In the Hot Seat: 7 Interview Tips

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The time and effort you put into crafting your cover letter and résumé have finally paid off -- you've been asked to interview with a company you've been pursuing for months. But you only have a few days to prepare for this brief but monumental meeting. The pressure's on to prove to the hiring manager you're uniquely qualified for the position and would be an asset to the organization.

While books and acquaintances are great sources of advice, consider taking cues from your favorite celebrities. That's because interviewing for a job is a lot like auditioning for a role. It can be a challenging and nerve-racking experience, but with a little preparation and practice, you'll have the confidence you need to shine. Here are some pointers to help you deliver a five-star performance:

Research your role.
Just as actors dig up information on the characters they'll portray, you should learn as much as you can about the potential employer. In fact, in a recent survey of executives by our company, respondents said having little or no knowledge of the firm is the No. 1 reason job seekers lose out to the competition. Avoid this mistake by researching the organization's history, products or services. Find recent news by visiting its Web site, reading industry publications and talking to members of your network. Doing so will help you specifically address the company's needs during the interview.

Practice makes perfect.
Seasoned performers spend extra time rehearsing tricky lines to avoid slipping up on stage. You can sidestep a potentially embarrassing situation by considering answers to tough or strange interview questions ahead of time. Hiring managers may ask about your greatest weakness, for example. In this case, your response should be candid but brief. Ideally, you'll be able to highlight steps you've taken to overcome this flaw. For example, if delivering presentations is not your forte, you might explain how you enrolled in courses to improve your public-speaking abilities.

Expect the unexpected.
Research conducted by our company shows off-the-wall questions also are becoming increasingly common, so don't be surprised if you're asked something like, "If you could have lunch with someone famous, who would it be?" In these instances, interviewers aren't looking for a right or wrong answer -- they're most likely interested in gauging your creativity, ability to think on your feet and personality. Develop concise, yet informative responses to these types of queries by role-playing with a friend so you can answer clearly and confidently.

Get down to the details.
Punctuality, proper attire and strong stage presence all contribute to a performer's professional reputation. Similarly, you should pay attention to the small, and often overlooked, aspects of an interview. Select your outfit the night before -- a two-piece suit is always appropriate, even if the company touts a casual dress code -- and make sure it's clean and neatly pressed. Map out directions to the office, plan to leave early and know whom to call in case you get stuck in traffic. Finally, get a good night's rest so you'll be alert for the big day.

Share something personal.
Compelling actors and actresses often use their personal experiences to add complexity to the characters they portray. You also can use your past to your professional advantage. Have in mind three career achievements that demonstrate hard-to-measure qualities -- like judgment, initiative, teamwork or leadership -- that aren't apparent on your résumé. Perhaps you stayed at the office until 2 a.m. to help a co-worker complete a high-profile project on time. While it wasn't your responsibility, you saw a colleague in need and were happy to help out.

Delve deep.
Skilled actors and actresses aren't afraid to ask their directors for guidance. Similarly, it's worthwhile to consult your interviewer regarding questions you may have about the firm or role. In fact, coming to the meeting with a few queries of your own is a great way to further convey your interest in the job. Inquire about opportunities for growth as well as the company's long-range plans. Discussing these issues will help both of you determine if you'd be a good fit for the position. Just avoid asking about vacation time, benefits or your office space -- you can address these topics once an offer has been extended.

Finish with a bang.
Nothing spoils a good show like a disappointing finale. End on a high note by expressing your appreciation for the interviewer's time and consideration. Also, send a thank-you note to reinforce your interest and ability to excel in the role. A carefully crafted message will advance your candidacy and leave a positive, lasting impression with the hiring manager long after you've left. In today's competitive job pool, it's not enough to "look good on paper." You also must demonstrate solid soft skills, a strong work ethic and a personality that is compatible with the corporate culture during the interview. Whether you have one week or one day before this important meeting, with a little preparation and practice, you can outshine the competition.


Last Updated: 06/10/2009 - 12:04 AM


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