Interview tips to snag a good job

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When unemployment rises, the competition pool deepens. If you’re looking for work and get invited for an interview, it’s more important than ever to make a favorable first impression — as well as to avoid making a not-so-good one. Interview tips from experienced hiring managers can come to the rescue.

“You want to be the person they’ll always remember, but not as the office punch line,” says Rachel C. Weingarten, author of “Career and Corporate Cool: How to Look, Dress, and Act the Part — at Every Stage of Your Career.”

Hiring managers share their stories — good and bad — about job applicants they’ll never forget.

Avoid social media faux pas

Nearly half (46 percent) of adults are active on social networking sites, according to a PEW Internet survey. Crystal L. Kendrick, president of marketing-consulting firm The Voice of Your Customer, has seen applicants use these sites to their advantage as well as disadvantage.

One applicant used LinkedIn to look up the professional profiles of the people who would be interviewing her. “She found out how long we’ve all been there, what types of certifications we have earned, and other career-related information,” says Kendrick. “This allowed the applicant to ask questions such as, ‘I believe you’ve been here for a year. What have you learned in that year and what would you recommend to a new employee?'” Kendrick was impressed with the applicant’s level of interest.

Another candidate’s use of social networking was annoying. The applicant sent Facebook “friend requests” to employees at the company before the interview and later came to the meeting with printouts of their personal profiles. “Instead of sending friend requests to people who don’t know you, it’s better to become a fan of the company,” Kendrick says.

Do your homework

A Chippewa Falls, Wis., applicant thoroughly researched a company, reviewing their strategic plan and news coverage until she had a clear understanding of the organization’s mission and objectives. “She was able to specifically discuss and refer to our main areas of focus, our fundraising achievements over the past few years, the events that we did and their level of success,” says Linda Pophal, owner of Strategic Communications.

An applicant who worked for a competitor wasn’t as impressive, coming to the interview armed with negative stories about her former employer, and sharing copies of their communication plans and the results of their media relations efforts. Bad-mouthing former employers or sharing their proprietary information will leave interviewers wondering what will be said about their company in the future.

Use shotgun approach, but don’t shoot self

John Lala, president of Rycorp in Virginia Beach, Va., interviewed a woman for an IT specialist position. “She had every certification imaginable and was way overqualified,” Lala says. He forwarded her resume to a friend with an opening geared toward her experience. The woman ended up getting hired by another company as a result of the referral and Lala received an unexpected $1,000 finder’s fee.

Lala recalls another applicant whom he wouldn’t refer to his worst enemy. “He smelled like marijuana, called me ‘dude,’ talked bad about every boss he’s ever worked for, said that he was going to kill the person who fired him from his last job, and whined that this girlfriend was pregnant — again — and this time he wasn’t sure if he was the father,” Lala says.

Get to work before you’re hired

Diversity attorney Natalie Holder-Winfield at Quest Diversity Initiatives in Greenwich, Conn., will never forget a candidate for a public relations manager position who found leads and obtained media exposure for her firm before he was even hired. “He was my best find and is still working for me,” Holder-Winfield says.

Greg Szymanski, the director of human resources for Seattle-based Geonerco Management Corp., also interviewed a candidate who put himself to work before the interview. The applicant drove to the home sites that the company had under development and talked to the salespeople as if he were a customer. One location had no sales staff in sight and open access to the model homes. He pointed out during the interview that if nobody is in the sales office when the model homes are open for tours, it doesn’t leave a good impression and leaves us open for theft, Szymanski says. “He gave us some ideas for staffing and brought it up in a way that didn’t make him sound arrogant or leave us defensive,” Szymanski says.

Avoid flaunting your flaws

Holder-Winfield and Szymanski share stories about applicants who caught their attention in a negative way, too. Holder-Winfield’s applicant offended everyone in the waiting room by criticizing them and giving unsolicited advice. “When I met with the other interviewees, they all asked, ‘Where did you find her?'”

Szymanski interviewed an internal candidate who flipped a piece of paper across the table with a breakdown of the salary and benefits he wanted and said, “This is what it’s going to take if you want to promote me.”