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"Be prepared" is the best motto

By: Robert Half

Robert Half, CPA and founder of Robert Half International Inc., the world's leader in specialized staffing and the parent company of Robert Half and Accountemps

Like most people, I admire those who take the initiative when pursuing a goal, and who apply creativity and resolve in order to prepare themselves for success.

This is why I responded positively to a recent college graduate, the daughter of a friend of mine, who's seeking a position in the accounting field. As far as I'm concerned, she sets the standard for preparing oneself for job interviews. Her resume was sufficiently solid and well-written to have generated interviews at three good companies. She began her preparations for each one by visiting her local library, where, using CD-Rom and logging on to the Internet, she pulled up every article she could find from business journals and local papers about the companies she'd be visiting. Because she knew the names of two of the three hiring authorities with whom she'd be interviewing, she researched their backgrounds, read accounts of speeches they'd given, and drew a mental picture of them to the extent that she was able. In addition, she called the companies' investor-relations departments and asked for the most recent annual reports, which she personally picked up and read carefully.

As the information-gathering process proceeded, she tried to anticipate the sort of questions she'd be asked and contemplated the answers she would give, stressing anecdotal means of getting across the points she felt would best highlight her qualifications. Using a tape recorder, she listened critically to the way she sounded, as well as the words and phrases she chose to use. This young woman knew that she'd be expected to ask questions too, and utilized the material she'd gathered about these companies as a basis for formulating them. All of this represents the sort of interview preparation every serious job candidate should undertake.

But, my friend's daughter took it a step further.

She went to each company at noontime and observed employees leaving for lunch. Some congregated in a small park where they enjoyed the lunch they'd brought to work with them. Others headed foe a luncheonette a few blocks away. This job-seeker made mental note of the way they dressed and their interaction with each other. She even approached a few of them in the park and in the luncheonette, introduced herself, said she was scheduled to be interviewed by their company, and asked questions of them: What it was like to work there, how the company was doing, how they viewed its future prospects, the state of the industry in which it did business, and other areas that would help her gain a better understanding of the company and its people.

This approach not only enabled her to demonstrate during the interviews an impressive level of knowledge about her prospective employers, but also enabled her to make a judgment about whether she wanted to work there, assuming a job was offered. In one instance, the feedback she had received from employees created second thoughts about whether she'd be comfortable in that particular company's culture.

No matter how the nature of the workplace changes, getting ready for a job interview still involves a series of basic rules, the most important of which is thorough preparation. I'm still amazed at how many job-seekers view interviews as a casual get-together, during which routine questions will be asked and boilerplate responses given.
The truth is that, in today's highly competitive business world where companies are making do with fewer people (and, by extension, needing the best people to fill those jobs), the interviewing process has become more intense, challenging, and, ultimately, more demanding of candidates.

My friend's daughter did everything to give herself a leg-up on other candidates. It came through during her interviews that she was indeed a serious candidate, one who had taken the time and trouble to know the companies and how she might fit in. Translation to an employer: If she works this hard at getting a job, she'll work even harder once she has it.

All three companies offered her a position. She ruled out the one whose corporate culture she questioned, and chose the better of the remaining two.

"Be prepared" is the best motto to sum it up.

Your chance of landing the job you want might well depend upon it.

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