While at times it may feel like the ball is always in the employer's court, remember that the job search is a mutually selective process: you pick your employer and the employer picks you. (The process isn't unlike dating.)
One aspect of the search that often gets overlooked: employers want to be picked just as much as you do. In fact, one of the statistics that the human resources department is asked to report on is the "yield" rate: what is the percentage of offers accepted relative to the number of offers that are given?
To this end, one of the factors that employers look at during the process is candidate level of interest and "likely" factor. (This is also true, by the way, of college admissions.) After all, the employer has no idea if you've applied to 150 positions or to five.
Demonstrate your interest in the position throughout the process by articulating why you are interested in the opportunity and the company throughout the process from your application (i.e. cover letter), to face-to-face meetings, and any other communications that you have.
One of the key questions employers use to assess your "likely factor" and suitability for the job is your knowledge of the industry and level of preparedness: at a minimum, they will expect you to be familiar with their company website and the type of work they do. In a challenging economy, the bar is raised: they will also look to see if you are familiar with the overall health of the industry with respect to general economic performance. Many companies give the equivalent of bonus points to applicants who demonstrate familiarity with recent company developments and new initiatives; in some searches, the job offer goes to the applicant who has done the best job preparing for the interview.
Fortunately, there are some easy ways to conduct employer research. My recommendations include:
1. Establishing Google News Alerts to send you updates and RSS Feeds based on your own Key Word searches. Website: (or, alternatively use Google Reader").
2. Getting up to speed on general industry health.Great resources include:
- Industry specific guides from Vault and Wetfeet.
- The no-nonsense Riley Guide's list of go-to websites by industry, and
- The Occupational Outlook Handbook provides the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment projections by field and sector
3. Staying current on company economic performance relative to the industry. A great way to do this is to use Hoover's. In addition, if the company you are interested in is a public company--monitor the stocks online through sites including CNN Money and the Wall Street Journal. (If you are applying for a position in financial services, expect to be asked questions about recent and "big picture" stock performance, including key market indicators. Vault and Wetfeet have great guides to help you get up to speed in this area).