Monday, December 22, 2008

Basic Tips to Keep in Mind when You're in the HOT SEAT

Months of hard work and waiting have finally paid off - you've got an interview for your dream job lined up first thing tomorrow morning. You've pressed your best business suit, researched the company, looked over your resume, and mentally prepared answers to several standard interview questions. What's next?

Despite all the energy that job seekers typically pour into pre-interview preparation, most of what you've learned will likely fly out the window as soon as you walk into the meeting room and shake hands with the hiring manager. While the time you spend on pre-interview preparation is always beneficial in the end, it's easy to get carried away with overly complex strategies and systems that are too vague to really come in handy when push comes to shove.

Back to Basics: An Interview Checklist

Rather than trying to understand and assimilate book-length treatises on interview theory, it's better to boil down all of the elements of success into the form of a basic checklist of interview objectives. If you're the type who tends to get nervous and flustered in stressful situations, it's particularly important to keep your interview strategy simple and easy to remember.

Just as Mission Control runs astronauts through a basic "all systems go" evaluation in the moments before takeoff, you can avoid job search disasters by getting into the habit of mentally running through a few simple goals and strategies as you begin the interview process. Here are a few basic guidelines to help you get started:

a) Arrive early. Get reliable directions the night before, and do everything in your power to show up ten minutes before your scheduled appointment. Nothing says "unprofessional" like being late to your first interview!

b) Make a good first impression. The right attitude is equal parts warmth, politeness, humble gratitude, sincerity, and enthusiasm. Lavish your full attention on everyone you encounter at the interview site, from the parking attendant to the receptionist. Greet your interviewer with a big smile and a firm handshake.

c) Sell yourself. Sure, the hiring manager has had a chance to look over your application materials, but you can't rely on your resume to help you land the job. They need to know exactly how you can help this organization succeed. Make the most compelling, persuasive case for yourself that you can muster.

d) Keep tabs on your body language. It's important to relax, but don't let yourself get too comfortable. Maintain good posture and eye contact, keep your gestures limited and controlled, and try to eliminate nervous tics.

e) Speak professionally. Try to sound like you're a natural for the job. Avoid immature-sounding speaking patterns, such as peppering your speech with too many "likes" and tilting the end of your sentences up so they sound like questions instead of statements.

f) Project poise and confidence. Walk into the room like you deserve to be there, and imagine that you've already landed the job that you're after. Try not to appear desperate to land the position, even if you really are!

g) Show what you know. You've done your research, so don't forget to show it off. Work a few key facts about the company into your answers in a natural, unpretentious way. Also, if you have experience in the field, don't be afraid to use a few technical terms if the discussion turns to shop talk.

h) Avoid negativity. Projecting an air of professionalism means staying poised and positive at all times. If you have to describe a negative situation, frame it in the most diplomatic way possible. Try not to denigrate your current or past employers or coworkers.

i) Ask smart questions. Come prepared with a few good questions about the position and your responsibilities. Also, you can highlight your ability to analyze and think quickly on your feet by posing questions about key issues that emerge during the interview.

j) End on a high note. Go out the same way you came in - with a big smile and a firm handshake. Add a sincere thanks for your hiring manager's time and consideration, and don't forget to ask about the next step in the hiring process before you make your exit.

If you have any particular issues or challenges that tend to trip you up during interviews, feel free to develop your own straightforward checklist item to help keep you on track. Then, memorize the drill and practice running through it each time you interview. Good luck!

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