Job search and job market research is something that came naturally to me when I found the need to find work. I enjoyed doing research in college and grad school. Then, I got a government job that a co-worker called “professional term-paper writing.”
A checklist for Web content writers I received today reminded me of research guidelines and best practices I have followed for years. Some key ideas include:
- Use reliable sources,
- Trace information back to primary sources,
- Speak with relevant experts,
- Cite your sources,
- Recognize the value of personal experience, and
- Make any research product your own.
Of course, when we are applying research skills to our own job search, we’re not preparing a media product for publication. Nonetheless, keeping the best research practices in mind will result in fewer interview faux pas like mixing up companies with similar names.
Use reliable sources.
It is essential to use reliable information sources whether you are researching a company before a job interview or writing content for publication. Anyone can publish anything on the World Wide Web at little or no cost. No supervisors, editorial boards, or fact-checkers work to avoid serious errors.
Fact-checking is still important when we are doing research for our own use. We don’t have the benefit (or annoyance) of independent fact-checkers when we do our own job market research. Take the extra time to do it yourself.
Trace information back to primary sources.
It’s easy to create an “audit trail” for ourselves when we do job market research. Most of the information we need for our job market research today is available on the Web. We just have to link to it in our work.
Some months ago, I came across a blog post on the 10 best paying jobs and started writing my own post on the topic. My next step, before quoting the source post was to follow its links back to primary sources. When I looked at the source document, I found the blog did not accurately represent all the data, so I had to rewrite my own post.
Take similar steps when you do your own job market research. For example, if you find a blog post on the top ten players in your industry, check the blog’s source to see if the list is accurate.
No source of information is 100% reliable because errors and bias creep into the most carefully vetted work. Nonetheless, you will be able to confidently cite a source when a job interviewer looks skeptical or says your facts are wrong.
Speak with relevant experts.
Another good way to validate the information you find online is to speak with industry experts. This step also helps you broaden or reinvigorate your network of industry and professional contacts during your search. You will find it relatively easy to touch base with experts if you are doing a search in your current industry because you probably know the key players. If they know and trust you, you’ll be able to have one-on-one conversations to ask questions, or bounce data off them.
My favorite way to connect with experts that don’t know me is through professional organizations. I participate in Zoom meetings and webinars run by two organizations related to career coaching and resume writing where I get the opportunity to bounce ideas and questions off experts. If my questions are too far off topic, I message the expert after the program, and when needed, arrange a separate Zoom or phone call.
If your professional or industry organization holds in-person meetings that you can get to, that’s even better. You will establish a stronger connection when you meet people face-to-face. I have generated follow-up lunch meetings, and even job interviews by connecting with experts and managers at in-person professional functions.
Remember that the experts are not always correct. Nonetheless, it is important not to work in a vacuum. Listen to other people’s ideas, ask questions, and then form your own opinions based on facts.
Cite your sources.
It’s vital to cite sources in research products. While it may seem less important when you are using research as background for job interview prep, it is still valuable to know the source of your information if someone says you are wrong. (Of course, avoid getting into an argument with a job interviewer!) Knowing the facts and citing sources can help assure professional contacts and hiring managers that you know your business.
Recognize the value of personal experience.
Personal experience, sometimes called “anecdotal evidence” is less valuable in formal research, but it is important for job search research. You know a lot about your business and industry if you have worked in it for many years, so incorporate this knowledge into your job market research and interview preparation. It’s even better, of course, if you can find statistics and primary sources that confirm what you know about your business.
Make any research results your own.
Experts on content writing and research writing emphasize the importance of presenting original work and crediting ideas you got from others. While you are not going to post or publish your job interview prep notes, or the research you use to select job targets, it is still important to think through the information you have gathered, decide whether it is correct, and use it effectively at an interview. Your prospective employer is seeking someone that can solve problems, and not just regurgitate information. Best of all, you will feel more confident when you have solid research at your fingertips when the interview begins.