Feature: Black Belt Preparation (for an Interview)

Feature: Black Belt Preparation (for an Interview)

Feature: Black Belt Preparation (for an Interview)

Preparation is the key to success in an interview with a prospective employer. The more homework you’ve done-the more information you have collected and studied about the organization-the better able you will be to align your occupational strengths with the organization’s operational needs. To put it another way, an informed job seeker is the best interviewee.

In the Internet era, however, there is a wide range of available information, so success is also dependent upon the kinds of information you collect. Traditionally, we’ve been urged to probe an employer’s business and culture. To do that, you can:

  • check with commercial research firms such as Hoover’s Online (www.hoovers.com) and D&B’s Online Business Directory (www.zapdata.com) to acquire basic information about the kinds of products or services the organization provides as well as its facility locations, leadership and financial status. In most cases, at least some of the information is available for free, while additional detail can be acquired for a fee.
  • visit the organization’s Web-site to review what it says about its culture, priorities, employment opportunities and track record. Even small and local employers are now creating “Career” areas on their sites to inform and sell job seekers on their value proposition as an employer.
  • use Google.com or Yahoo.com to search for documents posted on the Internet about the organization. These documents might be articles that have appeared in magazines or newspapers, analysts’ opinions that have been posted on business news sites, and press releases from the organization itself.
  • All of this information is helpful in an interview because it enables you to:

  • provide a context for the answers you give to the interviewer’s questions. In effect, you are able to relate what you can do and have done to the specific challenges and opportunities facing the organization.
  • ask questions about programs or activities that caught your eye as you conducted your research on the organization. The fewer blanks you have in your mental portrait of the employer, the more able you will be to describe the potential contribution you can make to the employer.
  • demonstrate that you have the initiative and drive to be successful. Doing your homework about an organization conveys a positive message to the recruiter about your commitment to your work and to your career.
  • These benefits, while undoubtedly important, are not exhaustive. There are additional advantages that you can gain in an interview, but only by conducting additional research. To put it another way, there are degrees of interview preparation. Doing the basic level of research certainly positions you at a competitive advantage with regard to those who do no research at all. It does not, however, give you an edge against those who have also done their homework. To strengthen your position relative even to those who have done a pretty good job checking out a prospective employer, you must raise the level of your research effort. I call this higher plane of research “black belt preparation.”

    Black belt preparation involves researching the interview as well as the organization. In other words, you want to be the strongest possible interviewee as well as the strongest possible candidate. Why? Because hiring managers and recruiters are human; they react to the way people interact with them. Indeed, more often than not, they select the person who interviews best rather than the person who can best do the job. To ensure your own success, therefore, you want to be both: the person who can do the job best and the person who interviews most effectively.

    What does black belt preparation involve? As a minimum, you should do the following (in addition to the traditional preparation described above):

    Research the interviewer. Ask the organization’s HR Department for the names of the people with whom you will be interviewing. Then, look for any connections (e.g., the college you attended, your former employers, associations or affinity groups of which you are a member) that you may have with these individuals. You can conduct this research by:

  • performing a browser search of the Web with each of their names.;
  • searching the 26+ million record database assembled by ZoomInfo (www.zoominfo.com).
  • While neither source is a sure bet, together they give you unprecedented access to individual information, and both are free. The purpose of this research is to look for ways to build rapport with any or all of the interviewers and thereby set yourself apart in their minds.

    Research the interview. Visit Wetfeet.com and look through the Company Interviews they have assembled on thousands of employers in the U.S.. While all of the information in the records is interesting (and free), perhaps the most important is the companies’ answers to two key questions:

  • What can job seekers expect in their interviews (where you will often find the exact questions they will be asking you) and
  • What’s the biggest mistake a candidate can make in an interview?
  • Reviewing these insights isn’t the only preparation you should do for an interview, but it will enable you to develop at least some of your responses in advance and to rehearse them so that they are delivered persuasively.

    Research the dark side. An office water cooler is the spot where workers congregate to grouse about the boss and the organization’s policies, priorities and procedures. The “electronic watercooler” at Vault.com (www.vault.com) operates the same way, only online. It provides a spot where current and former employees can post their (usually unflattering) opinions about an organization for you to read. While it’s important to take these comments with a grain of salt, they can help you steer the interview toward a more balanced and nuanced discussion of the organization. The goal is not to put the interviewer on the spot, but rather to signal your desire to have a frank and open exchange that will serve the best interests of both you and the employer.

    Preparing for an interview requires skill and effort. If you work at it enough to be adequately prepared, you’ll probably do well in the interview and much better than those who are uninformed. If, on the other hand, you work hard enough at your research to achieve black belt preparation, you’ll set yourself up to win the interview and, as a consequence, get the edge on other qualified applicants for the job.

    Thanks for reading,


    P.S. May is Make a Colleague Smile Month. How can you do that? Tell them about WEDDLE’s newsletter. That’ll get them smiling in May, in June, in July and every month after that!

    Section Two: Site News You Can Use

    CareerJournal.com announced that workers in the U.S. can expect an average 3.7% increase in salary in 2005-the second straight year of pay hikes for employees after a three-year decline. The 3.7% figure is just 0.1% higher than the raise in 2004, however, and a modest 0.3% gain over the bottom of the three year slide. In addition, it is still 0.7% beneath the high in salary increases-a 4.4% raise-that workers enjoyed in 2001. What will that kind of a raise buy you? If you make an annual salary of $34,000, you’ll receive an additional $24.19 per week, barely enough to take the family out to MacDonalds. How can you protect yourself (and your family) in this miserly environment? Make sure that you deserve more than the “average” salary increase. A growing number of employers are moving to a pay-for-performance compensation model, which means that their best contributors will receive far more than the average pay increase, and everybody else will share what’s left over. The key to success, therefore, is to do your best work all of the time and make sure that your boss (and your boss’s boss) knows about the effort you’ve made and the results you’ve achieved.

    CollegeGrad.com reported the results of a recent poll on internships among college students and recent graduates. It found that 87% of the respondents would be willing to accept a summer internship at lower pay than they might receive at other jobs in order to gain experience that would look good on their resume. Why all this fuss about resume enhancing internships? Because employers often use internships to “test hire” individuals they think might have the right stuff to be a full time employee after graduation. In addition, an internship that provides meaningful experience in the workplace can, in fact, significantly burnish your credentials with other employers , as well. For that to happen, however, the internship must involve work that is challenging and instructive. Don’t accept an internship-even one with a prestigious employer-until you’re certain that (1) it is well structured with clear work assignments that will advance your knowledge and capabilities in your field and (2) involves a supervisor who will be present throughout your time of employment to make sure you have the guidance and support you will need to be successful.

    ComputerJobs.com launched the ComputerJobs.com Community, a place where IT professionals can gather to discuss careers, technology, current events and other topics. Discussion forums and content cover everything from how to deal with being over qualified to the pros and cons of the new dot-jobs domain. Participating in such communities-in the IT or any other field-can bring at least three important benefits for you: first it provides an easy and enjoyable way to stay abreast of the latest developments in your field; second it enables you to network with your peers and build contacts for your current or a future job search; and third, it lets you strut your stuff through your participation in the community’s forums and chats. Why is that helpful? Because recruiters are now keeping an eye on such discussion areas to identify prospects for their openings. To position yourself to best advantage, however, you must stay on topic, make a differentiating contribution to the dialogue, and carefully proofread and edit what you say before you hit the submit button.

    ExecuNet released the results of a survey of compensation practices among employers. It found that a growing number of companies are eliminating unearned bonuses and stock options and relying, instead, on performance-based incentives for executive compensation packages. Specifically, there has been a 22% decline in the use of stock options and guaranteed severance, a 17% decline in a guaranteed first year bonus, a 15% decline in the use of employment contracts, and a 7% decline in sign-on bonuses. In a good example of organizations failing to walk the talk, however, the respondents also reported an 8% decline in six-month performance reviews and a 5% decline in performance bonuses … so much for “performance-based incentives.” What should you do in the face of such mixed signals? Make sure that you (a) do your homework with your professional association and/or sites such as Salary.com to determine the salary level and benefits you should be able to command in the labor market; (b) think about what’s important to you in a compensation package and understand what you are willing to “trade away” in a negotiation and what you consider a requirement; and (c) get the final terms and conditions of your total package in writing in language that you can understand.

    WEDDLE’s released partial results of its ongoing survey of job seekers and recruiters on the Internet. Conducted since 1996, this is the longest running study of the most effective practices for online job search and career management. With over 17,000 respondents in the first five months of this year, the survey revealed that most job seekers visit between 6 and 10 different job boards every month. An astonishing 12.7% visit more than 16 sites. In effect, most job seekers are investing a lot of time and effort online that may not be wisely spent. We at WEDDLE’s recommend that job seekers identify the 3-5 sites that will best serve their interests and spend their time there. In other words, the key to success online is not quantity but the quality of the job boards you use, and quality is in the eye of the beholder. What’s good for you-given your career field, years of experience and location-may not be the best for your neighbor next door or your colleague at the office and vice versa. So, “shop smart.” Limit the job boards you use to a relatively small number of sites that have the features and services that will be most helpful to you.

    Section Three: Site Profiles

    Site Insite … how well do you know the Web’s 40,000+ job boards?

    1. You’re a graphic designer looking for a full time position with a local company. Which of the following sites would erase your progress in finding a good opportunity?

  • GAG.org
  • NFYA.org
  • ArtistResource.org
  • ArtTalent.com
  • 2. You’ve had several years experience as a loan coordinator for a bank several towns over, but now want to work closer to home. Which of the following sites would misroute your search for a new employer?

  • CareerBank.com
  • MoneyMovers.com
  • jobsinthemoney.com
  • iHireBanking.com
  • 3. You’re a UNIX technician with Help Desk experience. If you’ve decided to look for a new employer, which of the following sites would give you the support you need?

  • JustUnixJobs.com
  • Tech-Centric.net
  • s6000.com
  • DevBistro.com
  • (answers below)

    Site Spotlite … from the pages of WEDDLE’s 2005/6 Guides and Directories



    Post full time jobs: Yes

    Post part time, contract or consulting jobs: Yes – All

    Distribution of jobs: International

    Number of jobs: 2,500

    Salary levels of jobs: Up to $150K/yr

    Offer a job agent: Yes

    Resume database: Yes

    How long are resumes stored: 6 months

    Restrictions on who can post: If registered

    Other services for job seekers: Career information, Links to other sites with additional information/resources

    Answers to Site Insite

    1. ArtTalent.com, the site of an art gallery in Amsterdam.

    2. MoneyMovers.com, the site of an electronic funds transfer company.

    3. All of them.