How to research any industry in 5 easy steps

The Job Studio - Birmingham Careers Advice and Coaching
By Sarah Blunt
how to research any industry

Have you got an upcoming interview in a field you're unfamiliar with? Or perhaps you want to find out more about a particular industry before putting in an application. Whatever your motivation, this 5-step guide will show you how to research any industry so that you can answer interview questions with confidence.

Why research matters

Whether it’s advertising, IT, engineering or something completely different, an employer will expect you to know about the industry they operate in. This knowledge is sometimes referred to as ‘commercial awareness' and can be tested in the application stage or at interview. An employer might test this by asking specific questions in an online form or more commonly, asking you questions at interview such as:

  • ‘What are some of the key challenges you think this industry is facing?’
  • ‘What do you know about this industry?’
  • ‘What draws you to this industry?’
  • ‘Who are our competitors? What are the differences between them and us?’
  • ‘What changes have there been in our industry recently?’

When answering these questions, most candidates will focus on information they've read on the employer’s website, but to really impress you will need a broader knowledge. Follow the steps below to research any industry of your choice:

Research any industry: 5 easy steps

1. Visit the websites of professional bodies and associations

Almost every industry is represented by a professional body or association. These are a largely untapped resource for job-hunters, as their websites provide sector updates and other useful information. You can sometimes apply for membership even if you don’t actually work in the sector itself. Although this will incur a small cost you’ll get a wealth of useful information helping you develop your knowledge. If you want to research any industry effectively then this is the best place to start.

2. Use social media

Most of us are active on social media but overlook how useful it can be before putting in an application for a job. First off, follow the company you’re interviewing with on social media and if they have a Twitter account, look at who they are following – this will show you who their competitors are and the key players in the industry. Are there any other accounts representing that area of work? Follow them as well to start learning more about that field.

3. Visit careers websites

There are tons of websites out there offering careers advice but did you know sites exist to help job hunters find out more about different industries? They are a fantastic source of information and often provide links to other useful websites to develop your commercial awareness. Sites like Prospects and TARGETjobs provide you with plenty of information and insights allowing you to research any industry you can think of.

4. Reach out to people in the industry

When it comes to research, websites are great but nothing beats speaking face-to-face to someone working in the industry you want to learn more about. If you have contacts working in the industry you’re applying for, get talking to them! If you don’t know already, ask these people what the trends and challenges are, and how different organisations are responding to them. Talking to people about their own roles and experiences can give you a more in-depth understanding of the industry you’re applying to work in. If you haven’t got any relevant contacts, reach out to people on LinkedIn. If you’re a recent graduate use your university’s alumni network to boost your chance of getting a response.

5. LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a fantastic platform to help you understand and keep up to date with the industry you’re applying for. Chances are you’ll find the company you’re applying for on there, and you can either join their group or subscribe to keep up to date with their news. Another neat feature of LinkedIn is its professional groups. These are sometimes focused on particular industries and allow you to view and get involved in discussions with industry experts and professionals on different topics relevant to the field.

If you want to work in a particular industry then it makes sense to find out as much as you can about it. If you’ve got an interview then it doesn’t matter what field it's in, following these 5 steps will allow you to research any industry so that you can answer whatever specialist questions your interviewers ask. Want more tips on how to ace your next interview? Book an interview coaching session with me today.