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Key to successful interviews lies in the details

Posted: Sunday, January 07, 2007

When interviewing for a job, it's important to speak clearly and to be honest about your past and potential. It's also essential to research the company beforehand so you'll be able to successfully navigate the interviewer's specific questions about trends or procedures. But not all jobs are won or lost by following the most obvious of interview rules. This week, we'll take a look at five secrets of a successful interview:

1. Start with small talk. Most interviewers aren't ready to dive right in to the nuts-and-bolts job questions, so take a minute or two to talk about the weather, the new year or anything else that might set a casual conversational tone for the rest of the interview. By establishing yourself as a friendly person who can converse about the daily events of life, you may help complete a strong image of yourself for the interviewer. You want to be viewed as a team player and as someone who can fit in with others. By dropping a few anecdotes about the world around you, you help set that tone.

2. Don't turn down a glass of water or cup of coffer if offered. It puts you on a more personal route with your interviewer and gives you a minute or two to scope out the office for possible clues on talking points, as well as a chance to regain your composure. Also, the cup or glass will give you something to do with your hands during awkward quiet moments. You can lean forward on the desk while holding the cup or glass, or take a quick sip if you find yourself stumbling through an answer. Finally, you'll be able to attack that dry-mouth more effectively if a drink is nearby.

3. Ask questions, but don't insult the interviewer. In other words, you won't need to tell your interviewer the obvious with thinly veiled questions like, "Why are there so many open positions?" Questions about the employer's performance should be handled carefully as well. Asking, "How will this new hire be able to contribute to the company's future growth?" is more subtle and effective than, "Are you guys still losing money?" Don't use shoptalk - just ask realistic questions about where the company has been and where it's headed. (See story, this page)

4. Whenever possible, give specific examples of the ways the company's product or service has impacted your life or how it will impact it in the future. If you don't have a personal connection, discuss a friend or family member who has used the company's product or service.

5. Don't rush. Most interviewers block out at least an hour of time for each person they speak with. Don't feel the need to tell your life story in the first 10 minutes. Instead, find ways to attach important pieces of information about yourself with various answers. You won't lose points by taking your interviewer on occasional detours. In fact, she may be more interested in your explanation of how you learned the importance of personal responsibility when you worked your way through college than your routine answer as to whether or not you prefer to work in a team setting or alone.

6. Give your interviewer something to remember you by. At this point in the candidate selection process, most job seekers are fairly similar, considering they've all been called in for an interview based on separate resumes. Your interview is your chance to stand out. Mention something exciting you did over the weekend or ask about a photo or object on your interviewer's desk. Aside from striking a personal note, you'll be able to reference this in your thank-you letter - something as simple as, "Hope you're able to catch another large-mouth bass this weekend." This gives your interviewer something to remember you by, hopefully further separating you from the others that he interviewed for the job.

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