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Bears Business Brief: Approaching your job interview with confidence

Vickie Hicks headshot
Vickie Hicks

Preparing for the interview

You got the call; you scored a job interview. Now to prepare. Many times, preparing for an interview takes more time than the interview itself, but it is worth it. A job interview is the first step to a lifetime of work, so plan accordingly. Here are some tips to help you prepare for your next interview:

Do your research

At the very minimum, review the company’s website. Many employers will ask applicants what they know about the company, so you should have a good grasp of their business. Other important ways to gain information about the company include:

  • Look at the company page on LinkedIn. This page will contain information they want people to know about them.
  • Google the company name to see if they have been in the news recently.
  • Research their competitors and Google the industry. Look for new developments.
  • Check to see if they publicly traded. If they are, look up their stock price to review their history. You can also read market reports to see if and why their stock prices might be fluctuating.
  • If appropriate, go to their place of business. A few years ago, one student received an interview with a major consumer products company. She went to Wal-Mart to review all of their products, packaging and placement. This gave her good perspective on the marketplace and on the company’s market share.

Dress to impress

  • First impressions really do matter — especially in a job interview.
  • Wear a professional suit if it is a professional position. Overdressed is always better than underdressed. If the interviewer has indicated that you can dress business casual, remember the emphasis is always on the business and not the casual.
  • Be neatly pressed. Wrinkled clothing makes an employer think you and your workspace will be messy.
  • Make sure your clothes are not too tight and/or uncomfortable. Wearing clothes that do not fit will send the wrong impression.
  • Less is more. Wear minimal jewelry, cologne, perfume and makeup. You want to be remembered as a professional, not for your fragrance or being too flashy.
  • Shine your shoes. Many employers will look at an interviewee’s shoes.

Plan for success

  • Get a good night’s sleep. We all perform better when we are well rested.
  • Eat a meal or snack before you go. The interview may last longer than expected, and it is better to have a full stomach rather than one that is growling.
  • Arrive early. Leave your house in plenty of time to accommodate traffic and delays. I recommend arriving in the lobby 10 minutes ahead of the interview.
  • Leave your cellphone in the car. This allows you to resist the temptation to surf the web while waiting or to receive text messages during the interview. Employers want you focused on the interview.
  • Fresh breath is important, so use a breath mint before going into the interview. Do not chew gum.

Taking these steps will help you tackle the interview with confidence and make a great first impression.

Vickie Hicks is the corporate relations specialist for the College of Business at Missouri State University. Hicks has over 25 years’ experience in marketing, communications and college recruiting. She can be reached at vickiehicks@missouristate.edu.
This article appeared in the March 18, 2017 edition of The News-Leader and can be accessed online here.
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Bears Business Brief: Aim for zero tolerance of sexual harassment

By: Richard Ollis

headshot Richard Ollis
Richard Ollis

Employment-related litigation is prevalent in the United States. In fact, according to a 2015 Hiscox report, U.S. companies have at least an 11.7 percent chance of having an employment charge filed against them. Missouri is rated as a high-risk state, where businesses are 15 percent more likely to be involved in litigation, and one of several states where state laws are more rigorous than some federal regulations.

Recently, numerous sexual harassment allegations have been in the headlines. In February, Susan Fowler, an engineer who worked at Uber, said her manager made sexual advances toward her. Uber told Fowler it was the man’s first offense and they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing a “high performer.”  Uber’s CEO later announced an “urgent investigation” and said, “there can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber.” After the story broke, a number of Uber customers deleted the Uber app from their phones to signal their displeasure with the perceived actions of the company.

That same month, Sterling Jewelers, the parent company of Kay and Jared Jewelers, was accused of allowing a culture of sexual harassment. Declarations from roughly 250 employees at Sterling have been filed as part of a class-action lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that female employees at the company were routinely groped, demeaned and urged to sexually cater to their bosses in order to stay employed.

Although we could debate why such claims are being filed, investigated and litigated at such an alarming rate, we can all agree that the best course of action is to reduce and eliminate this type of behavior in the workplace. By implementing best practices around hiring, managing and employment policies, many of these instances can be mitigated to everyone’s satisfaction. Zero tolerance for this type of behavior should be everyone’s ultimate goal.

There are two types of sexual harassment defined as illegal by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

  • Quid pro quo – a Latin term meaning “this for that.” The most blatant type of this sexual harassment occurs when employment decisions — hiring, promotions, salary increases, or performance evaluations — are based on a willingness to grant sexual favors.
  • Hostile work environment – when verbal, physical, or visible behavior is prevalent in the workplace. It can be sexual in nature, focused on gender, unwelcome, and affecting the work environment and the employees’ ability to perform their job.

Both of these types of harassment are serious and can cause significant harm to employees and to the company. It is critical for companies to employ good policies, training, investigation, discipline and documentation in this area. The key is to make it clear that this type of behavior will not be tolerated and, just as important, that it will be addressed immediately. Regular communication and training in this area also reinforce the idea that the company believes this type of behavior is unacceptable.

Developing proper policies and protocols will significantly reduce the likelihood of sexual harassment issues. However, financial protection from incidents, factual or not, is also worth considering. According to research by Thompson Reuters, incidents that end up in court have a median judgment of $200,000 plus defense costs, and about 25 percent result in a judgment of $500,000 or more.

A company can purchase Employment Practices Liability Insurance to provide protection — offering reimbursement for defense costs, and a judgment if applicable. Most policies also provide highly trained defense counsel who specialize in employment matters, specifically sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is illegal. Prevention and swift action are among the best methods to address this type of employment exposure. Having financial protection can also mitigate unforeseen incidents. Being prepared for any potential claims of sexual harassment is the way for a company to benefit all concerned.

Richard Ollis is CEO of Ollis/Akers/Arney, an employee-owned business consulting and insurance advisory firm. 

This article appeared in the March 11, 2017 edition of The News-Leader and can be accessed online here.

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Bears Business Brief: Customer satisfaction: The impact of human versus technological encounters

By: Christina Simmers

Christina Simmers headshot
Christina Simmers

Customer service plays an important role in the impression a company makes on a customer and the overall satisfaction of that customer. This applies to all companies, whether they are for-profit or nonprofit, service-oriented or selling tangible goods. Customers form their impressions of a company with each encounter they have with the company.  In the mind of the customer, the encounter is the service or is part of the value derived from the product.

Easy access to technological convenience has given customers more ways to interact with a company than only interacting with a human (e.g. salesperson, volunteer). Self-service technology (e.g.  automated teller machines, pay-at-the-pump gasoline, grocery self-checkout lines, E*Trade, online ticketing) provides more choices for the customer and more outreach opportunities for the company. Technology has also increased the number of encounters the customer has with a company. Satisfaction with each individual encounter accumulates to form overall satisfaction. Overall satisfaction determines the customer’s future behavior with the company. Both human encounters with the company and technological encounters with the company are important for determining customer satisfaction, but which one has more weight? What is the impact of human versus technological encounters on the customers’ overall satisfaction with the company?

To investigate these questions, we conducted research, looking at millennials and their use of bank services. We chose this group because they have grown up with the internet and are the most tech-savvy customers. We examined the relationships among employees, customers and technology because they are critical linkages in determining the success of a company. In the study, the teller represented the human encounter and online banking represented the technological encounter. Both types of encounter satisfaction (human and technology) were found to predict overall satisfaction, showing that both types of encounters are important. However, we found that the technological encounter held more weight.

So what are the implications of this research? Technological encounter satisfaction has a greater impact on overall service satisfaction than does the human encounter satisfaction. However, the human element is not to be ignored, as both human and technological encounters predict overall satisfaction. Rising dependence on technology and the increase in the number of technological encounters increases the importance of satisfaction with technological encounters on overall satisfaction with a company. Customers can now interact with a company via multiple channels. Companies should continue to invest in their employees — who have direct contact with customers through training and re-training — in order to improve their customers’ overall satisfaction. With a higher emphasis on technology, the human touch becomes even more important in the recovery of a technological service failure. Companies should also pay special attention to their online presence, making it as easy and pleasant as possible for customers to interact with the company and complete transactions. Companies without an online presence may want to create one. An interesting area for future research will be to look beyond a company’s online presence and research how mobile apps impact customers’ overall satisfaction in its interactions with a company.

Christina S. Simmers, Ph.D., is a professor of marketing at Missouri State University. Her areas of specialization include consumer behavior, promotion issues and cross-cultural comparison.

This article appeared in the March 5, 2017 edition of the News-Leader and can be accessed online here.

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Bears Business Brief: Sources of marketing research help for small business specialty retailers

By: Ron Coulter

Ron Coulter headshot i
Ron Coulter

In this article, I will discuss secondary and primary research data and where you can find these data locally.

Secondary data is data collected by someone other than yourself. Why would a small business want to use secondary data? It’s easier to find, cheaper and often useful in decision making. Secondary data may also provide insights and ideas you’ve never thought about for your retail situation. However, secondary data may not be exactly what you’re looking for because someone else collected it for their purpose, and the data may be old. Primary data is data you collect yourself for your own needs. Primary data costs more and takes longer to gather but may be the only way to get the specific information you need.  Always start with secondary data.

You can access several sources for secondary data. The best starting point is a library. In our community, we have a wonderful public library plus college and university libraries. Libraries have a wide variety of secondary data sources which could help with a problem associated with your retail operation. Before jumping in blindly, try doing an electronic search using keywords related to your specific problem to help pinpoint relevant information. You might find that governmental information sources will give you what you’re looking for. Our government publishes a wealth of information; secondary sources available might include censuses (e.g. – population, business, housing, manufacturing), business registration data and small business administration data. The Small Business Administration publishes information on retailing, wholesaling and service organizations. You may have to do several searches to find the right keywords or phrases, but library staff is usually quite willing to point you in the right direction.

Non-governmental sources available through a library include books, periodicals, textbooks, trade journals, general business information and faculty research manuscripts. Another source of secondary data might be “white papers” that explore specific research topics. Also, some universities make faculty members’ doctoral dissertations available on topics that may be related to your small business. Finally, a business college may disseminate findings, from faculty members’ current research, that may relate to your needs.

If you’ve looked at secondary data sources and aren’t getting the answers you need, maybe you should try primary data research. If you don’t feel comfortable doing a primary research project, consider contacting a business college or department. Ask if there are professors who might assist you. Many business classes work with small businesses and nonprofit organizations doing custom research. It’s relatively inexpensive for the business, as usually there is only a small charge for the materials used in a survey or experiment. One drawback is that you may have to “get in line,” as some classes have a waiting list of outside research projects. It is, though, a cost-effective and valuable source of primary research. Class projects are valuable because they provide students with real, hands-on, experiential learning experience, while the business gets information and ideas specific to the owner’s needs. Local university small business development centers can also provide assistance.

What’s the takeaway from this discussion? Know and use appropriate secondary data sources and, when possible, inexpensive sources of primary data. By doing this, small business retailers can obtain information which will allow them better understand their customers’ needs, identify future market/industry trends and even answer specific questions. Marketing research is valuable to small business retailers and can be affordable.

Ron Coulter, Ph.D. is a professor of marketing and marketing department head at Missouri State University. He is also interim department head in the merchandising and fashion design department. His areas of specialization include multivariate marketing research data applications and small business research.

This article appeared in the February 25, 2017 edition of the News-Leader and can be accessed online here.

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