The Very Best Source of Employer Information

There is one source of employer information that is usually easily obtainable and unsurpassed in value, yet very few job seekers ever read it: the annual report. Why is it so important? Because the annual report contains that marvelous insider report known as the "Letter to the Shareholders" written by the President or CEO. This letter catalogues not only the history of the past year, but even more important, the company vision for the future. Therein is contained all the insider information on what is important to the company; the insider information on what managers are focused on for the coming year; the current buzzwords in the company; and all of the insider "hot buttons" that you can push in getting the interview and getting the job.

Read the annual report cover to cover before your first interview. You will have a wealth of information to draw from during the interview process.

In addition to the Letter to the Shareholders, you will also find information on principal lines of business, financial statements, principal suppliers/customers (often showcased), target markets, challenges/ difficulties, and the internal view of their competitive advantage: past, present, and future. Truly insider information.

You may rightly ask: "Why do you call it insider information? This information is available to the public, right?" Right. But most people look at an annual report only if they are interested in stock ownership of the company, not if they are interested in the company as a potential employer. When the information is used in the job search, it becomes insider information because you now know what is known only by people who are company insiders.

How to get one? Try first at the company's Web site, where the annual report, if available, is usually located under "Investor Relations" or "Shareholder Information." If it's not online, call the company's corporate office and ask for its Shareholder Services Department. Tell the appropriate person within that department that you are interested in the company and would appreciate a copy of the most recent annual report.

Key fact: your competition is not reading the annual report. Make sure you do. It will give you a distinct competitive edge.

P.S. If you have difficulty with reading financial statements, now would be a good time to learn. Connect with a Finance major or Accounting major. Or go to one of your Business School professors to ask if they could provide you with a quick intro to understanding corporate financials using some real data (bring the annual report with you). The primary areas you should focus on are the year-to-year trends in revenue (top line) and profit (bottom line). Then look for changes and trends in other income and expense line items which may be reflected in a change in strategy noted in the Letter to the Shareholders. The Letter to the Shareholders is the positive spin the on the numbers. But the numbers are the numbers. Learning to read between the financial lines is an important life skill to develop, both for personal financial investing as well as evaluating future employers.