Once upon a time, a job seeker landed an interview, skimmed the prospective employer's annual report, wowed the hiring manager with a few company facts and strolled into his dream job.
That late-'90s fairy tale rarely comes true these days. With employers in more control of the labor market, candidates feel compelled to give it their all in their interview preparation. And that includes mounting a broad, deep search for relevant information about the position, the company, the industry and even the interviewer.
Fortunately for you, diverse resources that are free, cheap and available on the Internet, enable you to achieve that competitive edge if you're willing to put your nose to the grindstone -- or computer monitor.
Your prospective employer's corporate Web site is the best place to see the company as it wants to be seen. Do check out that annual report, but also look for a "press room" or "company news" page that links to recent news releases. As you mull all this information, consider how the open position, as detailed in the job posting, relates to the company's mission.
But don't stop there. Use the company site's search facility to query the names of the hiring manager and any others on your interview dance card. You may retrieve bio pages or press releases that give you insight into their most visible activities at the company. "Learning about the interviewer is probably the most valuable thing you can do," says Ron Fry, author of 101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions.
Practice Good Nonverbal Communication It's about demonstrating confidence: standing straight, making eye contact and connecting with a good, firm handshake. That first nonverbal impression can be a great beginning -- or quick ending -- to your interview.
2. Dress for the Job or Company Today's casual dress codes do not give you permission to dress as "they" do when you interview. It is important to look professional and well -groomed. Whether you wear a suit or something less formal depends on the company culture and the position you are seeking. If possible, call to find out about the company dress code before the interview.
3. Listen From the very beginning of the interview, your interviewer is giving you information, either directly or indirectly. If you are not hearing it, you are missing a major opportunity. Good communication skills include listening and letting the person know you heard what was said. Observe your interviewer, and match that style and pace.
4. Don't Talk Too Much Telling the interviewer more than he needs to know could be a fatal mistake. When you have not prepared ahead of time, you may ramble when answering interview questions, sometimes talking yourself right out of the job. Prepare for the interview by reading through the job posting, matching your skills with the position's requirements and relating only that information.
5. Don't Be Too Familiar The interview is a professional meeting to talk business. This is not about making a new friend. Your level of familiarity should mimic the interviewer's demeanor. It is important to bring energy and enthusiasm to the interview and to ask questions, but do not overstep your place as a candidate looking for a job.
6. Use Appropriate Language It's a given that you should use professional language during the interview. Be aware of any inappropriate slang words or references to age, race, religion, politics or sexual orientation -- these topics could send you out the door very quickly.
7. Don't Be Cocky Attitude plays a key role in your interview success. There is a fine balance between confidence, professionalism and modesty. Even if you're putting on a performance to demonstrate your ability, overconfidence is as bad, if not worse, as being too reserved.
8. Take Care to Answer the Questions When an interviewer asks for an example of a time when you did something, he is seeking a sample of your past behavior. If you fail to relate a specific example, you not only don't answer the question, but you also miss an opportunity to prove your ability and talk about your skills.
9. Ask Questions When asked if they have any questions, most candidates answer, "No." Wrong answer. Part of knowing how to interview is being ready to ask questions to demonstrate an interest in what goes on in the company. Asking questions also gives you the opportunity to find out if this is the right place for you. The best questions come from listening to what you're asked during the interview and asking for additional information.
10. Don't Appear Desperate When you interview with the "please, please hire me" approach, you appear desperate and less confident. Maintain the three C's during the interview: cool, calm and confident. You know you can do the job; make sure the interviewer believes you can, too.
According to Karsh, the employer must first determine whether you have the necessary hard skills for the position, e.g., the programming knowledge for a database administration job or the writing chops to be a newspaper reporter. "By really probing into what the candidate has done in the past, an interviewer can tap into hard skills."
But the interviewer is also looking for key soft skills you'll need to succeed in the job and organization, such as the ability to work well on teams or "the requisite common sense to figure things out with some basic training," says Terese Corey Blanck, director of student development.
"Every organization's first thought is about fit and potentially fit in a certain department," Corey Blanck says. That means the interviewer is trying to pinpoint not only whether you match up well with both the company's and department's activities but also whether you'll complement the talents of your potential coworkers.
If the organization fits well with your career aspirations, you'll naturally be motivated to do good work there -- and stay more than a month or two, Corey Blanck reasons. "I don't want someone to take the position because it's a job and it fits their skills. I want them to be excited about our mission and what we do."
You're being evaluated in relation to other candidates for the job. In other words, this test is graded on a curve. So the interviewer will constantly be comparing your performance with that of the other candidates'.
Most employers know better than to believe everyone they interview actually wants the position being offered. They understand some candidates are exploring their options, while others are using an interview with a company they don't care about to hone their interview skills.
So you have to prove you really want the job, says Al Pollard, senior college recruiter for Countrywide Financial. "I use the ditch-digger analogy: Many of us can dig ditches, but few are willing to -- and even fewer want to."