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Put aside dread; being prepared in a job interview is a necessity

Posted: Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Few things strike more fear into the hearts of job seekers than the interview. However, it is an essential step on the path to landing a job. Being prepared can help you avoid common interview mistakes as well as helping to ease any tension you may have about the face-to-face meeting.

Get ready

One of the biggest mistakes job candidates make actually occurs long before they even step foot in the interviewer's office: They don't do their homework.

"Visit your potential employer's Web site and download and read their last annual report," says Dianne M. Daniels, an image coach and professional speaker in Norwich, Conn. "This will give you great information."

Dave Hickman, managing partner for HirePursuit, a consulting and recruiting firm in Indianapolis, says you should do more than just go online to research the company.

"You can go online to do general research about the company and learn about their business," he says. "But to really understand the culture, you'll want to try and talk to people who worked there. Ask people what they liked and disliked about the company."

Provide examples

Once you've done your research, you'll want to make sure you have detailed answers about your accomplishments. Those who go into an interview without stories to tell or examples of what they've done are risking not getting their point across.

"Understand your strengths and think about how you've demonstrated that with a story," says Hickman. "Let's say you're good at meeting deadlines - tell them what you did to get the job done."

The more examples you can give, the more you'll show you're a good fit for the position.

"Depending upon the job requirements, you might discuss how you've developed or promoted teamwork within and between departments or handled tough customer situations," says Pamela Harper, president of Business Advancement Inc. in Glen Rock, N.J. "You can also use this information to develop questions for each interviewer."

Be honest

The Internet has made the world a much smaller place. That's why it's very easy to check out facts these days. For this reason, be sure never to exaggerate your qualifications or experience during an interview.

"Even a slight exaggeration could be seen as a career-destroying character flaw," says Daniels. "Always include the complete truth, though don't include too much detail. Be prepared to answer questions on your background that may not have been included in the job application."

At the minimum, you'll want to provide the correct facts about your previous employer, such as the name of the company, your job title, responsibilities, dates and salary.

"Ideally, be able to provide references from every employer and know what they would say about you," says Harper. "If there was a problem at a previous employer, be prepared to discuss what happened without being defensive. Turn it into a positive by discussing what you've learned as a result of the experience and how you would use this to benefit your new employer."

Best behavior

From the moment you enter the facility, you're being evaluated on how you handle yourself. Harper says many companies ask certain employees who come in contact with applicants for their impressions.

"Make sure you treat everyone, including your prospective manager, his or her managers and peers, human resources, receptionists, janitors and parking lot attendants, with courtesy and respect," she says. "You should also mind your manners, as many jobs these days require interacting with the public. Displaying appropriate etiquette is an essential job skill."

Seal the deal

Another big interview mistake comes at the very end. Even if you had a perfect interview, you'll hurt your chances greatly if you fail to close the deal by asking for the job.

"A lot of people are reluctant to ask questions like that," says Hickman. "You don't want to come off as too much of a salesperson, but you want to know where you stand. Ask a question such as, 'Based on our conversation, how do you feel I matched up?' Most people are afraid because they don't want to hear 'no'."

- Rob Kallick

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