20 job interview success tips

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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.

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 a timeline for your pre-, during and post-interview phases:

Long before
1. Get references and letters of recommendation. Think of three to six professional associates (i.e., co-workers, former bosses) 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.

“People should be going through life asking for referrals,” recommends Marjorie Brody, author, speaker, trainer and president of Brody Communications Ltd. in Elkins Park, Pa. “In college, after a successful semester, ask for a letter of recommendation. Not just professors [but also teaching assistants and employers].”

She recommends keeping in touch with people from old jobs. She says, “Create networks on an ongoing basis.”

Days before
2. Research the company. Even before applying, learn all you can about this particular organization and the 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 does count for something.

“Your best interviewees are the ones who’ve done their homework,” says Brody. “Know who the officers of the company are. There’s so much information out there. Look up the company’s Web page.” Brody explains that this homework will show 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.”

3. Identify your key skills and accomplishments. Make a list and be ready to describe your personal and professional strengths, your transferable skills and your relevant accomplishments. With your research, you have been able to identify qualities that the company values. Come up with a few personal anecdotes that illustrate your possession of those qualities.

4. Practice the interview. Practice makes perfect, and it will give you confidence and a sense of ease when you’re truly in the hot seat at an interview. With a friend or a career counselor, practice responding with confidence 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.”

“Get interview books,” recommends Brody. “Write out the worst questions that could be asked. Role-play answering possible questions. The books will give you a list of questions and also tell you how to respond.”

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

5. Check clothing. Make sure your suit is clean, shirt ironed, and shoes polished. Now’s your chance to check whether your best outfit needs to go to the cleaners or a seamstress for repairs. If you’re going to borrow any clothing from a friend or buy a new pair of shoes, do it ahead of time so that you can be sure everything fits well.

Parkinson recommends that you select clothes that are appropriate for the industry and company. Additionally, she stresses the importance of being comfortable.

“Don’t wear sweat pants,” she explains. “But make sure the suit, 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.”

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

Day before

7. Call to reconfirm. Parkinson recommends that when you first make an appointment for an interview that you ask the name of the secretary or receptionist. Then when you call back to reconfirm you can refer to them by name. She reminds, “They have a lot of influence.”

8. Prepare clothes. Parkinson says, “Check head to toe what you’re going to be wearing.” 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, a pen.

9. Watch the weather. “If the weather’s going to be bad, be prepared,” adds Parkinson.

10. Get a good night’s sleep. It’s a big day — you’ll want to be fresh and alert.

Day of interview
11. Work it off. Parkinson suggests exercising earlier in the day if possible, to get your blood flowing and to release stress.

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

13. Last-minute check. Take a look in your car mirror or in a bathroom mirror at a location near 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. Yech. OK, now smile and show your confidence.

Don’t forget: Ditch the gum and turn off your cell phone and/or beeper.

14. 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 briefcases in left hand,” Brody says.

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

16. Relax. 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.”

Right after
17. Write it down. On a pad of paper in your car, write down your impressions of the company and the interview, and the names of your potential co-workers These notes have three uses. If you’re called for another interview, you can review what was discussed at the first one, thus preparing even better for the second. Also, if you’re offered a job, you can determine whether you want to work for this company. Finally, you can learn from any problems or successes you experienced during the interview.

Day after
18. 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.

“Recap some key interview issues that came up,” advises Brody. She says to write them “I look forward to hearing from you.”

Week after
19. Make follow-up call. If you haven’t heard from the company and you are 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.

Weeks after

20. 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. While some companies won’t call or write you when the job is filled — which is irritating as hell — others may just be taking their time.

If you don’t get the job, Brody recommends calling and asking, “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 need not be a failure. You can learn from the experience, improving your presentation and concentration for the next time.