BEFORE THE INTERVIEW
To be successful in an interview three things need to happen a few days before the interview: Research, Practice, Prepare.

Research
Find out about the company you are interviewing with. One of the first questions an employer may ask is, "What do you know about us?" At the least, know what products/services the company provides, how long it has been in business and something about its reputation. Your knowledge of the company demonstrates your interest in working there.

Conduct salary research. You should find out what the market rate is for the job you are interviewing for in advance of the meeting. Take into account your experience and the location. If the salary question comes up, you will be prepared to make an educated response. You can find salary information by calling the company's human resources department, looking at job postings for similar jobs or looking at salary surveys on the Internet. (www.salary.com )

Research the interviewer. If you know the person you will be meeting, try to find out something about him/her. Perhaps the interviewer is an alumni from your school, was recently promoted or won a citizenship award. Slipping this information into a conversation will be impressive, if you do it judiciously.

Practice
Develop a 30-second commercial about yourself and practice saying it out loud. This is your response to "Tell me about yourself." Your commercial should include your education, experience and relevant skills and abilities for this particular position.

Write out 8-10 accomplishments from previous jobs, participation in clubs, volunteering or school activities. These "stories" should demonstrate your ability to get along with others, take initiative, solve problems and handle conflict. Practice telling your stories by briefly giving the background, focusing on the actions you took and ending with positive results. Employers will ask you questions that require giving examples. If you have prepared enough stories ahead of time, one of them will be appropriate for almost any question the employer asks.

You can find lists of the most commonly asked questions on the Internet or in books about interviewing. Pick the questions you think are the most difficult and practice how you will respond. Make sure you can talk about your weaknesses and mistakes in an honest way, without jeopardizing your chances of getting hired. Talk about what you have learned from your mistakes or the steps you are taking to turn a weakness around.

Prepare
Get directions to the interview site in advance. Know what route you will use and how long it will take to get there. Leave yourself plenty of time. The ideal arrival time is 10-15 minutes early.

Determine what you will wear well in advance so you can mend a missing button or wash out a forgotten stain. Good grooming is important so don't wait to schedule a much needed hair cut. Dress a step up from what you would wear on the job, but don't over dress. Avoid flashy jewelry and colognes. You want the interviewer to focus on what you are saying, not what you are wearing. If in doubt, call the human resources department and ask about the company's dress code.

Organize your paperwork in a file. You should take extra resumes, identification, licenses, certifications and work samples if appropriate. Make sure you have the information you need to fill out a job application if you haven't done so already. You should have two pens (black or blue ink) and a dictionary for good measure.

Prepare on a note pad 6-12 questions you want to ask the employer. Although most of the information will come out during the interview, you want to have a few thoughtful questions to ask during or at the end. The interviewer will be impressed that you have taken the time to prepare and shown sincere interest in the job. Avoid questions about salary and benefits. Stick with questions about the company and job responsibilities and expectations.

DURING THE INTERVIEW
If you have taken the time to research, practice and prepare, your confidence level will soar. Here is a checklist of things to remember during the interview:

• Smile and be enthusiastic.
• Offer a firm handshake.
• Don't chew gum and turn off your cell phone.
• If you are offered a beverage only drink water.
• Use good eye contact and be mindful of your body language.
• State your commercial or key benefits even if it isn't asked for directly.
• Be an active listener.
• Avoid "uhms, like, and ya know." When collecting your thoughts silence is best.
• Ask thoughtful questions and take a few notes if appropriate.
• Put a positive spin on a negative or "loaded" question.
• Avoid discussing salary. If you must respond to the salary question, give a range based on your research.
• At the end of the interview, make it clear you would like the job and ask for next steps.
• Ask for a business card and permission to contact the interviewer with additional questions.

AFTER THE INTERVIEW
Immediately after the interview, evaluate your performance. What did you do well? What do you need to work on? Were there any questions you need to rethink? Write down your thoughts so you can review them for your next interview.

Write a thank you note within 24-hours of the interview. Many job candidates don't do this, so it will set you apart. Your note may be in the form of an e-mail, typed letter or handwritten note. Thank the interviewer for the meeting, but also include a variation of your commercial or key selling points. Think of the thank you note as another opportunity to influence the employer to hire you. It is also a chance to respond to any issues that came up during the interview or mistakes you would like to correct.

Remember, many interviewers are inexperienced and not particularly fond of interviewing job candidates. They are hoping you will be the right person for the job so they can move on to other things. If you have researched, practiced and prepared you will have the confidence you need to make a good impression and enjoy the process. Happy interviewing!

Terry Pile is the principal/senior consultant at Career Advisors. She is a solutions-oriented career development professional specializing in career transition, outplacement, and workforce development. She has over 20 years of experience in corporate, government, non-profit and entrepreneurial settings. An innovative trainer and empathic coach, Terry's areas of effectiveness include working with individuals to identify their strengths and passions and develop a career destiny within their current company or for future employment. Terry is certified by the Center for Credentialing and Education as a Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF). A former Lee Hecht Harrison consultant, Terry also consults for REA Career Services, The Janus Group and the Five O'clock Club.
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