Expert Advice for Acing Your Next Interview

You scored an interview for a great job, and the interview date is quickly approaching. Whether you've recently been laid off or you're looking for a career change, it's important to be fully prepared for your interview. We spoke to Rebecca Alimena, Human Resources Manager at HarperCollins, to find out what job recruiters are looking for and how you can stand out from the competition.

Q: If you’ve been recently laid off, what’s the best way to account for this during an interview?

A: In an interview, it is typical to be asked for the reason you are looking to change positions. Honesty is the best policy. Simply explain your situation — because of the economic downturn your employer was forced to make reductions in headcount. Interviewers understand the job market and an answer along these lines will not be a surprise. It is important in any interview to focus on the positive; the interview is your time to highlight your accomplishments and use specific situations to exemplify your skills.

Q: What are the dos and don'ts of interviews?

A: Know who you are meeting with, bring a copy (or two) of your resume, and get there early. Also, dress to impress — showing up in jeans is underwhelming. If you wear perfume, make sure it is not overpowering.

Q: What are some tips for standing out in an interview?

A: Research the company. Read their Web site and look for recent news articles about them. Impress your interviewer by showing you took the time to learn about the company, from their position in the market to new initiatives. Also, reference and ask questions about the specific position, such as structure of the group. You want to leave the interview with a clear understanding of the position. Remember, asking questions is a way of showing the recruiter how interested you are in the position.

Q: What are some questions that always trip people up?

A: Talking about the resolution of conflict in the workplace can be a stumbling block. As much as you like your current employer, no work situation is perfect and there have been challenges you have worked through. We aren't asking you to speak badly of your current employer, co-worker, or copy machine. We are looking to see how you handle challenging situations. Use this as an opportunity to speak to your resourcefulness, problem solving abilities, and ingenuity in the workplace. It is more about how you resolved the situation than what the situation was.

Q: What are some questions candidates should ask recruiters during an interview?

A: Ask about the culture of the organization. You are interviewing the company at the same time the company is interviewing you. Make sure they are the type of organization you can see yourself fitting in and working at. Also, ask recruiters about their history with the company. They are employees as well, and have valuable insight into what it takes to succeed and what the organization gives back to its employees.

Q: What are some interview tips for recent college grads?

A: This is your first job out of college and your work experience is limited. Companies aren't expecting you to have years of experience so don't embellish. While you have valuable skills to bring to the organization, you also have a lot to learn.

Q: At what point in the interview do you suggest that candidates ask about salary, benefits, vacation days, etc.? Or should they wait to speak to someone in HR about these concerns?

A: There is a reason we ask the questions we do on our application. Salary is one of our prescreen questions, so if the recruiter is meeting you then your requirements are in our range. With that said, this is your career and the benefits package is important. When you have a chance to ask questions in the interview this is the time to get the answers you need. Ask in your meeting with HR — it is their job to know policies of the company.

Q: What are some red flag statements you watch out for?

A: People who are looking for a promotion before they have started. It is important to talk about growth and the career path of the position. However, that is a different conversation than, "How quickly will I get promoted?"

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Rebecca Alimena is the Human Resources manager at HarperCollins Children's Books • Learn more about HarperCollins Children's Careers