Is there anything I can do beyond simply applying for everything, and then finding out later that it's not what I'm after?
The best thing you can do to learn how a company works is by asking honest trusted people internal to that company. Linkedin can be a good resource in this regard. Certainly you have college friends or old coworkers who work elsewhere - or who know people who work elsewhere. Send a few nice emails asking about the company in question. You might need to read between the lines, but this can help.
Glassdoor is also fantastic for this sort of thing. You need to take things with a grain of salt, since a site for anonymous ragging on companies (usually by recently departed employees) is going to paint a pretty terrible picture. But it provides a window into a company. If everyone says that bureaucracy interferes with their day to day work, then it's a pretty safe bet that it is.
These days, I actively avoid recruiters. Many of the job postings aren't for real jobs - they're for the sort of jobs that the recruiter usually fills, fishing for candidates to populate their database. Many of the rest have very specific requirements because of idiocy or to "fulfill" H1B requirements. They are a waste of time and effort.