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Preparation is the key to putting your best foot forward in a job interview. By following some basic interview advice, you'll know how to highlight your skills and qualifications to sell yourself to a prospective employer.
1. Review the Job Announcement
The job announcement explains what the employer is looking for. Think about what you have to offer that will match, and even exceed, expectations. Look online or in the classified section of a newspaper for job announcements similar to the position you're seeking. What are the skills that employers look for most often? Make a list of these skills so you can be sure to talk about them in the interview.
2. Review Your Resume
You will probably be asked to provide more details on your skills and experience. Be prepared to answer questions about jobs and accomplishments in the past, even if they took place many years earlier.
3. Prepare Answers to Common Interview Questions
There is a relatively short list of questions that interviewers typically ask. Think ahead of time what you'll say in response. Most commonly asked interview questions include the following:
- Tell me about yourself.
- What are your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses?
- Why should I hire you?
- Why do you want to work here?
- What do you know about our company?
- What are your goals?
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- Why did you leave (or are leaving) your job?
- What do you have that other candidates don't?
- What salary are you looking for?
- What's your salary history?
- What five words best describe you?
- What are three positive things your previous boss would say about you?
- Can you describe a difficult work situation and how you overcame it?
- How do you handle stress?
- What is your greatest accomplishment?
- What motivates you?
- What did you like most about your last job?
- What did you like least about your last job?
Interview Advice for Teachers
In addition to the questions above, you'll probably be asked about teaching philosophy, behavior management, working with parents and similar questions relating to the teaching profession. Interview advice for teachers recommends that you build and present a strong teaching portfolio. Included in a professional teaching portfolio are a statement of educational philosophy, your resume, evidence of continuing education and special trainings, achievements and letters of recommendation. You should also include evidence of teaching excellence, including lesson plans and samples of student work.
Interview Advice for Students
One of the challenges students face in job interviews is the lack of work experience. Many of the questions listed above can apply to you if you substitute the word "job" for "school" or "college." Interview advice for students often tells you to relate experience from group projects, a part-time job, volunteer work and extra-curricular activities to the qualifications needed for the job. Be prepared to talk about "soft" skills, which are like personality traits and applicable to almost any job. Words like "punctual," "dependable," "honest" and "team player" give an employer an idea of what you will be like as an employee.
4. Prepare a 60-Second Introduction
An interview often opens with an invitation to tell about yourself. Your introduction, sometimes called an elevator pitch, should not be a mini-biography. Every word should be chosen so that you can tell who you are and why you're right for the job. It might be helpful to write out the speech. Practice it without memorizing it word for word. You want to sound conversational.
Here are some phrases you might want to include in your response to "Tell me about yourself:"
- "I learned about your company through..."
- "I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you today because..."
- "I have a solid background in..."
- "I have a good working knowledge of..."
- "My strongest skills are..."
- "My experience includes..."
- "I'm interested in..."
- "I'm currently studying..."
- "I graduated (or will graduate) with a degree in..."
- "My goals are..."
Here is an example of a 60-second introduction by a candidate applying for a position as an executive assistant:
"Hi, I'm Michael. I appreciate that you're taking time to meet with me today. I graduated from ABC College last year with a degree in business. Since then, I've been working for a small company, mainly as assistant to the Chief Executive Officer. I maintain her schedule, prepare correspondence and handle all her travel arrangements. The company recently installed new record-keeping software and I helped her develop a training program for other employees. I feel I've gotten some really great experience that I'd love to apply to a position with greater responsibilities."
5. Decide What to Wear
As soon as you have an interview scheduled, plan your interview attire. You want to have time to try on everything and take appropriate action, if necessary. You may have to take an item to the cleaners or sew on a missing button. You may have to replace an item that is worn or no longer fits. You don't have to spend a lot of money on your interview clothing, but you do need to choose the right pieces.
Business casual is acceptable dress for most industries these days, unless you're applying for a job in a traditionally more conservative environment, such as law or finance. Find out the customary attire at your prospective place of employment. Plan your outfit accordingly. It's better to be a little overdressed than too informal.
Business Casual, Explained
Business casual is professional, neat and more comfortable than formal business wear. Women can choose a tailored dress or skirt no shorter than knee-length. Dress pants are also acceptable. A long-sleeved button-down shirt or simple blouse works well with dress or pants. Avoid overly bright colors and big prints, as well as anything too tight or revealing. Add a tailored cardigan or blazer to dress up the look, if you like. Wear neutral hose with simple black or brown pumps or flats. The shoes should have closed heels and toes.
Business casual for men is a long-sleeved button-down shirt in a light color or subtle print. A tie is optional, but if you wear one, a knit tie is a little more relaxed. You can also add a sweater, blazer or lightweight sport coat. Choose light-colored cotton pants or chinos that are well-pressed. Dress socks should match your pants and reach calf height so that bare skin is not exposed when you cross your legs. Either loafers or lace-up shoes are fine. Your shoes should be black or brown and freshly polished.
6. Look Professional
Along with choosing the right clothes, pay attention to your accessories and grooming. If you wear jewelry, keep the pieces small and limit the number you wear. Your hair should be clean, simply styled and away from your face. Men can wear beards and mustaches in today's business environment as long as they are clean and neatly trimmed. Pay attention to your hands and nails, as they will be on display during the interview. Avoid excessive length and specialty nail treatments, as they may convey the impression that you'll be too worried about your manicure to do your job. Don't wear perfume or cologne.
7. Know Where the Interview Will Be
Don't rely on GPS the day of the interview. Print out directions and, if possible, make a test run a few days before. Note how long the trip takes and whether there could be potential delays from construction or traffic. If you'll be driving, make sure you know where to park.
8. Get Ready the Night Before
Lay out your clothes and gather together everything you'll need to take with you: glasses, car keys, wallet, a copy of your resume and, if appropriate, a portfolio of work samples. If you're driving, make sure you have enough gas in the car so you don't have to stop on the way. Prepare to get a good's night sleep. Set your alarm so that you will have plenty of time in the morning.
9. Arrive at the Interview
Plan to arrive no more than 10 to 15 minutes before your interview is scheduled to start. Turn your cell phone off or put it in silent mode. Keep it in your bag or briefcase for the entire duration of the interview.
Be polite to everyone you meet, acknowledging them with a smile and a simple greeting such as "Hi" or "Good morning." You never know who is observing you and who will have some influence on the hiring decision.
Don't assume the interviewer knows your name. Offer a handshake and a greeting such as "Good morning, I'm Sara. It's nice to meet you." Make eye contact and remember to smile.
When you're shown into the room where you'll be interviewed, wait for the interviewer to be seated before seating yourself. Place a purse or briefcase on the floor next to your chair. You want them to be easily accessible, but not a distraction. Politely decline an offer of coffee or other beverage to eliminate the chance of a spill.
If you spent time planning your answers, you should be able to answer most of the interviewer's questions without rambling or taking too long to respond. Interviewers usually like to ask if you have any questions. Be prepared with one or two. Good questions to ask include "What do you like about working for this company?" and "What do you think it takes for an employee to be successful working here?"
10. Follow Up Promptly
When you return home after the interview, compose a brief email to the person you met. If you interviewed with more than one person, send a unique email to each. The email should be sent no more than 24 hours after the interview. Use the email to express your thanks for the opportunity to meet. Restate an important point. Here's an example:
Dear Ms. Jones,
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today about the executive assistant's position. After learning more about the day-to-day responsibilities of the job, my interest in the job has increased. I would welcome the opportunity to use my organizational skills to benefit ABC Company and Mr. Smith's department. You mentioned his work in developing some new training programs for employees and, as we discussed in the interview, I have recent experience with just such a project.
Please don't hesitate to reach out to me if you have further questions. I look forward to talking with you again soon.
You can also send a handwritten note of thanks. Use business stationery or, if it's professional-looking, your own personal stationery. Sending a handwritten note can really help you stand out among job candidates. It seems like a simple step, but most people don't bother to take it. Hiring managers generally agree that it's a small act that makes a big impression.
Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for eHow.com, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.