Job searching in this economy is more difficult than ever so if you land an interview, you want to be in control of your performance. Winging it is not advisable even for a very seasoned extemporaneous speaker. Spend some time practicing and speak your message out loud with a trusted advisor or alone in front of a mirror to give yourself a competitive edge.
Videotaping your mock interview is the ultimate practice opportunity and allows you to see and hear where you need to improve. Keep in mind that some who conduct interviews are not well trained, so it's up to you to drive your proverbial career car and deliver the message you want to be heard. No matter what questions they do or don't ask, you can adeptly insert your points about why you will be a value-add to the organization.
Here are some guidelines to help you ace the interview and leave a lasting positive impression.
• Dress the Part. Bottom line, appearance counts. A Harvard Business School study found that the decision not to hire comes within the first few seconds of an interview which means the first judgment happens before you even open your mouth. Do your research on the organization and find out what the dress code is at work then dress a notch above that for the interview. Err on the side of conservatism with wardrobe. You can dress like your future colleagues when you get the job, but during the interview it's better to play it safe.
• Own Your Self Confidence. Exuding your humble confidence will put the interviewer at ease and help you establish rapport right off the bat. Carry yourself with poise, give a firm hand shake, and make eye contact with your interviewer. Don't forget to smile (You want the job, don't you!) and keep your energy level up throughout the entire session.
• Show Authentic Enthusiasm. Employers want to know why you want the job. Show an honest interest in the company and the job opportunity. With the research you conducted pre-interview, you should be able to explain why you want the job and more importantly, why you will be a good fit. In a tie-breaker situation when 2 candidates are neck-in-neck regarding skills and experience, the person who exhibits enthusiasm will always win. Apathy does not play well in a job interview.
• Behave Honorably. Never badmouth a former employer, even if you are led on by the interviewer. Always speak positively about past or current jobs and avoid the temptation to vent if you were laid off. You are never truly off the record and being positive and practicing discretion will always play in your favor. With 6 degrees of separation, your former boss just might know your future boss so play nice in the interview sandbox.
• Do Your Research. With resources like LinkedIn, you can find answers to many of your questions before the interview. Consider conducting informational interviews in advance to learn about the culture of the organization from professionals on the inside. This will also score you points with the search committee showing that you took the time to really learn about the company beyond the job posting and the website.
• Know Your Special Sauce. Be ready to articulate what distinguishes you for this opportunity. Back up your skills with specific examples and develop stories about your strengths. A great interviewer engages the listener by telling stories and not repeating canned answers. While strengths are very important, don't be caught off guard by the weakness question. Be honest about what you find challenging so your interviewer knows you have humility but keep the focus on skills and not behavioral issues when discussing a weakness.
• Mind Your Manners. Be gracious and polite to everyone you meet and plan to arrive 10 minutes early so you can breathe and focus before the interview. Keep your comments positive and your jokes rated-G. Turn off your cell phone and observe proper etiquette if you are invited to drinks or a meal after the interview. Send hand-written thank you notes to everyone you with whom you interviewed. A group note or email is a cop-out but writing a personal note is a dying art and will distinguish you favorably.
If your interviewer doesn't ask you key questions to let you showcase your skills and competencies for the position, take the opportunity to share this information before you go. You have the power to steer the conversation if you do it respectfully. Consider a practice scenario with a disengaged interviewer so you can be at your best in any situation.
The interview is the ultimate opportunity for you to articulate why you are an excellent match for a job. Take the time to practice so you are ready for a variety of tricky interview situations. This dress rehearsal is well worth the investment for a grand performance when the time comes for the real interview. Practice does make perfect!
Caroline Dowd-Higgins pens a career transition blog called "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" (www.notthecareeriordered.com). She is also the Director of Career & Professional Development at Indiana University Maurer School of Law.