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Why You Should Study a 10-K Before Your Next Business Interview

Why You Should Study a 10-K Before Your Next Business Interview
Matthew Briggsonon November 12th, 2020

Why You Should Study a 10-K Before Your Next Business Interview

When heading into an interview, the more you know about the Company, the better. Your interviewer will almost always provide you with background details to kick off the interview, but this is more of a formality. They already expect you to have done your homework on the Company's industry, operations, historical performance, culture, and values. The natural inclination for most is to conduct their research on the Company's website and through search engines. While these channels can be excellent sources of information, the publicly available Form 10-K will provide a comprehensive summary of a public company's financial performance and operations. In this article, I will show you that it does not take a CPA (certified public accountant) to easily access and navigate a 10-K.

The Form 10-K is a report filed annually with the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) by publicly traded companies. It is important to note that this form is only available for public companies. If you are interviewing at a privately held organization, your best bet is to go the website and search engine route. You can find out if a company is publicly traded by going to Google Finance and searching for their name. If they come up with an actively traded stock, they are publicly traded.

To access the 10-K, you can go to SEC.gov and click on "Company Filings" in the upper right-hand corner. On the "Edgar Company Filings" page, you can search for the company by name or stock ticker symbol. The search results will display a history of their SEC filings. In these results, look for the 10-K filing with the most recent date and click on the "Documents" button and then the 10-K document link on the next page.

Do not be overwhelmed if the 10-K document is 100+ pages, we are only going to focus on a few key areas within the report. The first section to review is the "Business" section found under "Part 1" and "Item 1" in the report. This section will provide an overview and history of the company. It will also go into detail on the company's products or services, brands, segments, investments, industry, and risk factors. I highly recommend investing the time to read through this section and either take notes or print it out (be careful not to print the whole 10-K!).

The other important section is the MD&A (management's discussion and analysis of financial condition and results of operations). Here you will find management's commentary about the most recent financial results. If the company just launched a new product or found a way to increase sales of a specific product or brand by 50%, you can read about it here. Management will typically go into detail on the current business environment in the industry and explain some of the drivers impacting their operations and financial results.

There is other valuable information outside of the "Business" and "MD&A" sections, but I would not let yourself get too engulfed in the 10-K. Be sure to focus on the areas that provide you with knowledge that is highly relevant to the interview. You can use this information to develop questions for the interviewer, but try not to get so specific that it is obvious you memorized a section of the 10-K. For example, you should avoid questions such as:

"What products contributed to your 17% revenue increase in Asia last year?"

Instead, you could ask:

"In my research, I noted that XYZ Company is experiencing growth in the Asia market. Can you talk about some of the opportunities XYZ Company has to expand into developing markets?"

When interviewing at a public company, the Form 10-K can be invaluable in helping you understand the company's history, operations, challenges, and opportunities. I highly encourage you to use it as a resource before your next interview!

Matthew Briggson is a certified public accountant, author, and co-founder of Encoursa.com, a technology company offering CPE courses to CPAs and other finance professionals.

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