May 01, 2012 11:45 AM EDT
By Jennifer Merritt
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Want to stand out from the crowd of college-educated job seekers? Forget summa cum laude or fluency in Mandarin. If you're as qualified as the next applicant coming in for an interview, you can set yourself apart with one simple thing: homework.
Seems obvious, but hiring managers and interview panelists regularly complain that applicants fail to research the company, the job they're seeking and the goals they'll be contributing to, both large and small.
And that's why, for recent grads and experienced job seekers alike, taking the time to study up can make the difference between a job offer and a "no thanks." Before you set foot into an interview room, you should know the basics of the company's business, its areas of growth and some of its recent key initiatives.
Even when the role you are trying to land isn't directly related to one of these items, you need to know: the company's key products and business lines; its core clients and future clients it is seeking; its key competitors, including established companies and upstarts; the latest industry news and happenings; and any areas of or opportunities for growth at the company and in the industry -- especially if they're related to the job you're vying for.
Start with the company's website and look at databases like Hoovers.com and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings for details on the company. Read local newspapers and industry association websites to learn more about the industry.
Set up a Google alert to receive news and press releases on the company and the industry Google the person you'll be interviewing with, too. You might find some commonalities that you can tap into during the interview.
EXTRA MILE FOR A DREAM JOB
If the company is one you've dreamed of working for, do more than just the usual homework. Contact people you know who work at the company or alumni from your alma mater who might be current or recent employees.
Ask about the culture, expectations and major initiatives at the company and -- if you know the person well enough -- find out what qualities or skills you should play up during the interview. Get a sense of what kind of person succeeds most often at the company.
Next, match your attributes to what you've learned about the company and be prepared to apply it to interview questions you might be asked.
If you've that exceptional drive and a steady stream of creative and actionable ideas are highly valued at a company, have examples ready from your work experience that will show you have those qualities. If the company is prepping for an expansion, be prepared to show your knowledge of the market and share a few clear ideas that match the companies plans. This will send the message that you've gone beyond hoping to land the job and forward to how you can contribute to the company's future.
Use the same tactic for researching the people interviewing you. This is usually easier in the second round, when you've cleared the human resources department and are more likely to meet the managers you'd work with if hired.
Ask for the interview schedule and start digging. Corporate biographies on the company website are one place to start. LinkedIn is another good source of added detail, such as professional groups a person belongs to, alma mater or overlaps in their work history and yours. Your goal should be to get a sense of each person's accomplishments, background and anything in common you might have.
Knowing that you grew up in the same town as your prospective boss or had a successful internship at the same company where he got his start can make for good small talk and help create a comfort level in conversation. Sharing a college alma mater is an even stronger bond, and you probably won't be the first to bring up that connection.
(Jennifer Merritt is Wealth Management Editor at Thomson Reuters and author of the recently-published book, "The Wall Street Journal Guide to Building Your Career." Watch her discuss internships at http://link.reuters.com/byt87s).
(This is part of a six-story package on graduation)
(Reporting by Jennifer Merritt; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)
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