By Liz Ryan

Do this advance work and you'll be set for a smarter interview—and have the knowledge to make a smarter career decision

It's a great to spot a job opportunity that sounds like a match for your talents. Unfortunately, the typical job ad doesn't tell you much more than the company's name. You need to know: What sort of place is it? Is the organization profitable? Does the company hire smart people and give them room to grow? Is the CEO a tremendous leader or a dysfunctional tyrant?

Following are nine ways to learn about your next prospective employer both before and after you enter its recruitment and selection pipeline. The research will require an investment in time and clever stealth tactics on your part, but the information you'll gain will merit your efforts. Your enhanced knowledge will allow you to make better decisions and ask pithier questions during the interview process. This not-quite-insider knowledge will give you extra confidence as you deal with company reps, too. And who couldn't benefit from an extra dose of that?

1) Build Your Dossier
Of course you've read the organization's own Web site thoroughly, focusing on "About Us," "Management Bios," and "Investor Relations" (if it's a publicly traded firm) as well as information about the company's products and services. That's just a starting point. Business information sites like ZoomInfo.com, Hoover's, and BusinessWeek's Company Insight Center will add breadth to your research. Targeting public companies? The EDGAR database is packed with filings, forms, and comment letters on public firms. Dig in!

2) Who's On First
Want to know more about the company's leadership? LinkedIn is a great place to spend some time. LinkedIn features its own employer listings, plus bios (written by none other than the great men and women themselves, or people willing to try to sound like them) that will not only enlighten you as to the leadership team members' past roles and educational histories but also provide their contact lists as well. New LinkedIn tools allow users to create blogs and upload files, but be sure to check your target firm leaders' profiles for PowerPoints (MSFT), white papers, and other great cover letter and interview fodder.

3) Get the Dish
The user-generated-content site Glassdoor.com is packed with insider information on 30,000 companies, including actual salary figures (reported by the worker bees themselves) by function and location, interview questions used by specific employers, details on the hiring process, and tons more. (Full disclosure: I'm a contributor for this site.) Once you've read up on the enterprise, division, and group you're pursuing, you'll be better prepared to handle interviews and salary negotiations. After all, you're not the first person to go through this process.

4) Get on the Network
Post a question on LinkedIn Answers to ask users about companies you're looking at, and to make contact with people who have worked for those employers in the past and can speak freely with you about them. If you're wary of posting a LinkedIn query under your own profile, ask a friend to do it and funnel the answers back to you. LinkedIn users can reply to you offline, upping the odds of very frank reports about their experiences—good or bad.

Continued in Part 2