Becoming The “Ideal Candidate”

Interviewing requires learning to be what the interviewer perceives as his/her ideal candidate for the job. You will need to effectively communicate the most appropriate qualities that make you the ideal candidate.

In order to do this, you need to do adequate research and be willing to portray the candidate that they are searching for. If the interviewer is looking for an analytical, thorough candidate, then you need to try and communicate that part of you which is analytical and thorough. This is done through effective research, and effective preparation.

1. Research

Research becomes the key advantage to being the ideal candidate. In general, the more responsible and competitive the job, the more research you should do. Employers consider company research as a reflection of your interest, enthusiasm, intelligence and commitment. Research is about convincing the employer that you know what you want and you want them. Executive recruiter Lisa Resanti of Consultec in Dallas, Texas says, “Our employers tell us most candidates do not get hired because they fail to properly research and prepare for their interview. In fact, our employer survey shows there are twelve primary reasons why candidates do not get hired:

    • Ineffective presentation of skills and abilities
    • An inability to express oneself clearly and succinctly
    • Unclear personal and career goals
    • Poor personal appearance
    • Lack of interest in the job opportunity
    • Excessive interest in vacation and compensation issues
    • Lack of people skills
    • Uninformed about the position or organization
    • Poorly written resume
    • Lack of confidence or overly confident
    • Evasiveness with answers
    • Unsuccessful in developing good personal chemistry with interviewer
    • Lack of quality questions for the interviewer


Many, if not all, of these primary reasons why candidates do not get hired can be eliminated with proper research and preparation.

Try searching in occupational career guides. Try to get a hold of the current job description. Another avenue would be to consider calling the employer’s office to speak to an individual who holds a similar position. You could tell them that you are trying to learn about the position because you believe it is one you might want to apply for. Try and find out all that you can about the firm and the position in question. A great idea is to speak with the PR, Marketing or Sales Department in order to obtain further information.

Investigate the interviewer, the job, the company, the department, and the new boss. Begin by using your network of contacts for “inside information.” Contact local trade associations, the Better Business Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, competitors, industry service agencies, and anyone else who will give you accurate, pertinent information. You might be able to locate past and current employees by contacting the departmental secretary, Payroll, Sales or Public Relations. Sometimes suppliers can be good sources with regard to knowledge of the company’s financial condition. Find out what boards, committees, or associations the management team belongs to. Seek a personal contact that could confidentially refer you to the appropriate association. It may also be useful to go to your local newspaper or library and ask the Librarian for any company-related articles. Ask your family and friends if they know anyone in or anything about – the company. Try calling your local college Alumni Department. They may be able to provide you with names of former students who now work at the firm. Gather as much information as possible to learn about the company, its ownership, philosophy, where it’s going, company culture, management team and style, subsidiary interests, market position, reputation, company history, net worth, etc. During the interview, be prepared to identify and discuss three major industry issues, problems and trends.

Contact the firm’s Marketing or Public Relations Department to get brochures and annual reports. Go to a library to examine the Dunn & Bradstreet Directory and Register, the D & B Credit Reports, the Thomas Register, the “Who’s Who” series of books, Standard & Poor’s Corporate Record and Register of Corporations, Executives and Directors, and Moody’s News Reports and Manuals. While there, search other publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, New York Times, Value Line Investment Surveys, and other business and trade related publications. If the firm is publicly owned, contact the Securities and Exchange Commission to obtain a copy of the firm’s prospectus and 10K forms (which should indicate recent financial and hiring activities, and the salaries and benefits of the firm’s top executives). For a fee, you can obtain a quick, private source of 10K forms on any public company from:
The National Investment Counsel, Inc.
80 Wall Street
New York, NY, 10005
(212) 988-8860

2. Listing of Print Research Materials

  • Who’s Who in America, Finance & Industry, South and Southwest: Marquis Who’s Who, Inc., 3002 Glenview Road, Wilmette, IL 60091; 312-441-2210 in IL; 800-323-4601 elsewhere. Every two years.
  • Reference Book of Corporate Management: Dun’s Marketing Services, 3 Century Drive, Parsippany, NJ 07054; 800-624-0324 in NJ, 800-256-0651 elsewhere. Annual.
  • Standard & Poor’s Register of Corporations: Directors and Executives: Standards & Poor’s Corporation, 25 Broadway, New York, NY 10004; 212-208-8786. Annual, with quarterly updates.
  • Occupational Outlook Handbook; U.S. Dept. of Labor (U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402).
  • American Almanac of Jobs and Salaries: John W. Wright, Avon Books (New York, NY). 1987-1988 Edition, a revision.
  • Jobs Rated Almanac: Edited by Les Krantz. World Almanac Publishers (New York, NY).
  • Directory of Occupational Titles: U. S. Department of Labor (U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402).
  • Jobs – What They Are, Where They Are, What They Pay: By Robert and Annie Snelling, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY)
  • America’s Corporate Families: Dunn’s Marketing Services, Mountain Lake, NJ
  • The Corporate 1,000: Monitor Publishing Co., 104 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10011; 212-627-4140.
  • Readers Guide to Periodical Literature: Local Library.
  • How to Find Information about Companies: Washington Researchers, Ltd., 2612 P Street NW, Washington, DC; 202-333-3533.
  • Jobs 1991: Kathryn and Ross Petras, Prentiss-Hall Press.
  • Employment and Earnings: U.S. Government Printing Office, Superintendent of Documents (Washington, DC; 202-377-2112).
  • Trinet Directory of Leading U.S. Companies: the Top 1,500, the second 1,500, the Top Private; Trinet, Inc., Nine Campus Drive, Parisippany, NJ 07054; 800-367-3282.
  • Ward’s Directory of Leading Public and Private Companies: Baldwin H. Ward Publications, 929 Petaluma Boulevard, North Petaluma, CA 94952; 707-762-0737.
  • Moody’s Industrial Manual & Moody’s Industry Review: Moody’s Investor Service, Inc., 99 Church Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-553-0300.
  • Macmillan Directory of Leading Private Companies: National Register Publishing Company, Macmillan, Inc., 3004 Glenview Road, Wilmette, IL 60091.
  • Peterson’s Guide to Business and Management Jobs: Peterson’s Guides, P.O. Box 2123, Princeton, NJ 08543; 609-924-5338 or 800-338-3282.
  • Thomas Register: Thomas Publishing Co., One Pennsylvania Plaza, New York, NY 10013; 212-695-0500.
  • Dun & Bradstreet Reference Book of Corporate Managements: Dun & Bradstreet Million Dollar Directory: Dun’s Marketing Services, Three Century Drive, Parsippany, NJ, 07054; 201-455-0900.


The Internet, AOL, or Nexis can be convenient and helpful online resources. Visit the company’s website for new articles, news, press releases, internal newsletters, job listings, and other information. For public companies, try Hoovers at or the SEC’s Edgar Database for 10K reports at There are also a list of company research guides located with the Riley Guide at and

Don’t stop digging until you have a clear, specific understanding of what you’re up against in the interview. Bear in mind that your research may indicate the inadvisability of going through with a scheduled interview. You should be concerned when you hear the same cautionary tale from several sources. At the same time, it is unwise to eliminate a company just because its track record isn’t perfect. Virtually every company has made a bad hire at one point or another, or has launched a new product or entered a new business area without success. But if you find – and verify – unsettling things in your research (for which you cannot find satisfactory explanations), cancel your interview. No opportunity is worth risking your career and reputation. Throughout your career, finding the best jobs will take time and concerted effort. Keep your burden manageable by only interviewing with the best firms that you encounter – preferably one at a time.

3. Call The Employer’s Recommended Recruitment Firm

Consider calling the company’s independent recruiting agency. By calling their Human Resources Department, you may be able to get a referral to a good, outside recruiter (which is probably the one they use). The recruiter can give you the scoop on your potential employer-to-be. Ask what employee attributes, attitudes and styles are favored or frowned upon. Also find out what the interview process entails as well as any unique employee benefits (flex time, firm closes on Friday afternoons, etc.). Look at the scope of skills, major responsibilities, technical problems and job objectives that lay before you. This will help to formulate your personal background and incorporate it into the specific job.

4. Getting The Inside Story

Sometimes the only way to find out about a company is to call them directly. There is nothing wrong with calling a potential peer and asking some honest questions that define the department and manager. Find out his/her education level, background, style and “hot button” issues. In addition, try talking with a junior employee inside the department as well as someone in the mailroom or Marketing Department.

However, you can directly call the supervisor you will be working for. This is not something you want to do until you are confident you have researched the company and position so that you make a good first impression. If you call, ask him/her to describe the position to you. Also ask them to describe the qualities they are seeking in a new hire. You might try to schedule a 15-minute meeting in order to learn more about the supervisor’s department and how you might help them.

If you already have a meeting scheduled, it should be easy to call beforehand to ask specific questions that might have eluded you during your research. For example, you might say: “Charlie, I’m looking forward to our meeting this Wednesday. Are there any materials you’d like me to bring? I’ve selected only a few employers to meet with, and I must say that I’m very impressed by what I’ve learned about your firm. That Goldman job you completed last May was an exceptional achievement. I understand you had something to do with the project’s success? Quick question Charlie, what is your background? What qualifications do you see as critical to the person’s success?”. It’s not a good idea to push too hard with your questions. However, if you have the right person on the phone, you should try to get as much information as you can to aid your preparation.

5. Self Evaluation And Inventory

In order for you to best understand how to package yourself and present your qualifications, it is important to do skills, traits and accomplishments inventory. Be thorough and focus on your three best and most appropriate qualities as it relates to the job you are interviewing for. Get advice from your work peers, mentors, friends and family.

Make sure to highlight your 3 greatest accomplishments at work, school and within your personal life (relevant to the job) and include them in your resume. Most employers will only remember three to four things about you. Therefore, make sure you have stressed the three or four accomplishments that you want them to remember. Consider repeating these accomplishments in a closing summary at the end of your interview, and again in your “Thank You” letter.

6. Role Playing

Role-playing gets you ready for interviews by helping you view yourself – and the position you seek – from the employer’s perspective. Your goal should be to learn to emphasize your best attributes while downplaying your shortcomings as they relate to the position available. Performing well in an interview does not mean changing who you are.

Begin by using the list of credentials, attributes, skills, and accomplishments you made by comparing yourself and the right candidate for the job. Prepare a list of questions that the interviewer will ask. Formulate your answers. Next, prepare a list of thoughtful, specific questions that you need to ask during the interview. Include questions showing your research, questions concerning job opportunities and the management team. Lastly, include some questions as diversion tactics should you find yourself in troubled waters.

Master the one-minute commercial about yourself. It’s very important that you rehearse how to describe yourself effectively in one minute. You want to learn the techniques of “selling” your comments rather than “telling” your comments so that you market yourself with every comment. If you find yourself not qualified in some way, turn the negative into a positive by stressing what you do offer. If you have no direct job experience, stress your related experience and your proven accomplishments as being a quick study.

When the interviewer has not provided you an opportunity to stress all of your relevant experience, then ask a leading question that will give you this opportunity. An example would be to ask if computer skills are useful in this job and then stress your relevant computer experience.

Using a video/tape recorder, mirror or friend, rehearse the interview as interviewer and candidate. Rehearse your roles from the initial greeting to the final good-bye. Play back the tape and honestly evaluate and improve your performance.

You might also consider approaching another person looking for a job and work together at employer and candidate interviewing thereby assisting each other with the role-play. You can also contact a professional career counselor who will assist you with your preparation and role-play.

The article above was written by construction recruiter Frederick Hornberger, CPC, president of Hornberger Management Company in Wilmington, Delaware (, a construction recruiter specializing in senior level, executive search.