Sunday, March 1, 2009

Preparation wins points

Use library, online resources to help ace an interview

Through a local recruiting firm, "Debbie" had landed a meeting with the chief financial officer of a Columbus retailer that she hoped to work for. After exchanging small talk, the executive asked her: "So, what do you think of our stores?"

The candidate replied honestly that she'd never been in one.


"There's just no excuse for that," said Jay Canowitz of Ives & Associates, the North Side executive search firm that sent the job seeker to the interview. Needless to say, she didn't get the position.

Preparation and research are always important when trying to land a job, but that's even more true in today's competitive market, recruiters say.

"We've definitely heard from employers after an interview that people hadn't done their homework," said Amy Harkins, professional-services manager in the Groveport office of Columbus-based Proteam Staffing.

"Anything you can learn about the company is going to give you a leg up in the interview process," she said. "It helps you understand the business, know if it's a good fit and shows that you've taken the extra time and effort that every employer wants to see."

Where to start? The Internet is a great tool, and a simple Google search and visit to the employer's Web site is a logical place to start.

"At the very least, go to the company's Web site," Canowitz said. "If it's a consumer-products company, find out what they make. If they're a financial-services company, see what states they operate in. If it's a retailer, see what products they sell and where their stores are -- and make sure you go to one."

A Google search can turn up news coverage about the company, along with information that might be useful to know.

If the company is public -- its shares are traded on a stock exchange -- it's easy to find a wealth of information on sites such as Yahoo Finance (, where you can look up everything from news articles and Securities and Exchange Commission filings to stock prices past and current.

Both Canowitz and Harkins recommend getting an insider's perspective on your prospective employer, if possible, by tapping into your extended network of friends and contacts.

Online "insider" sources such as Job Vent ( that allow users to post comments anonymously should be taken with a grain of salt, though. It's impossible to verify a person's identity or to know what ax they have to grind. Plus, no workplace is the right fit for everyone.

"I don't care who the company is in town. I have a resume from someone who doesn't want to work there anymore," Canowitz said.

When it comes to pay, a recruiter usually will be able to tell you a range if you're job-hunting through an employment agency. Sites such as and post information on salary ranges in specified fields or particular companies. Recruiters say a candidate shouldn't be afraid to negotiate for pay or benefits within reason, even in today's economy. But do so at the appropriate time -- when an offer is made.

Canowitz adds, though, that previous salary history is the most compelling indicator of what your new employer is likely to pay you.

"If the range is $80,000 to $100,000 and you've been making $70,000, most companies are not going to offer you a salary at the top of that range," Canowitz said.

To really research a company in depth, you'll want to tap resources beyond what you'll find by surfing the Internet. For example, try the library.

"Pre-Internet, people used our print resources all the time," said Jay Kegley, manager of the Science, Business and News division for the Columbus Metropolitan Library's Main Library Downtown. "Now, they're less used. Many people aren't even turning to library resources. We have a lot of material you won't find online, and it's authoritative, unlike some of the material on the Web."

A librarian often can help you find material both in print and online that you might not come across yourself.

For example, Kegley recommends the Lexis/Nexis Directory of Corporate Affiliations for researching the relationships between various businesses.

Online, he likes Reference USA (, a subscriber service that patrons can access at the library or at home using a library card. Reference USA is useful for building lists of companies in an industry or area.

The Main Library has some resources that its branches don't, but all have research materials that can help job seekers.

In short, the experts say there's no such thing as too much preparation for an interview.

If you know the name of an executive you'll be interviewing with, for example, you might want to do a Google search of him or her to try to find common ground -- hometowns, schools and memberships, for example.

And don't forget to do a little research on the interview location.

"Go drive around, see the neighborhood, see where you're going to park," Canowitz said. "You don't want to arrive with just a few minutes to spare and not be able to figure out where to go."

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