Students often ask what's the most important thing in preparing for an interview. It's knowing about the employer, and interviewers call it "doing your homework." Your goal is to show the employer that you are a fit, and the only way you can do that is to do your employer research. More:

To effectively sell yourself as a job candidate, you need to be able to persuade the employer that you are a fit for that employer's needs. Even when the job market is great for job seekers, employers aren't going to interview and hire candidates who are not a match for their needs.

You can't present yourself — in cover letters or interviews — as a match for the employer's needs if you don't know enough about the employer to do so.

By doing research, you get information to help you decide which employers to contact. Rather than sending fifty emails and resumes to employers you know little to nothing about, send ten letters and resumes to employers you know something about and with whom you have a greater chance of securing an interview. Targeted letters, individualized to the recipient are more effective than "form" letters. You know a form letter when you receive one; employers do too.

In interviews, employers expect you to arrive knowing background information about the organization. If you don't, you look like you're not really interested in the job. You have to be able to answer the critical question of why you would like to work for that employer — and not sound like you would take any job.

Research helps you formulate intelligent and appropriate questions to ask in your interview.

Talk to people! Find people who work for or know about the organization. This could be people you meet at a career fair, family members, neighbors, parents of friends, students who graduated ahead of you, and alumni contacts. Hokie Nation Network is the professional and social networking services provided by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, and its purpose includes career networking. Use LinkedIn to find individuals who work for the organization. Reach out with a personalized (not a generic) invitation to connect.

Use the employer's website. Look for basic facts, information about mission, culture, values and more. If the website posts jobs or the organization invites email from job seekers or accepts resumes online, follow the instructions the employer provides.

Research news sources to learn what's making news about the organization. Note sources of information you find and and gauge the credibility of those sources. 

Contact the organization and ask for information, but not until you've searched for it elsewhere. This is perfectly appropriate to do if you simply cannot find information about the organization through their website, or if the information is not clear. If you have an interview scheduled with an employer, the employer should have already provided information. If not, by all means, ask.

Be careful. If you email with a question the answer to which you could have found online with a little effort, you'll be perceived negatively as a potential employee. As a potential employee, you want to be perceived as a person who does work, not creates more for someone else.

  • Career FYI informational interviews with people working in career fields
    [CareerFYI.com]
    Fields are: Fashion, Finance, High Tech, Human Resources, Insurance, Legal, Marketing, Non-Profit, Project Management, Public Service, Real Estate, Retail, Sales, Software, Television, Travel, Web/Tech
  • CareerShift
    Excellent tool to research organizations and employers. This service is available to Virginia Tech students because we pay for access.
  • CEO Express
    An intelligent site for busy people who know what they need. Very comprehensive links to business news, business magazines, company research, financial markets, government agencies, chambers of commerce, national statistics and a lot more.
  • GlassDoor.com
    Gives you an inside look at company reviews, interview questions, and salary information for jobs and organizations.
  • The Riley Guide
    If you are looking for anything related to career and job search, including something specific or unusual, The Riley Guide probably has it. It is a very comprehensive site. The author, Margaret F. Dikel (formerly Margaret Riley), is a reputable author in the career information and job search field.
  • Business Phone Directory
    [SwitchBoard.com]
    Find business phone numbers and search for businesses by category and location.
  • Vault.com
    Research industries, careers, companies, and more. Includes rankings for employers in a few industries.

Websites with reviews and rankings of employers, jobs, or internships. Note the methodology used for each.