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Job Seeking Savvy: Show You're in the Know

To rise above the pack, it is essential for job seekers to demonstrate knowledge of the company in both cover letters and interviews. Discover what resources can help candidates gain a thorough understanding of their target.

May 15, 2008
from Accountemps

When you're on your way to a job interview, you know to dress professionally and arrive on time. Apparently, most people also know it's smart to do some research on the company beforehand. In a recent Accountemps survey, 79 percent of executives polled reported that candidates come to an interview armed with knowledge of the company or industry. This is an increase of 20 percentage points over a similar survey conducted 10 years ago, showing that interviewees have grown more savvy.

A Missed Opportunity?

To rise above the pack of job seekers, you should demonstrate your research on the company even before you head off for the interview — in your résumé cover letter. Unfortunately, only 44 percent of executives surveyed found candidates demonstrated company or industry knowledge in their cover letters — an increase from the previous survey of a scant seven percent.

These findings show most candidates are missing a key opportunity. Your cover letter is your chance to stand out and convince the hiring manager to call you in for an interview. It should demonstrate a strong command of the industry and your target company's place in it. If your cover letter shows you've done your homework, you'll look like a resourceful candidate who can contribute to the success of the organization. You'll give the hiring manager a reason to meet with you, and at that meeting, revealing more of your knowledge will give the impression you are ready to be hired.

The information to focus on includes the company's product or service line, its primary markets, its chief competitors as well as industry developments that could affect the organization's future. Most of your initial research can take place on the Internet. Investigate the following resources to gain a thorough understanding of your target company:

Corporate Web sites

Your first stop is clearly the company's Web site. It will give a general description of the purpose and strategy of the business, along with details about its service or product lines. Some sites, especially for organizations like accounting firms, list ways the company can augment business in the industries it serves. Many major firms post free copies of thought leadership papers that showcase the company's positions on timely subjects. Look for newsletters and press releases to learn of recent developments. For corporations, check the annual report. In addition, pay attention to the design and general tone of the site. Its appearance will give you a sense of the personality of the firm.

Online Business Directories

One prominent directory of businesses is Hoovers.com, which lists information on public and private companies as well as partnerships such as accounting firms. Paid subscribers to Hoovers can access in-depth profiles and industry analyses, but considerable information is available free. Each organization's listing includes a paragraph describing the company or firm along with specifics like yearly revenue, listings of key executives, number of employees and links to media stories about the company.

Recent Media Coverage

Company press releases and recent media reports you find on the corporate Web site are there to broadcast news and developments that support the firm's key messages. While this information is very useful in learning more about an organization's priorities, dig further by searching for newspaper and magazine articles mentioning the company. These articles might include reviews of newly launched products, ratings of financial analysts or news of merger or acquisition plans. Any of these developments could have a positive or negative effect on the company's future and should suggest questions you may want to bring up in an interview.

Sites With 'Insider' Reports

Some Web sites collect reports from current and past employees on companies' work environments. One such site is Vault.com, which allows you to search for a company by name or browse through industry listings, such as accounting or financial services. Thousands of firms, both large and small, are covered. A short snapshot summarizes comments about the corporate culture and atmosphere. Remember, though, that some comments may come from less reliable sources such as disgruntled former employees, so approach these sites with a healthy dose of skepticism. You may not want to use or mention what you see here in your cover letter, but some of the information you find might steer you toward a particular company or away from it.

You can follow up your online research by contacting your network of active finance professionals and setting up informational interviews with people familiar with the firms you are targeting. In your résumé cover letter, take advantage of your knowledge by mentioning your interest in a specific initiative important to the company. This demonstrates your enthusiasm about contributing to the firm's success.

Researching a company you've selected as a potential employer shows resourcefulness and initiative. Armed with knowledge of the industry and company, you can focus your job search on the most promising companies and craft a cover letter that impresses your target employer.

Accountemps is one of the world's first and largest temporary staffing service specializing in the placement of accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. The company has more than 360 offices in North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, and offers online job search services at http://www.accountemps.com.