A sampling of Inside Tracks authors Ross and Kathryn Petras' observations -- picked up, they say, at the "water coolers" -- of America's brand-name corporations:

*Neiman-Marcus. The Texas retailing magnate " . . . is 'Dallas' and 'Dynasty' rolled into one." Employes mention "an aura," "a mystique," a "romanticism" -- "as one employe said, 'There's an appreciation for esthetics here that goes beyond sound business practices.' " Getting in: " . . . you've got to have experience . . . and selling is not necessarily the best experience to have."

*Bear Stearns. Known as "the tough guy" on Wall Street, the firm is described by one employe as " . . . as close to a casino as you can get." How you play the game doesn't matter, it's winning that counts (as long as it's legal). Getting in: An MBA from a good school and a decent work background. Also the undergraduate internship program.

*Hewlett Packard. " . . . not a 9-to-5 company. Jeans are okay, open-neck shirts are okay, there are volleyball courts at the offices in Palo Alto and even higher level employes play . . . " This high-tech firm wants employes to get the job done, but it's not big on telling them how. Getting in: high grades and an engineering degree for starters. Interviews are tough and ability to fit into the "HP way" important.

*Ogilvy & Mather. This major advertising firm in New York, with 194 offices worldwide, "is David Ogilvy . . . classy, clever, creative and civil." Its red walls match his trademark red suspenders, and "wherever you go at O&M, you hear Ogilvy's maxims quoted . . . people say 'we,' 'us,' and 'our' all the time." Getting in: Besides brains, talent and creativity, " . . . a great sense of fun, great sense of humor, great stick-to-itiveness -- and someone who can eat lunch very fast."

*Warner Records. In New York, Nashville and Burbank, Calif., the entertainment corporation is relaxed and noncorporate: "The only dress code here is -- no shorts . . . It's like being at a ski lodge. You don't even notice that you're spending 11 hours a day at your desk." Getting in: "It isn't what you know here, it's what and who you know." Secretarial and mailroom jobs are an avenue -- but the company even likes them to have industry experience before arriving.

*Random House. The New York publisher is " . . . an ideal place for people who never wanted to leave their exclusive and highly prestigious college -- it's scholarly, low-key, intellectual and terribly respectable." Getting in: "Have a contact at the company who'll tell you about job openings and recommend you for them."