As I see it, as a jobseeker, there a number of ways that you can gain access to a type of “insider knowledge” about the culture of an organization. Many of these “ways of knowing” lie in your reactions the public self-image they present with their website.
Discourse Analysis of an organization’s website
Start by looking for content, but don’t stop there. Given that you are trying to learn about who these people are by how they talk about themselves, consider ways that you are positioned as reader. Are you assumed to be an expert? If so, how, why? What images do they use? How are they used? Why? Can you identify any narratives? What do they seem to DO? Are there any “noisy nots” (things that are not talked about, but which you might expect would be)? What do you make of these? Who do they OTHER in this text – this might give you insight into who their competitors are, or who they are confused for.
Noisy Not: an example
One of my favorite examples of the “noisy not” from a website is that of one of my favorite authors: Tony Hawks. As it happens, his name is quite similar to the skateboarder Tony Hawk and as such, he often gets fanmail about skating. To make matters worse, the skater Tony Hawk has created a franchise, almost every product of which is presented with the possessive e.g. “Tony Hawke’s Proving ground” a game for playstation, which explains why it is that if one does a “google search” for “Tony Hawks” almost all of the images are for Tony Hawk. This confusion aslo explains some strikingly unexpected deictics which greet you immediately upon landing on Tony Hawks (the author’s) official website, including a graphic of post-it note with an arrow indicating “me” and a Polaroid picture with the label “Hello skate fans”
That Tony Hawks is a comedian becomes apparent when you click on the “skateboarding” link, where he performs bemoaning the confusion between himself: Tony Hawks the “startlingly good looking British male model” (joke), and Tony Hawk an “American whiz kid skateboarding champion,” by going on to present some of the ludicrous fanmail which he receives (apparently intended for Tony Hawk), to which he obligingly responds for the merriment of his fans here:
This is a humorous example, but a quick glance at any website will yield compelling information not only about who they ARE, but who they are NOT which is likely to be illuminating to the jobseeker for myriad reasons.
A serious example of “othering”
Bain & Company is a world renowned consulting firm with a close relationship to Bain Capital (partners from Bain & Co, including Mitt Romney and others started Bain Capital in 1984). At the time of writing, Bain Capital is enshrouded in controversy about when it was that republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney actually stopped serving as the CEO. A quick glance at the Bain & Co website can tell you many things, but one of the things that this site does most effectively is to tell you what they are not affected by (temporary factors like location) what they do not have time for (jargon-ridden reports, hidden agendas, or politics):
How do you do it: Virtual Ethnographies
Nowadays, one of the most valuable ways to glean insight into an organization, and perhaps even access to their “backstage” is to conduct virtual a ethnography, which includes not only seeking out places that the organization talks and is talked about online, but also logging your own reactions and responses in field notes. In field notes, an ethnographer captures different types of observations, which can be captured in the unfortunate acronym: “D.I.E.” for Describe, Interpret, Evaluate. Often this is done in to columns, with everything that you can “describe” on the left column, and everything that you interpret and evaluate on the right. The next step is to reflect on the Interpret and Evaluate column and think about how you got to the insights which are listed there.
Perhaps some of this questioning, or one of the NOTs that you identify in your website analysis could become a question in an informational interview, provided that you have done enough homework to determine that neither would be likely to get you thrown out on your ear, and you have built a rapport with your informational interviewee during which you get the sense that it may be safe to do a bit of digging / reflecting. If your interviewee seems defensive, aggressive / impatient, I would not “go there,” and I might also encourage you to consider whether their response to you might be input about whether you ultimately want to “go there” (as in work with this organization).