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San Francisco ExaminerHunting for a job is a lot like being in fifth grade. You keep hearing this voice: "Do your homework. Do your homework. Do your homework." It was annoying then and it's annoying now, but every job hunting guru will tell you that understanding a company and an industry is crucial, especially when you're applying for a job. You want to know what you're getting into - or, in some cases, stepping into. You know the usual tools, from reading articles to networking to scanning the Internet, but now there's something new to call on, at least for major employers and high-profile industries, such as investment banking, management consulting and high-tech. Vault Reports of New York publishes employer profiles - some longer than 50 pages - plus industry guides based on more than 25,000 surveys and interviews with workers. The industry guides generally are $35, and company reports cost anywhere from $25 for a large one to $5 for a three-page "snapshot." Details are available at www.vaultreports.com or 1-888-562-8285.
The reports don't just tell you that Microsoft makes software and Intel does something with chips; they offer comments about what the company does, how to get hired and what employees consider to be strengths and weaknesses. "Intel expects you to speak your mind and express your viewpoint," one person says in the 144-page high tech industry guide (all the sources in Vault Reports are anonymous). "But once a decision is made, you must back it 100 percent and do what you can to make your project a success. Office politics and project sabotage is not tolerated." The section on Intel mentions strong advantages like paid sabbaticals and stock options, and warns about boring meetings and cramped cubicles. "Some people like the locations of the offices, but I am in Chandler, Ariz., and I can't wait to move," one worker says. "It's a big desert full of scorpions, including my manager." The industry guide looks at more than 30 high-tech firms, giving you a flavor for what it's like to work at each. Although many companies, including Intel, are regarded as among the best places in America to work, both the positive and negative comments can help you understand whether you would fit in - and might raise some questions worth asking in a job interview. "Hewlett-Packard can pick and choose the best applicants, but its focus on teamwork and communication strongly affect its hiring practices," Vault says. "Antisocial engineers who get along better with their hard drives than their neighbors should probably seek employment elsewhere." Later, it adds, "As pleased as H-P employees are with the quality and integrity of their co-workers, they say "the office atmosphere deters interaction between them.' In fact, at a company where job satisfaction is extremely high, the lack of social contact between workers is one of the biggest complaints."
For each company, the guide has an information box with the basics, including a few "uppers and downers" about working thereàBay Networks' listing says it has on-site fitness facilities and "inter-office clashes," Broderbund's says it has flex time and a "high turnover rate," and IBM's mentions health benefits to partners of gay and lesbian employees. One downer listed for many companies is long hours, but even the comments about that can help. Take this worker's statement about Electronic Arts in San Mateo, which generally had favorable comments: "Granted, no matter where you work in the computer industry, you'll be treated like a slave for the first year or two, but I would recommend working somewhere else for one or two years, then transferring to EA once you have some experience."
àVault gives you a lot of insight that you might not find anywhere else. And it makes homework a lot more fun than it was in fifth grade.