Your Friendly Neighborhood Stockbroker
If you are looking for an excellent source of insider information on companies, look no further than your friendly neighborhood stockbroker. I say "insider" because it is information that is not normally accessed by those who are seeking entry level positions.
You can handle this contact in one of three ways. First, if you are already an active investor (even if it is just a small amount), you likely already have access to a qualified broker—they are your contact to lean on for information.
If you are not personally associated with a stockbroker (few college students are), you might be able to leverage the relationship of your parents or a relative (any rich aunts or uncles out there?). Otherwise, contact a full-service broker and say exactly what you are doing—researching companies to find a potential future employer—but be sure to give the broker a hook for the future: "If you give me access to your knowledge and resources in helping me earn money, I would be willing to work with you once that money starts coming in." Almost any broker will see the promise of a potential future professional (who will soon have money) at their door and will be happy to work with you.
Note that you should contact a broker at a full-service firm (such as Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, UBS, etc.) rather than a discount firm, since they have superior research departments and full access to company information. However, if you have a relationship with a discount brokerage, you may also have access to online research. If so, take advantage of it. It is usually best to contact a broker who is fully established in the business. The younger, more inexperienced brokers are often less willing to deal with someone who cannot produce money for them today. The best choice is to work with a recommendation from family or friends, especially if it is someone with a large account. If rich old Aunt Sally referred you, the broker has a commitment not only to you as a future customer, but also to Aunt Sally.
What do you ask for? Make sure you are specific—if you have a specific company you are researching, now is the time to ask. If not, wait until you do. After asking for specific company information, also ask the broker for their top five recommendations in that field and/or industry. If the company you are seeking information on is not publicly traded, the research may be more difficult to obtain via the standard sources. Lest you receive only the financial numbers, always ask for general company information as well.
Don't be afraid to ask about recommendations in favor of (or against) a specific company. If XYZ Company is teetering on the edge of potential bankruptcy, it would be nice to know about it now rather than later. Although it's not a perfect corollary, the companies that perform best in the market are usually the best managed, and are also usually the best places to work. Not always the case, but fairly consistent as a general principle. Poorly managed companies are highly likely to have poorly performing stocks and low employee morale. The best people have already left and the remaining workers are those who are unable to find another comparable job. Not a good place to start your career.
When researching companies, remember that while many large companies are deluged with resumes and job inquiries, it is actually the medium-sized and smaller companies that are providing the bulk of long-term job creation. The traditional wisdom of working in the "security" of the big corporation no longer rings true. Often, the only security you will find will be generated by your personal accumulation of accomplishments and experience over time. The availability of opportunities for gaining that experience will generally be greater with small companies than with large ones.
Most smaller companies are much more accessible and penetrable than their larger counterparts. And many of these companies are able to make hiring decisions based on the quality of the individual, instead of whether or not they have an opening in their entry level training program at that particular time.
So the next time you hear about a company you have never heard of before, consider it a potential opportunity to enter the fast-paced world of small company growth.