January 30 2008: 9:30 AM EST
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How to get hired by a 'Best' company

Even during economic downturns, Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For are constantly scouting for talent. Here's 10 tips on how to get your foot in the door.

By Anne Fisher, senior writer

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(Fortune Magazine) -- Think you'd like to work for one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For? Good luck. A few require applicants to jump through peculiar hoops, like the notorious test at Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) that poses questions like, "How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?" and "How would you move Mount Fuji?"

At most of the 100 Best, however, the main hurdle is one of sheer numbers: The average company on the list has 15,853 employees and gets 96,062 applications each year. Not only that, but the overwhelming majority prefer to promote from within - at FedEx Express, the freight carrier's biggest unit, for example, 90% of top management started out on the loading dock - so you're also competing against insiders.

But don't despair. If you've got the right stuff, and follow these 10 rules, you just might have a shot.

It helps to know someone. Almost all of the 100 Best rely heavily on employee referrals. Principal Financial Group (PFG, Fortune 500) and many others get about 40% of their new hires this way. At Wegmans it's a family thing: About one in five employees is related to at least one other staffer.

Play up volunteer work on your résumé. These companies are enthusiastic about community outreach, and they prefer to hire people who are too.

Get ready to interview and interview... and interview. The process varies wildly from one company to another, but you could be facing a series of 12 to 15 one-on-one chats or one long interview with a panel of up to 50 current employees.

Unleash your inner storyteller. By far the most popular interview style is what's known as behavioral, meaning that you will be asked to describe troublesome situations in past jobs and tell exactly how you handled them.

Do creative research. A proven way to stand out from the hordes of other candidates is to know more about the place and the industry than your rivals. A Google search won't do it. Says Jay Jones, recruiting manager at Alcon Laboratories (ACL): "Detailed research, including talking to our customers, is so rare it will almost guarantee you get hired."

No lone rangers need apply. By and large, the 100 Best want team players. "I actually count the number of times a candidate says 'I' in an interview," says Adobe's (ADBE) recruiting director Jeff Vijungco. "We'd much rather hear 'we.'"

If you've moved around a lot, be ready to explain why. A checkered past won't disqualify you, but most of these companies are looking for people who want to build a career over the long haul. Be persuasive about why you're ready to settle down here.

Be open to learning new things. Showing passion is a must, and most of the 100 Best pride themselves on creating "learning environments," so talk about the skills you'd like to acquire or polish. A turnoff: declaring that you're already the best at what you do.

If at first you don't succeed, don't give up. Almost every Best Company keeps track of what FedEx (FDX, Fortune 500) calls "silver medalists" - people who barely missed getting hired - and alerts them to new openings. If possible, register on the company's website. Four Seasons, for one, has hired people seven or eight years after an initial meeting.

Don't coast on their reputation. One final tip: Don't apply for a job just because the company is on our list. In the words of Mike Gallagher, HR director at SAS Institute, "We know we have a reputation as a great place to work. But if the reason you want to work here is that you want subsidized day care or a great gym, you won't last." Or, for that matter, make it through the first round of interviews.  To top of page

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