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Job Search Etiquette: It Isn't Obsolete.

There's one thing about a job search that an experienced financial professional can be confident of today: It will likely be short. But even in such a candidate-friendly hiring environment, accountants who approach potential employers with a nonchalant or presumptuous attitude can jeopardize their chances of landing their ideal positions.

Job search etiquette in the New Economy has definitely not gone out of style. Take the "old-fashioned" thank-you note, for example. In a recent survey developed by our company, 76% of 150 executives with the nation's 1,000 largest companies said they consider a post-interview thank-you note valuable when evaluating job seekers. Ironically, only 36% of applicants actually follow through with this simple courtesy, according to the survey. Clearly, making the extra effort to demonstrate your interest in a job can set you apart from other candidates.

It's important to pay attention to how you present yourself during all stages of the hiring process. Here are some tips:

Research the company. Arriving at an interview with no idea of what the firm does is likely to eliminate you from consideration for the position. Even if a business has sought you out, it's critical to do some advance work and uncover basic facts about its products, services, and operations.

Reviewing the corporate website and annual report are excellent starting points. In addition, business publications and professional associations can yield information about issues impacting the firm's industry. This knowledge will let you prepare a targeted cover letter for your resume and ask more pointed questions during the interview. Most important, you'll convey your genuine interest in the company.

Make your first contact a positive one. No matter how qualified you think you are for the job, don't underestimate the importance of a well-thought-out cover letter to accompany your resume. Research by our company shows that executives pay equal attention to both documents. The cover letter represents your initial communication with a hiring manager, so it's your first chance to make a good impression. It also lets you direct attention to the elements of your resume you feel are most pertinent.

If you're contacting a number of companies, customize each letter to reflect your knowledge of the firm and the ways you feel you can contribute to its accounting operations. For example, "My current experience collecting and analyzing financial data from our facilities in Germany would be a particular asset given your company's recent expansion into that market."

If you plan to send your resume and cover letter electronically, don't forget to make them both e-friendly. Send documents in ASCII (plain text) format to ensure the recipient's e-mail software displays them in the same way you see them on your computer. Online cover letters don't need to be as lengthy as traditional cover letters, but their basic elements should remain the same.

Pay attention to detail. In all written communications with a potential employer--including email--be sure to proofread your text carefully. Surveys have shown that just one typo is enough for hiring managers to eliminate a candidate from consideration. Scrutinize your resume cover letters, and other materials for grammar and spelling. It's a good idea to have a friend or someone who's impartial recheck your work and review it for clarity.

Respect your contacts' time. Showing consideration for others' time is critical throughout the job search process. At minimum, make sure you're punctual for interviews, and respond promptly to requests for references. When you phone a potential employer or networking contact, if you happen to get them "live," don't expect them to immediately drop everything to hear you out. Explain briefly why you're calling and ask when might be a good time to talk.

Don't play the "cat and mouse" game with salary. Job seekers historically have been advised against discussing salary before knowing the range an employer has in mind. But if you're asked for an amount you'd consider accepting, it's better in the long run to answer honestly. Being evasive or suggesting an unrealistically high number is counterproductive and can harm your credibility.

Prior to the interview, research average salary levels for the accounting position you're seeking, and use that information as the starting point for your discussion. Check classified advertisements in your newspaper, or review industry compensation surveys, such as the Robert Half/Accountemps Salary Guide. This booklet features salary levels for a wide range of positions in accounting and finance and provides information on current and future hiring trends. To view the Guide online, visit our website at

Don't leave prospective employers hanging. If you receive an offer you consider attractive but you're not prepared to give a "yes" or "no" answer immediately, express your interest, and promise a response within a few days. If you take much longer to make up your mind, the hiring manager could conclude that you're not interested in the position. Dragging out a decision is also inconsiderate to the prospective employer, who may need to fill the position quickly.

Any one of the people you meet during a job search could potentially become your next employer or a valued resource as you progress in your career. By observing a few simple rules of etiquette as you present your skills and experience, you'll show that you possess not only the financial expertise to succeed but also the professionalism and business savvy so important to hiring managers.

Max Messmer is chairman and CEO of Robert Half International Inc. (RHI), parent company of Robert Half, Accountemps, and RHI Management Resources.
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Title Annotation:hints for successful job hunting
Author:Messmer, Max
Publication:Strategic Finance
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2000
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