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Turn an interview into a job

"I'm totally qualified, so I know I'll get the job."

This phrase may be the most naive statement in the annals of job hunting. First, you aren't likely to be the only qualified person applying for the job. And second, hiring managers don't hire the most qualified person: They hire the person they most want to work with.

Whether this is fair is not up for discussion, because the philosophical and de facto practices of corporate hiring aren't going to change any time soon. However, we can discuss that being qualified is a small factor in the decision.

Too many people have had slews of interviews with no offers. You need to work at getting interviews, but you also need to work hard at turning an interview into a job. Here are five steps to take between landing the interview and going to it that will help you get an offer.

Research the company. Don't just go to the Web site and then give up when the "About the Company" page has too many photos for your modem to handle. Comb through every section of the company's site and memorize it as if you were cramming for a test.

Unlike a test, though, you won't have a chance during the interview to spout the six facts you learned about the company. Rather, there will likely be a random, fleeting second when a relevant fact you gained from the site will be the perfect answer to something the interviewer says. To find the right comment for that fleeting moment, you'll need wide knowledge and good judgment. The overall goal is to seem as though you are intimately acquainted with and monitor the company independently of your desperate need for a job.

Get the right outfit. Corporate America has a uniform; wear it. People like to hire people who look like them, and clothing is the easiest way to make this impression. An interview is not the time to dress to express your true self. In fact, no one needs to know your true self at the office. You will fit in and work best with others by keeping eccentricities to a minimum. Each company has a variation on "the uniform," so loiter near the office ahead of time and spy on its workers to get a sense of the corporate dress code.

Prepare stock answers. Most interview questions are standard, and surprisingly enough, have standard answers. Take the question, "Why do you want to leave your current job?" The correct answer incorporates phrases like, "I am looking for a company like this one," and "Your company offers a unique opportunity that is a perfect fit for me." Learn these answers before the interview and be prepared to deliver them with a special flair, so they don't seem rehearsed.

Go to the gym. Taking charge of the first 15 seconds of an interview is critical. An interviewer will judge you first and most significantly on nonverbal cues, and having a great interview outfit alone may not be enough to make the best impression. Unfortunately, thin, good-looking people are more likely to get hired than fat, less attractive people. If you have scheduled the interview already, it's probably too late to drop 40 pounds. But go to the gym anyway. By using your chest and back muscles to lift weights, you'll stand up straighter in the interview -- which shows poise and self-confidence. Also take a ride on the treadmill. The more energy you expend now, the more relaxed you'll be at the interview, and being calm will help you seem more confident.

Prepare to close the deal. Leave nothing open-ended when you walk out of the interview. This means saying at the end, "I would really like this job. Do you have any reservations about hiring me?" This is scary to say because the interviewer might have reservations you can't overcome. But closers get the contracts, and you need to be a closer in interviews. Risk hearing any reservations about hiring you because it's better to confront them and fail than to never try. You have nothing to lose.

When I tried this, the hiring manager told me her reservations (which were large). After I countered them one by one, she was so impressed that she offered me a job on the spot. But I also had done my homework. I had memorized the company information and the answers to the 100 most common interview questions, plus I managed my impression during those first 15 seconds as if my life depended on it.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy
-- Updated: June 2, 2006
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