Thursday, August 12, 2010

Research: The Key to Interview Success

Leading the competition—that’s what it takes to succeed in a capitalistic society, as well as a competitive job market.

People in business do it through marketing research. High-tech industrialists (and politicians) go as far as corporate espionage to stay one step ahead of the competition. Unfortunately, many graduating students and entry-level job-seekers call it quits when it comes to preparing for employment interviews.

What’s more, according to corporate recruiters, some candidates not only quit, they never even reach the competitive stage.

In order to be a strong career opportunity competitor, start by focusing on the position you’re sincerely interested in, and the organizations that are offering them.

In order to prove to the interviewer that you are the right person for the job (the right fit), you have to know what the job is. Many people make the mistake of waiting until the interview (if they get that far at all) to start thinking about the job, and whether they can really do it or not. This makes them totally unprepared to expound on their capabilities, feelings, questions, achievements, etc. related to the position and organization.

It’s important to realize why many times the first question an interviewer will ask a candidate is either: “Why did you choose our organization?” or “What type of position are you interested in?” They do this to get a handle on how serious you are about the company. If you recognize that an answer such as “I don’t know… the ad looked good in the paper,” or worse, is telling the interviewer nothing, you’re only half right.

To a skilled and sophisticated interviewer, an inappropriate or insincere response can mean a lot: “She’s only interested in the money.” “He’ll leave us in a moment’s notice, if another offer comes along,” etc.

Researching an employment position or a company can be fairly easy work. However, the more effort you put into your work, the more recognition you are apt to receive from the interviewer.

There should be a variety of books regarding careers in the library, and these should give you a basic description of the position you are interested in. But again, to get ahead of the competition, take the research process as far as you can. For example, to gain inside information about specific jobs, as the librarian for the Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media. This cross-reference directory (usually available to librarians only) will contain entries for almost every magazine and trade journal published in the United States and Canada. Once you have found several periodicals dealing with your field, ask the librarian if they are on hand. If they are not, don’t be discouraged—be excited—this means the possibility of competitors accessing the same publications will be slight. Some hints on how to acquire the trade journals would be to call or write the publisher (the address and phone number) will be listed in the Gale Directory).

Another source for job or industry information in the St. Louis area is Sorkin’s Directory of Business and Government (found in most libraries). This four-volume cross-reference guide describes most St. Louis businesses, what they do, who runs them, how to contact them, etc.

When you know who you want to contact, then it’s time to learn how your specific qualifications and capabilities meet their needs. These questions can be answered by reading the company’s annual report.

The annual report is an excellent research source. It will usually include information about the philosophy of the company, all the products and services that they provide, as well as financial data. The reports can be acquired at many campus and public libraries, or by writing to the company and requesting one.

Because most of the information is statistical, and targeted towards stock holders, it won’t be an easy read, but interviewers don’t expect you to be a statistical guru, just a dedicated and resourceful employee. Most of the information you will need should be included in the firs few pages of the annual report in a section titled “Letter to Shareholders.” This letter, usually written by the company’s CEO will concisely describe many of the most current highlights of the company, such as new products, innovative programs, future goals, etc.

If you sincere goal is gaining employment with a reputable corporation, use your research in order to:

1. Know your field and your capabilities related to it.

2. Be prepared to demonstrate your knowledge of the company.

3. Ask specific and meaningful questions about the available position, as well as the company.

4. Make the research process fun and innovative. Try to come up with a piece of information related to your field.

You may think company research is demanding, time consuming and takes a lot of effort. If you do, you’re right. And that’s why employers usually hire the hard-working candidates willing to do it.

Tom R. Arterburn is an award-winning job-search journalist and director of The Resume Institute.

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