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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:

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 www.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.

    - Peter Weddle

    Reprinted with permission from WEDDLE’s LLC (www.weddles.com), the leading publisher of print guides to job boards and career portals on the Internet. All Rights Reserved.