Interview Preparation: Leveraging Annual Reports

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By Wim Dodson


Few people outside a company know more about a business than industry analysts and competitors. Learning what they have to say can serve as a counterweight to bubbly employee accounts of life inside a company, website investor relations press releases, and beaming selfies of company executives.

The job of mining public companies that trade on a stock exchange is much easier than it is for private, closely held organizations. Listed firms must have a degree of transparency about financial results and operational strategy that private companies are not required.

One of the most effective sources of information for intelligence about listed companies is the business’s annual report. Annual reports present shareholders and analysts information about how well a listed company is doing, the challenges besetting it, and the opportunities open to it. The materials - which run from a few dozen pages to more than a hundred for multinationals - discuss the business’s strategies for growth, as well as its goals and plans for achieving objectives.


Using the Annual Report in Interviews


Many employees of the companies about which you’ve exhumed Annual Reports have not read the document. In most interview circumstances, you’ll be far better informed about the overall performance of the company than the individuals interviewing you.

The Reports will arm you with information you can use to target pertinent questions at interviewers. Said in a matter-of-fact manner, asking a question based in genuine interest in something you’d read in the Report will show interviewers that you are proactive, a self-starter, and analytical.

If you’re in purchasing or logistics, for instance, you can say something like, “I understood from this year’s annual report that you’re suffering supply chain bottlenecks in Asia. What is the company doing to smooth out delivery of components and keep costs down?”

Depending on the answers you receive from your questions, you’ll be able to better judge just how engaged managers are with the direction of the company, and whether it’s a company you want to join.

Annual reports also have a section about a company’s  progress in realizing Diversity goals, if any. You should be able to determine the extent to which a company is serious about diversifying its personnel through the numbers it posts over the years.

Also, dig up the annual reports of major competitors to your target company. There is a good chance the competitor has a different perspective on the marketplace than the company you’ll be interviewing with. Bringing up a competitor’s strategy during an interview may help you stand out from the other candidates for the job you’re angling for.



Where to Find Annual Reports


You can find the annual reports of companies with which you’ll be interviewing by searching online. Larger companies typically have an investor relations section of their website. Annual reports for the past few years are often listed for download.

You can also find listings for annual reports by searching in one of the main search engines, like Google or Bing. Just type the company name and “annual report” and you’ll receive results of the online sites from which you can download the report files.  

You’ll want to take the most current Report and the past two or three years so you can understand the development of the business.

Annual Reports are a powerful tool for preparing for job interviews. Armed with the rich and detailed information the Reports present, job seekers can be the thoughtful, inquisitive go-getter many companies say they are seeking, but rarely find.

Financial sites like Reuters, Bloomberg, MSNBC and Yahoo often have annual reports of companies you can download for free. They will also have analyst’s notes or full reports so you can see what the market is saying about a company’s challenges and strategies for growth.

In the next installment of Interview Preparation: Investigating Industry Reports we’ll take a look at what analysts say about the trends in a company’s industry to gauge the company’s growth prospects.