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Becoming Sherlock Holmes: Interview Research

by Randall Craig on February 17, 2008

Filed in: Blog, Business Development, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Social Media

Tagged as: , ,

You’re about to meet a new sales prospect, or interview a new supplier. Or, you’re about to meet a new company, and you know very little beyond their name and industry. How can you find out more before you find yourself in front of them? There are four basic techniques you can use: Internet Research, Directories/Public Library, Better Business Bureau, and Networking.

Before you begin, be clear about what you are looking to find out. For example, are you looking to learn more about their business ethics, or more about an industry that is new to you? Are you trying to find out about whether their business prospects are good, or about their underlying technology? Are you looking to profile their senior managers – or understand their product line. Or are you trying to balance out two competing job opportunities? Before you do any research, spend an hour writing out the questions that you are looking to answer – it will make the research task that much easier.

1) Internet Research
a) The most obvious technique is to check their web sites. There may be a number of clues embedded within it, including the names of distributors, suppliers, and others that may be useful later in your networking efforts.
b) Go to Google, and type in the name of the industry, company, the names of the senior managers, and any other pertinent information. You’d be surprised what comes up.
c) Try the other search engines (such as Bing). They all index different pages, so expect different information to come up.
d) Go to LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and others, and see if the companies (and their senior managers) have pages there. As an aside, more recruiters use these social networking sites to “check out”- and disqualify – possible candidates, so be careful about what you post for others to see.
e) If there are any corporate or management blogs, read the blog comments.
f) Search Monster’s job postings to see what positions are currently open. This may provide clues regarding future initiatives.
g) Finally, find the chat group/bulletin board/forum site for the industry you are researching, and review any comments. A warning, however: take many of the public comments with a grain of salt – they are often written by anonymous disgruntled customers or employees, and you cannot know the other side of the story.

2) Directories/Public Library
With all of the electronic avenues available, it is tempting to ignore what the public library has to offer. Every market area has business directories that have listings containing plenty of detailed information on just about every organization. Look through previous years’ directories to get a sense of how your target company may have changed. At the same time, most libraries have computers that will allow you to search all trade publications/magazines/newspapers/etc.

3) Better Business Bureau
Has there been any consumer issues with the company? Call your local Better Business Bureau to find out!

4) Networking
By far the most important way to find out about a company is to use your network to “connect” to those who are in the know. Use the techniques above to identify target individuals, then cast a wide net to see how to contact them. (Think about the expression “six degrees of separation”: you can get to just about anyone through a friend of a friend of a friend.) At worst, you can pick up the phone and give them a call directly, without an introduction.

This week’s action item: There is no excuse for attending a meeting – or interview – without detailed background knowledge of the people and company. While the degree of preparation obviously depends on the purpose of the meeting, becoming a Sherlock Holmes can make a significant difference. How much research have you done for your next meeting this week?

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)



Randall has been advising on Web and Social Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of seven books, including the recently released "Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business", and speaks across North America on Social Media and Web Strategy. More at and

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