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The difference between getting a job and still searching can come down to doing some background research.

Know Thy Potential Employer

Adrian Ferrera, a career services counselor at West Virginia University in Morgantown, says, “When employers read your documents, they can tell who went above and beyond and who just did the basics. They’ll hire the person who went above and beyond.”

You may be wondering: How? Where do I start? Below are some steps to kick off your search:

1. Learn about specific departments and current projects. 
In a recent Student Health 101 survey, more than two-thirds of respondents said they researched a specific department within a company or organization, and over a third said they researched projects. These can help you figure out if you want to work at the company and give you fuel for your cover letter and interviews.

Karlene K., a senior at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, suggests, “Review their Web sites or any publication about them in newspapers, magazines, or blogs.”

2. Talk to employees. 
Call the Human Resources contact or use your network to find someone who can speak with you. Marjorie F., a junior at University of South Carolina in Columbia, says, “See if there’s an employee you can meet. It shows initiative and interest. But make sure you represent yourself well, as the employee may relay information back to the employer!”

If you can’t locate someone in the hiring organization, have a conversation with someone in a related field.

3. Consult related resources. 
Read up on the company’s competition, scan some recent research in their area of focus, or call the Better Business Bureau to learn about their history.

More ideas

What’s the Scoop?

Here are more ways to find out what’s happening in your organization of choice:
  1. LinkedIn: Use this site to build your career network and find potential people to speak with. Also check out Facebook and Twitter for current projects in the company.
  2. Better Business Bureau: This nonprofit organization gathers and distributes free information about the reliability of more than 4,000,000 businesses around the world.
  3. Personal connections: Networking is vital. Talk to current or former employees and find out who’s on the hiring committee.
  4. Alumni Networks: Connect with high school and college contacts. Do any work at a company in which you’re interested?

Bring the “Wow” Factor

Now it’s time to apply what you’ve learned to your application materials.

During interviews, pepper your responses with information from your research. For example, connect your past experiences with the organization’s current projects.

You can also ask about the direction or challenges of a specific program, such as, “I noticed that you launched X. What are some of the milestones for this project?” But avoid questions that can easily be answered through the company’s Web site, such as their mission or services provided.

For more tips and resources, visit your school’s career center. Staff there may even know some inside scoop.

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