By Richard Fein
Once you have been able to successfully present yourself on paper with a resume and cover letter, it's time to make your case in person. Job interviews, short or long, can be daunting for even the most confident applicant. But interviews can be manageable and even enjoyable if you are prepared. If you have a big interview coming up, it's time to stop fretting and start prepping.
Here are 10 tips that will help get you on the right path to knocking their socks off.
1. Do your research. You need to be prepared to demonstrate that you have solid knowledge of the company, its business and its challenges. Do a news search, read its recent press releases and annual report, and talk to others. Chances are you will be asked the important question, "Why do you want to work for our company?" or "What do you know about our business?" Failing to show that you have done your research will tell your interviewer you didn't care enough to take the time to prepare.
2. Shut up and listen! While you will be anxious to tell the interviewer all about your professional career, don't be so chatty that you miss important signals and messages from the other person. You'll need to present your story in the context of what the interviewer is looking for. Listen for clues and adjust.
3. Remember what's in your resume and cover letter. "Sometimes, especially at an initial screening, the interviewer will ask you questions simply to gauge the accuracy of your resume and cover letter," writes Richard Fein in his book 95 Mistakes Job Seekers Make...and How to Avoid Them. "If you have forgotten what you wrote, you will lose a great deal of credibility." Re-read your resume before you go to your interview and be able to talk intelligently about anything and everything included.
4. Know how your qualifications relate to the company's needs. It is not enough to just be prepared to talk about your skills and qualifications. You need to relate your skills to the company's needs. Examine the job description before the interview. Then identify the skills needed for the job and think of how your qualifications relate to those skills. Fein suggests making a chart with two columns, one for skills and qualifications the company is seeking and the other for an example of how, when and where you demonstrated those characteristics or skills.
5. Don't forget to prepare for telephone prescreen interviews. Prepare in advance for phone prescreen interviews just as much as you would any other interview opportunity. Fein suggests having a list of questions ready, having your resume handy and getting yourself excited about the conversation. "Your energy and friendliness in your voice send a message, just as body language would at a face-to-face interview."
6. Practice. The best way to be prepared for an interview once you have done your research is practice. Think about potential interview questions such as "Tell me about yourself," "Why are you leaving your current employer?" and "Why should we hire you?" You should also be prepared for behavioral questions, such as "Tell me about a time when you had a problem at work and came up with a way to solve it." Developing answers ahead of time will keep you from hemming and hawing during the interview.
7. Save the salary talk for later. Discussing money is always tricky, and it is best to save the talk about salary for later, once you have received an offer. Fein suggests letting the interviewer know that you are certain the company will offer a fair salary or giving a range if you are pressed for a number.
8. Have a list of questions for the interviewer. Almost every interview will end with this question: "So, do you have any questions for us?" Fein says that one of the biggest mistakes job seekers make is not being prepared to answer this. Be sure to develop a list of questions to ask before you go to the interview. Do not ask questions that are clearly answered on the employer's Web site and/or in any literature provided by the employer to you in advance. Instead, ask specific questions like "What is the organization's plan for the next five years, and how does this department fit in?" or "Could you explain your organizational structure?"
9. Be confident. "Everyone needs to remember that an interview is a business meeting between professionals," says Fein. "The company needs an employee, and you need a job." If you are in for an interview, the company has seen something in you that is attractive. Now you just need to believe in yourself and let your talents shine.
10. Follow up. Your best-laid interview plans will go to waste if you neglect to follow up with your interviews. Send a thank-you letter immediately after your interview that reiterates positive characteristics about yourself and, if possible, refers to some part of your conversation.
Next: Interview Body Language Do's and Don'ts >>
Richard Fein is a nationally recognized expert in career and job search issues. He is the director of placement at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) School of Management. He is the offer of career advice books including '101 Quick Tips for a Dynamite Resume' and '95 Mistakes Jobseekers Make...and How to Avoid Them' (Impact Publications).
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