Do Your Homework: Job Interviews That Get Your Hired (page 6)
Researching Companies and Deciding on a Career
You've probably seen several promising help-wanted ads, searched online career sites, visited your college career center, and done lots of networking. You've undoubtedly sent many, many resumes and posted your resume online, as well. Hopefully, you've landed at least one interview by now, and maybe many more. I
Now it's time to prepare for the interview itself. It's always exciting (and sometimes a little frightening) to prepare for a job interview. But look at it this way: You've already shown a great deal of resourcefulness, energy, and determination to get this far. A little more planning, research, and advice is all you need to feel confident, relaxed, and optimistic. Think about everything you're learning about yourself and about different industries, organizations, and individuals. You've already begun your professional life!
How Research can Work for You
As the saying goes, knowledge is power. You will definitely feel more in control and be better prepared for an interview with any company if you take the time to research it. Here are just a few of the most basic things you should know or find out:
- Is the company profitable?
- What are its revenues?
- What are its services or products?
- How are they marketed?
- Is the company in expansion mode or maintenance mode?
- What jobs are available?
- What kind of a feeling do you get about the company from its various publications?
Keep in mind that your interviewer will ask you what you know about the company. If you haven't done your homework, the interviewer will be able to tell—and it will be a strike against you. Before you have an interview with any company, there are three important areas to research:
- Sources of information in general. If you read the newspaper regularly, you may already know a bit about a company that interests you. To learn more, go to the library or search the Internet by Googling the company name to find recent articles about the firm in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and trade publications. Has the company been in the news because of an imminent merger or takeover? If so, pay attention to any information or speculation about changes at the top or layoffs.
- Trade sources. If you already have some general knowledge about a company but want information about a specific job—direct mail coordinator, say—within a specific division of the company—new product development, for example—you will have to dig a little deeper. Once again, go to the library for trade publications or access the Internet for more detailed information. Read trade sources for industry news, such as who has been recently promoted. Your knowledge will make you sound like you're already an insider.
- Inside sources. People are a resource you just can't beat for information about a company. Check your list of network contacts to see if you know anyone working in the industry in which you're interested. If possible, find someone who can tell you about the company's real benefits—and detractions. It can make all the difference between going with a company and running in the opposite direction.
Knowledge of the company's history, especially current events, will serve you well during the interview. You may want to ask, "What's the likelihood that people will be laid off after the merger?" If the company you are interested in is testing any new products, find out what they are and whether any of them are controversial. Don't hesitate to ask tough questions—it shows your interviewer that you've done your homework and know about the company. It also shows that you are not afraid to ask difficult questions.
Exhibit 3–1 lists some of the Internet search engines you can use to find valuable information about prospective employers.
Finding the Information You Need Online
Once you've landed an interview with a particular company, the first thing you will want to do is check out its website. The site will give you a general overview of the company—that is what its general business is and what its products and services are. The website should also give you detailed information about the company's employees, history, and policies. In addition, it may include statistics, newspaper articles, and press releases. Even the design of a website can give you important information (if on a more subliminal level) about a particular company—for example, does it look conservative or cutting edge?
If you can't find a website for a particular company, give them a call and ask whether or not they have a site. A company's site may have an unusual name, making it difficult to find. Or, the firm may not have a website. Although more and more companies are putting information online, some companies may not have their own sites. If this is the case, don't worry.
There are plenty of other ways to find information about a company, if you can't find it on its website. You can search for relevant articles on newspaper sites. For instance, the New York Times website (www.nytimes.com) allows you to search its archives for newspaper articles, although it will cost you $3.95 to purchase a complete article published since 1981. The Washington Post website (www.washingtonpost. com) charges $3.95 per article, but it provides free access to articles published in the last two weeks.
Check these and other major newspaper sites. Your interviewer will be impressed if you can say, "I read in the New York Times last week that your company has decided to… " But don't forget to do your homework. You don't want to get into a discussion about the company if you can't support your end of the conversation.
Another good source of information is online news sites, such as www.cnn.com, www.msnbc.com, or www.thestreet.com, a financial news website. These sites give you the freedom to search their archives, some of which are quite comprehensive, for articles on business and commerce. The best part about these sites is that the information is available free of charge.
Other Research Options
The Internet and the library are superb resources for gathering information about jobs and companies, but there are a few other good options for research, too. For example:
- Company advertisements: Look at how the company advertises its products and services. Does it advertise them on television or in magazines? What do the ads say about its products and services? To whom are the ads directed? Is there a guarantee or benefit to the consumer?
- Annual reports: Take a look at the company's annual report (assuming that it trades on the stock exchange). It should give you lots of information about the company's profitability and career path. It might even give you salary information about senior management and how bonuses are structured. This kind of information tells you which businesses are important…and who and what they invest in.
- The Better Business Bureau: This organization can tell you whether the company you are interested in has had any resolved or unresolved problems with either consumers or other companies.
- The Chamber of Commerce: Call for information about the company's role in the community.
- Your campus career center: Ask if it has any printed information about firms that interest you, particularly if those companies participate in on-campus recruiting.
- Your network: Ask your contacts if they know anything about the companies that will be interviewing you. For instance, if you have a job interview at a particular investment bank, any investment banker in your network could give you some information about the firm, even if he or she doesn't work there.
- The company interviewing you: When a company calls to invite you for a job interview, it is perfectly appropriate for you to ask the caller to send you the company's annual report or a catalogue or brochure describing its products or services. If the HR manager or hiring manager does not seem willing to do this, do not push it: It is not the company's responsibility to help you with your research. You should remember that most HR managers (and hiring managers) are probably extremely busy trying to find and evaluate the resumes of prospective candidates for the jobs they are trying to fill. So be resourceful and do your own research, if possible: Resourcefulness and autonomy are skills for which most employers are looking, so if you exhibit them now, even before the interview, you will already be one step ahead of other candidates!
Real-Life Case Study: Researching a Major Consulting Firm
Michael, a recent college graduate, landed an interview at a major consulting firm for the position of business analyst. Here's how he went about his research.
- The firm participated in on-campus recruiting, so Michael's first stop was his college career center. Here, he was able to find pamphlets and fact sheets about the firm. This gave him a general idea about the type of work the firm did.
- Next, Michael went online. On the firm's website, he was able to read about the firm's philosophy, the types of individuals they hired, and the skills required for the job. The website also provided case studies, detailing how the firm had helped specific clients. Then, Michael read a few articles generated by the firm's consultants, as well as some about the firm.
- Not satisfied with the information he had found, Michael headed to his school library, where he printed articles written about the firm in the past six months. He knew that the articles posted on the website would be positive, and he wanted to see what kinds of articles the firm had chosen not to post on their site.
- Finally, Michael used his network to find the names of two recent graduates from his college who currently worked at the firm. He contacted both individuals and asked them about their work, responsibilities, the training they received, and the firm's culture.
Michael found that his skills, background, and interests were well matched to this consulting firm. When he went to his interview, he was well prepared to discuss the company with his interviewer. Because he read so many newspaper articles, he could speak intelligently about recent happenings at the firm and ask his interviewer smart questions. Ultimately, he landed the job.
Rediscovering Your Network
The people who actually work for a company are always the best source of information, so make an effort to talk to as many of them as possible, especially current employees. Listen carefully to what they say about the culture of the organization in which they work. Is it a command and control culture, where the bosses have most of the say and subordinates take their directions? Or is the corporate culture more collaborative, with people working in teams?
To identify an employee who can give you information about a company, go back to your network and re-prioritize the names on your target list. Who might have the information for which you're looking? This may be a little difficult if you are a recent college graduate and have a limited number of people in your career network. However, it is possible to find someone, if you use all your resources. If you can't think of a good contact, ask a friend or career counselor to help you brainstorm.
Even though there are lots of other excellent options for getting interviews, don't forget your network. Revisit it, and ask if anyone knows someone who works in the company or even the field that interests you. You never know—you just might hear, "I think my sister -in law's cousin works there." For all you know that person may work for a company you had never considered, but if there's an opening or you go for an informational interview, you may discover that you really like the company. In the best-case scenario, your interviewer thinks you would make a great asset to the company and will contact you as soon as there's an opening. Acouple months later, you get a call. This is a compelling reason to stay in touch with the people in your network. Keep your contacts alive, because you never know when they will pay off.
Brainstorming to Expand Your Network
If there isn't anyone in your current network who has contacts in the field in which you're interested, you need to find fresh contacts. First, do a little brainstorming with a friend, career counselor, or someone you know from college. If you need to find a contact at XYZ Pharmaceuticals, what would you do? How would you start to find that person? One answer is to start with the people you know. What about:
- Your college biology and chemistry professors. It is not unlikely that one of them knows someone in the pharmaceutical industry. Think of the strong relationships some university and college science departments have with industrial researchers, commercial laboratories, and pharmaceutical companies, in general.
- Your family doctor. Physicians usually have a lot of contact with drug manufacturers. Maybe one of them could introduce you to a company representative the next time he or she is in the office. That person may know if a particular company is looking to hire or if they are aggressively pursuing recent college graduates.
- The pharmacist at your local drugstore has good contacts with various companies and can keep his or her ears open for any news that might apply to your job search.
If you are going to be serious and disciplined about obtaining a job, it's simply not enough to look at your targeted networking list and say, "Oh, gee, nobody here is in pharmaceuticals." This is where many people give up and make the assumption that it will take too much time or require too much effort to find new contacts, leads, and information to get where they want to go.
But if you choose to challenge yourself and discover the best way to get the information you need, you will be a step ahead of the crowd. Call the human resources department or public relations office at the organization or company in which you're interested and ask them if they ever interview at your college or university. Or, go to the campus placement office for the same information. Even if you've already graduated, your college will likely give you access to their resources.
Take your network as far as it will go, and use every resource you can think of, from your grandmother's dentist to every search engine on the Web. If you maximize your opportunities to gain information, it will only be a matter of time before you succeed at getting an interview for the job you want.
- Managing your time and setting priorities usually boils down to common sense. If you're scheduled for an informational interview at a company tomorrow, it doesn't make sense to spend all your time writing thank-you notes the day before. Instead, use the time to research the company on the Web or read articles about it at the public library.
What do You Really Want?
Now that you are a nimble researcher and know exactly what to ask other people about specific jobs and companies, do you really know what you want? In all the excitement of meeting everyone else's expectations, have you lost sight of your own? If so, now might be the time to find a quiet place to think about what you expect from a prospective employer. Exhibit 3–2 lists some questions that might help you narrow down your search.
Think about and make a list of things you want from an employer before you show up for the interview; otherwise, you might be tempted to accept the first offer you get, especially if the terms seem unusually generous. Or you might convince yourself that you should take a job, even though it's not exactly what you want, because it's work you've been doing for a while or the money's too good to turn down.
It's human nature to feel conflict when making hard choices, but it helps to think about what you want before you decide. Don't be caught off guard and accept something you don't want. Think seriously about the things you do want from a job and keep them in mind during an interview.
To help you decide whether or not a company is right for you, make a chart like the one shown in Exhibit 3–3. Put your offers (i.e. company names) at the top of the chart and list the ten things you want from a company, or an employer, in the left margin of the chart. This way, every time you get a job offer, you can check it against your requirements. You will be asked to refer to this chart many times over the course of your job search, so take it seriously and fill it out as soon as possible.
Making a MATCH
It's one thing to know what you want from a job, but it's another to match your expectations with an employer's. Do your education, training, and work experience match the requirements for a particular job? The only way to know is to do your research, to network, and to go on employment interviews.
One of the biggest complaints of college recruiters is that graduates have unrealistic expectations about the type of job responsibilities they will have and the salary they will be paid. Some firms factor in your academic record. This is especially true of legal, accounting, and consulting firms. Nearly every organization values practical work experience. One of the ways to gain this information is to do your homework.
Discover Your Hidden Talents and Skills
Most people have lots of other traits and talents they might not necessarily group with business skills.But it's important to think about them anyway, because they can say a lot about you.
There's an interesting story to illustrate this: One day, an executive left the office and went into the lobby to greet a candidate. As they left the lobby, the candidate said good-bye to the receptionist, addressing her by name. The interviewer asked the candidate how he knew the receptionist; as it turned out, they had only just met. The candidate had once worked as a reporter, and people found him easy to talk to. The executive was impressed with the man's communication skills and knew that he could use those skills on the job. Many of us have skills that are just as remarkable. The trick is to think of the skills we take for granted as marketable assets.
Ask a friend, a teacher, or someone in your family to tell you at least two things that are special about you. What are some of your personal qualities and how do they affect the people around you? Your special qualities don't need to be earth shattering.
For example, is there something in your personality that always seems to shine, whether you're doing something as important as addressing a large group or as ordinary as food shopping? Is it your sense of humor? Are you the kind of person who seems to have good common sense? Do you have stamina—the gift of sticking with something until you get it right? All of these traits have excellent applications in the professional world.
What Makes You Interesting?
An interviewer might be interested in some of the unique or unusual experiences you've had, especially if they tie into a particular skill. For example:
- Have you ever lived or traveled abroad? If so, are you familiar with or fluent in another language? Has the experience of spending time in a foreign culture taught you any other skills that might tie into the marketplace, such as the ability to be flexible, respect diversity, and adapt to new and challenging circumstances?
- Do you have any hobbies, passions, or avocations that might demonstrate dedication, initiative, or originality? What about your commitment to the neighborhood soccer team or the volunteer work you do for a Big Brother or Big Sister program? Maybe you have a passion for collecting rare books or you're a Civil War buff. Remember that employers don't necessarily hire human-shaped bundles of skills, perfectly tailored to specific job requirements. More often than not, employers look for people whose interests outside of work have taught them something that might enrich the company as a whole.
"Through my sorority, I did a lot of volunteer work at a children's hospital and local nursing homes. I think this showed prospective employers that I was a patient person with good interpersonal skills and that I was accustomed to interacting with different types of people. It also showed that, though I was focused on my career, I was attuned to the needs of others. These are important skills to have in the business world."
—LISA, WEB PRODUCER
Be Objective about Your Accomplishments
Most of us are not the best evaluators of our own accomplishments. You may not think that something you've done is particularly impressive, whereas someone else might think it phenomenal!
For example, a young man was embarrassed to tell his interviewer that it had taken him eight years to get through college because of severe financial difficulties. Instead of being shocked or disappointed, the interviewer was favorably impressed! To his mind, the young man's successful struggle to finish college despite considerable adversity was a powerful demonstration of his determination and persistence—two highly valued qualities of most businesses.
Fine-Tuning Your Work Needs
After thinking about your strongest work assets and the various qualities that make you interesting as a person and valuable as an employee, tighten the focus of what will make a job appealing to you. Exhibit 3–4 lists some questions to help you think about your work habits and preferences.
Think as clearly and honestly as you can about what type of job will give you the best experiences; match your requirements with what a particular company offers. Don't accept any job unless your most important professional needs are being met.
In other words, if you feel strongly about not moving to another state to take a job, don't be seduced by a slightly higher salary, a better title, or a company car. You will be miserable, despite these perks, if you miss your house, family, and friends, and hate the weather. If you hate driving, don't agree to take a job that requires three hours of commuting every day.
There's more than a little truth to the old cliché that happy people make happy workers. Make sure that your needs match the company's need for you before you sign the dotted line—you begin by knowing your own priorities.
Choosing the RIG JOB
Remember that there's a difference between a job and a career. Deciding how well matched you are with a company may have a lot to do with whether or not it can take you where you want to be in two, five, or ten years.
For example, suppose you have an offer to do graphic design work for a small ad agency. You know you have the skills for the job, but you also know that you don't envision yourself working in graphic design five years from now. In fact, you're much more interested in pursuing a career in market research. If this is the case, think hard about whether or not you should take that graphic design job. Will your experience in graphic design help you get a job in market research a few years from now? Will you miss other opportunities in your preferred field if you take this job?
Training for any job absorbs a lot of your time and your employer's. You will be better served by devoting your time and energy to learning about the career you ultimately ant to pursue. Investigate all aspects of a company, including opportunities for advancement and learning new, marketable skills before making a decision. If working at a particular company might hamper your long-term career goals, it's probably not the best place for you.
In this chapter, you learned many different ways to research a company. Ultimately, your best option is to use every available resource to get the information you want, just as in Capter 1, when you were learning to marshal all of your resources to begin the job-hunting process.
The most important part of your job search is finding the right job for you. This means different things to different people. But a combination of meaningful contribution, challenge, growth, and recognition will be rewarding to most employees. All of these things lead to more satisfaction and fulfillment in your work.
MAKE SURE THAT YOU ARE RESEARCHING THE CORRECT COMPANY.
"I interviewed a young man for an account coordinator position at an e-commerce company. When I asked him if he knew anything about our company, what we do, what we sell, and so forth, he launched into a 15-minute explanation of another company with a similar name (with whom we often get confused). He had obviously done his homework, but unfortunately, he was discussing another company. I explained to him that our company's name is called PhatPencil.com not FatPencil.com. He handled the situation with poise, however, by simply laughing it off with a witty comment and requesting further information on our company. I ended up hiring him anyway because he was highly qualified, thought quickly on his feet (and recovered nicely from a sticky situation), and obviously conducted thorough research. I did, however, suggest to him that, in the future, when he sets up other interviews, he should ask whomever he speaks with to spell out the website and company name."
—RAINA, ACCOUNT MANAGER
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