Go To The Head Of The Class

Ace the grueling employee-training program and land the job

In 1994, when Rodney D. Brown was selected to enter the Michelin Tires training program to become a commercial territory manager, he didn’t anticipate the many challenges that were ahead. “I just saw it as an opportunity for me to learn about the industry while I received full benefits — but I was wrong,” admits 26-year-old Brown. “I soon realized that training was really another part of the hiring process and you could be weeded out at any time.”

During the first three weeks of Michelin’s five-week program, participants endured nine hours of classroom training on tire construction and function at the firm’s Greenville, South Carolina, campus. The challenge for Brown, a native New Yorker, was staying focused on a lot of unfamiliar, and at times boring, information. By week five, trainees had to prove themselves on “live” sales calls and were evaluated by personal trainers charged with making the final analysis of their performance. “This was the most stressful part at the program because you knew you were being evaluated and there was a chance you wouldn’t make it,” recalls Brown, who landed a full-time job with the firm. Others are not always as fortunate.

Those who fail usually do so because they view the training program as a free education session and not as a test, notes Zeida Samara Owens Waters, president and managing director of the Owens Waters Group Inc., a New York technology firm that designs corporate training programs for investment banks.

The term “training” is a misnomer. While the programs prepare you for the job you’re vying for, they’re also designed to help employers evaluate your aptitude, analytical skills and ability to fit into the company’s culture. The best way to succeed in a corporate training program is to outshine other participants, adds Waters. Here are a few tips to help you make the grade:

  • Learn about the company. Check the library or visit your company’s Web site to learn about the organization’s goals, objectives and policies. Also, try to obtain your official job description to better understand the requirements and expectations of your position.
  • Be present and punctual. Lateness and absenteeism send up red flags and signal that you may display similar traits on the job. Be mindful of your attendance and arrive on time daily.
  • Develop a good rapport. A trainer’s final assessment of your performance may depend merely on how much they like you or how well you got along with the other trainees. Personality is key.
  • Know the tools. Familiarize yourself with the software packages, machines or reference materials the company regularly uses.
  • Ask smart questions. The types of questions you ask reveal a lot about your aptitude and skills. Don’t ask the instructor to explain basic concepts. Review them on your own time.
  • Learn the industry jargon. The trainer will expect you to know common terminology. Get acquainted with the lingo by reading various newspaper articles and industry magazines and journals.
  • Network! Communicate with former trainees and ask them about the difficulties they experienced as well as any tips they
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