Digging Up Dirt | Foundation 4 – Lesson 7

Go back to Job Search Prep Syllabus.

The Company

We’ve already been through this with the second lesson of this Foundation – “What’s the Story?” but there’s potential to dig a lot deeper. Remember, there’s the story that the company wants you to see, and there’s the real story. At some companies the two won’t vary much, while at others they’ll be drastically different. If you’re serious about working at a company, you need to invest the time to find the real story.

What to Look for

Employee Rants – Although disgruntled employees are clearly biased, there’s almost always some piece of truth (a tiny sliver) in what they’re saying.

Customer Rants – If a company doesn’t treat its customers well, it isn’t going to treat its people well.

Company Financial Information – Especially in this economic climate, you want to make sure that any company that you are thinking about working for will still be around in 6 months. If they’re publicly traded, this will be much easier, but even privately held companies sometime release financial news.

News – You never know what will pop up in the news. You may not find anything too juicy, but you might find some details that will lead you to something good.

Where to Look

If you’re using the tricks that you learned in the Technology lesson, then you should be set. Almost everything that you’re looking for should come up with some targeted Google searches.

Some other places that you might want to look include Investor Relations pages, Employee Rant Sites (Telonu, Glassdoor, JobVent, etc.) and Customer Review/Rant Sites (Epinions, Ripoff Report, Consumerist, etc.), and industry blogs.

The Job

This one may not be intuitive, but sometimes there’s a lot out there to be found about a particular job. Some jobs have one posting on the corporate website, no prior history, and just lead to dead ends. Other jobs might be posted all over the place with different details on each site – these are the ones that we like.

What to Look for

Initial Information – By taking a single bit of information from the first posting that you see, you can use Google to find more information about the job on other site. The best pieces of information to start with are: job title, HR e-mail address, HR phone number, and HR names.

Where They’re Posting the Job – It tells you a lot about whom they’re looking for.

How Long the Position Has Been Open – Is this a new need? Or have they been looking for months?

Names – Try to find out who is in or has been in the position. How did they get there and where did they go after?

Where to Look

Once again, Google is your friend. Be sure to use Google cache to try to find job postings that may have expired. If you’re looking for information on people who are or have been in the position, LinkedIn is the way to go. You’ll also be ending up on a variety of niche job boards, but Google should get you there just fine.

The People

This is where things get really interesting. It’s the most fun, but it’s also the most likely to lead you astray. Don’t get too caught up in finding every detail about people, but do try to find key pieces of information that can improve the conversations that you will have.

Good: “Hey, I saw that you were interviewed in the NY Times a few months ago. I really liked what you had to say about _______.”

Bad: “Those pictures of your kids on your Flickr profile are really cute. They go to Parkview Elementary School, right?”

You’ll be looking for information on a variety of people, not just the ones that you’re dealing with directly. Here’s whom you should research in order of importance: your interviewer(s), your potential future boss, the executive team, potential co-workers, employees who have a public persona (bloggers, twitterers, etc.), and finally you might want to check out people at competing companies in similar positions too.

What to Look for

Bios – These might be found on the corporate website or a social networking profile, but they provide good background.

Personal commentary – If any of the people that I just mentioned are publishing personal or professional thoughts online or in print, you’ll have a really easy way to gain a lot of insight into how the person thinks and what types of conversations you can have with them.

Social network profiles – These can provide biographical information, but they can also provide photos, interests, and ways for you to get an introduction.

Where to Look

All you need are the Google tricks and the Social Network tricks and you’ll be set. If you can find blogs written by these people, you’ll have struck gold.

Don’t Get Too Dirty

If you use common sense, you’ll know when you’re going too far. Digging up dirt (good or bad) is really important, but don’t let it consume you. Your goal is to create an informational advantage, not to be a stalker (and definitely not to blackmail someone).

If there’s one tip that I’m going to leave you with here, it’s that research builds upon research. Every new tidbit that you find gives you some new information to search with. For instance, an e-mail address can lead to a name, a name can lead to a LinkedIn profile, a LinkedIn profile can lead to a mutual connection, and a mutual connection can lead to your friend’s telling you that the person is a jerk.

That’s just one example, but it’s amazing what kind of information you can gather if you try.


Practice! Don’t report back on specifics (because that would be a little creepy), but do your best to put these skills to use for any jobs that you’ve already applied for. If you can’t think of people to research yet, you can use me and Jason (you’ll find a lot!).

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One response to “Digging Up Dirt | Foundation 4 – Lesson 7”

  1. mdabhi says:

    Customer Rants – If a company doesn’t treat its customers well, it isn’t going to treat its people well.

    I can totally relate to this, it’s true just wish I had known this before I got that job. Anyway the company used to use illegal and outlandish tactics to get money from customers. Plus the CEO used to hold weekly meeting where he would pick on staff underperforming and intimidate them.

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