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Survey shows value doing homework

Prepping for the job interview is much more common today than a decade ago, a new survey shows.

Seventy-nine percent of executives polled said candidates they meet with display at least some knowledge of the company or its industry, up from 59 percent in a 1997 survey on the topic. Despite this trend, would-be employees still may be missing an opportunity to demonstrate that they've done their homework in their resume cover letters: Only 44 percent of those polled said it's common for applicants to use their cover letter to show they've researched the job, up slightly from 37 percent in the previous survey.

The national poll included responses from 150 senior executives from human resources, finance and marketing departments with the nation's 1,000 largest companies. It was conducted by an independent research firm and developed by Accountemps, the world's first and largest specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals.

Executives were asked, "How frequently do job candidates demonstrate knowledge of your company or industry during interviews?" Their responses:

Very frequently: 34 percent in 2008; 15 percent in 1997
Somewhat frequently: 45 percent in 2008; 44 percent in 1997
Somewhat infrequently: 14 percent in 2008; 29 percent in 1997
Very infrequently: two percent in 2008; nine percent in 1997
Don’t know: five percent in 2008; three percent in 1997

Executives were asked, "How frequently do job candidates demonstrate knowledge of your company or industry in their cover letters?" Their responses:

Very frequently: seven percent in 2008; 10 percent in 1997
Somewhat frequently: 37 percent in 2008; 27 percent in 1997
Somewhat infrequently: 39 percent in 2008; 30 percent in 1997
Very infrequently: 13 percent in 2008; 30 percent in 1997
Don’t know: four percent in 2008; three percent in 1997

"By learning as much as they can about a company before interviewing, prospective employees demonstrate resourcefulness and a sincere interest in the job," said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps and author of Job Hunting For Dummies, 2nd Edition. "Job seekers who uncover beyond-the-basics knowledge of a firm by using the Internet and corporate websites are better able to identify specific ways they can contribute to the organization's success.

“Interviews are not the only stage in the job search process in which company and industry knowledge provide an advantage,” Messmer added. “The cover letter and resume are typically what prompt a hiring manager to extend an interview invitation. Applicants who fail to present a compelling case in writing may not get an opportunity to shine in a face-to-face meeting."

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