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15 job interview success tips

You're a superstar. Your mother says you are, right? With a little preparation and follow-through, you can prove it to your future boss.

A job interview can be an excruciating, painful, stressful and awkward hour. Or it can be pleasant, educational, enlightening and successful. The experience of that hour is largely determined by how you spend your time before and after the interview.

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Prepare and plan that first impression long before you walk in the door. Continue that excellent impression in the days following, and that job could be yours.

Here's how to prepare before, on and after your job interview.

Days before . . .

Get references and letters of recommendation
Think of three to six professionals -- such as a teacher, guidance counselor, neighbor or former boss -- who you believe will give you a good recommendation. Then ask their permission to use them as references. If they say yes, get their correct title, work address and work phone number. You could also ask them to take the time to write out a general letter of recommendation for future use.

Go through life asking for referrals, recommends Marjorie Brody, author, speaker, trainer and president of Brody Communications Ltd. in Elkins Park, Pa. After a successful semester, ask for a letter of recommendation. Not just from teachers, but also teaching assistants.

Research the company
Learn all you can about the company and its business field, advises Brody. The interviewer will expect you to know something about the work you want to be doing, and about the place where you want to be doing it. It also shows you care -- which counts for something.

"Your best interviewees are the ones who've done their homework," says Brody. This shows that you are proactive, intelligent and energetic.

This research will also keep you from wasting your time interviewing for jobs that you either don't want or are not suited for. Brody adds, "Try to find out as much as possible what they're looking for to see if you're a good match."

Identify your key skills and accomplishments
Make a list and be ready to describe your strengths, skills and relevant accomplishments. With your research, you can identify qualities that the company values. Come up with a few personal examples that show you possess those qualities.

Practice the interview
Practice makes perfect, and it will give you confidence when you're truly in the hot seat at an interview. With a friend, practice responding to typical interview questions. Here are just a few:

  • How has your background influenced what you are today?
  • How do you define success?
  • What's the most difficult challenge you've overcome on a job?
  • How do you deal with deadlines?
  • Tell me something about yourself.
  • Why are you leaving your old job?
  • Why would you be good for our company?
  • Where would you like to be five years from now?

"Have answers that are clear, concise and truthful," advises Jennifer Maxwell Parkinson, president of Look Consulting International in New York. "People admire honesty and frankness."

Additionally, you'll want to have a few questions ready to ask the interviewer. For more on this topic, read "Got Any Questions?"

Test drive
If you are unsure of where to go for the interview, drive there ahead of time. This way you can be sure of the building, the time to get there and any parking difficulties.

The day before . . .

Check clothing
Check head to toe what you're going to be wearing. Make sure your clothes are clean, pressed and nice-fitting. Select clothes that are appropriate for the industry and company. What looks hot on the gym floor is not right in an office setting.

"Don't wear sweat pants," Parkinson explains. "But make sure the clothes, the shoes, the jewelry are comfortable, so you'll feel pulled together. Then you don't have to think about it and can focus on the person interviewing you."

Brody agrees, "In an interview, you want to be attentive to the interviewer. If you're worried about a skirt that's too tight, you'll be distracted."

Also, gather all the things you'll be bringing to the interview: an extra copy of your resume, references, a portfolio, a pad of paper and a pen.

Call to reconfirm
When you first make an appointment for an interview be sure to ask the name of the secretary or receptionist, says Parkinson. Then when you call back to reconfirm you can refer to them by name. "They have a lot of influence," she says.

Get a good night's sleep
It's a big day -- you'll want to be fresh and alert.

The day of the interview . . .

Get to the interview on time
Arrive 10 minutes early even. No excuses.

Last-minute check
Take a look in your car mirror or in a bathroom mirror at a location near the interview. Fix your lipstick, pull loose hairs off the shoulder of your jacket, make sure your shirt is properly tucked in and straighten your tie.

Now smile. And check your teeth for any food particles. Yuck. OK, now smile and show your confidence.

Don't forget: Ditch the gum and turn off your cell phone and beeper.

Look confident and busy
More than likely you'll end up in a waiting room for at least a few minutes. Don't get sloppy -- you are already on. Parkinson recommends, "Bring something to do -- look busy, even if it's just writing notes in a book. And don't slouch."

When the interviewer walks in, be ready to shake hands. "Remember, purses and notebooks in left hand," Brody says.

Pay attention
After all your preparation, the interview will be a snap, right? Actually, job interviews can still be a little nerve-wracking. Since you prepared, it won't be nearly as much of a struggle -- but it's vital that you listen to the interviewer. You may not get exactly the questions you practiced but variations.

If you're nervous, Brody has a solution. She says, "When you sit, keep your palms up. This lowers your blood pressure and air dries the palms."

The days after . . .

Send thank you note
Thank the interviewer(s) for taking the time to meet with you. This is a polite gesture -- and a subtle reminder to them of you, says Parkinson. Send it the day after your interview.

End your note with "I look forward to hearing from you," advises Brody.

Make follow-up call
If you haven't heard from the company and you're still interested in the job, make a quick call to the person who interviewed you or the Human Resources department. See if they are closer to making a decision and when you might expect to hear from them. Go ahead and tell them how excited you are about the prospect of working there.

Be patient
You might hear about the job right away. More likely, the company will take some time to interview candidates and then review them. If you got good vibes from the interview or the follow-up call, just be patient.

But don't quit your job search, just because you found what you think will be your dream job. It might not work out, and waiting before applying somewhere else is going to drag out your job search.

If you don't get the job, call and ask, "I'd like to know why you chose someone over me." While this may seem embarrassing, Brody says more than likely they'll answer you because it shows you want to learn.

A job interview that does not result in a job isn't a failure. You can learn from the experience, improving your interview skills for the next time.


-- Updated: March 23, 2004




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