includes bibliographies of employment sources for specific fields and locations.
- People Resources are probably the best sources of information on particular companies.
- Talk to every professional in your field that you can think of -- professors in your department, people who hold positions like the one you want to get, people who work for competing firms -- as well as family and friends to find out what they know about the company and position. This networking is perhaps the best way to find out about companies and positions available.
- Use information interviews, interviews with company representatives at their place of business, to locate particular information about specific positions and the company itself. But go into the interviews prepared -- prepared with general background about the company and a specific list of questions you wish to ask.
In general, your goal in information interviews is to find out whether you're interested in pursuing a position with the company; this strategy shows that you're carefully considering where you want to work, that you don't plan to go with the first company that gives you a job offer, and that you're confident about your own abilities. For more detailed guidelines on information interviews, visit Career Planning and Placement.
More Resume Tips
© 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 The Write Place
This handout was written by Judith Kilborn for the Write Place, St. Cloud State University and may be copied for educational purposes only. If you copy this document, please include our copyright notice and the name of the writer; if you revise it, please add your name to the list of writers.
Last update: 5 October 1999