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In a tough job market, landing an interview is a major accomplishment. When such opportunity knocks, be ready to show why you're the candidate to hire. Here are five tips that can help job seekers make a great impression.
Do your homework
Erika Milonas, director of campus recruitment for The McTigue Financial Group (part of Northwestern Mutual) in Chicago, reviews more than 1,000 résumés a year and interviews about 400 candidates to choose 40 for the company's internship program. With such competition, it would seem that interviewees would be incredibly prepared, but that isn't always the case.
Milonas finds some candidates unable to answer the simple question, "What do you know about The McTigue Financial Group and Northwestern Mutual?" She calls failure to be able to discuss the company at this basic level a "deal breaker," regardless of how the rest of the interview went.
Since most businesses have websites, learning about a potential employer is relatively easy. Find out what the company does and its main products and services, and be familiar with recent developments in the industry.
Once you know something about the employer, it's time to think about why you would be a good match. Since it is often difficult to formulate answers on the spot, practice responses at home.
"Before your interview, write out answers to potential questions you are likely to be asked," says Robin Ryan, author of "60 Seconds & You're Hired!" "Keep your answers concise, no more than 60 seconds."
While question will differ by employer, Ryan recommends thinking out responses to these standards:
- Why did you leave your last job (or why do you want to leave)?
- What is your greatest weakness?
- What is the salary you are looking for?
- Describe the worst boss you've ever worked for.
Engage in, but don't take over, the interview
Employers want workers who bring positive energy to the workplace. Two common pitfalls Milonas sees among candidates are that they lack interest in the opportunity and answer questions with a simple "yes" or "no" rather than engaging in meaningful conversation.
On the flip side, Linda Matias, president of CareerStrides and author of "201 Knockout Answers to Tough Interview Questions: The Ultimate Guide to Handling the New Competency-Based Interview Style," cautions against overwhelming the interviewer.
"Though it is true that job seekers should be active participants in the interview process, they should not take over the interview," Matias says. "Usually, job seekers take over when nerves get the best of them or when they feel they have to fill in the silence. It's a delicate balance, but job seekers need to learn when to ask questions and when to allow the interviewer to take charge."
Once again, practicing beforehand can make the difference.
Look the part
"In the first 10 seconds of meeting a candidate, the interviewer makes a mental decision on whether you look right for the job," Ryan says. "If your personal presentation is inappropriate, you've lost that position without saying a word."
Some fields accept greater creativity in apparel, but experts generally agree to err on the conservative side.
"This is not the time to be a fashionista," Milonas says. For men, this translates to a business suit or blazer, shirt and tie. Women should consider a suit (either a jacket and skirt or a matching pantsuit).
"Neatness counts, too," Ryan says. "Shine your shoes. Clothes should be cleaned, pressed and fit well."
Remember your manners
Finally, make sure your conduct fits the part. Punctuality shows respect for other people's time. Use of polite terminology should be standard during an interview, but it also reflects well to be equally courteous when addressing receptionists and other office workers.
A big etiquette faux pas is not sending a thank-you letter immediately after an interview. "Too many job seekers have an 'if the manager is interested, she or he will call' mentality and wait by the phone," Matias says. "After a few weeks of the phone not ringing, that's when they decide to follow up. By then it may be too late. Or, if it's not too late, chances are that the job seeker is desperate. That anxiety may come through and turn off the interviewer. To avoid tripping up, job seekers should follow up quickly, not only because they want the job but because it's the polite action to take after they've been invited for an interview."While e-mail makes sending a rapid thank-you note easy to do, consider going the extra mile by composing a handwritten message sent via snail mail. After all, you're not out simply to be another candidate, you want to shine.
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