Sept. 26, 2008 -- Congrats! Your resume has finally found its way to the top of the pile and now you're being called in to interview so they can see what you're really made of. The pressure is on, but you can thrive with proper preparation.
Don't Skip the Homework
I've interviewed many candidates who admit to not having looked at my company's Web site. They assume we'll talk about the company during the interview. When I realize that, the interview is over. Don't wing it. Invest time by going to the company's Web site to learn as much about it as possible. Find about everything you can about its position in the industry in which it operates and any current news surrounding that field. Google the person you're meeting. Prepare anecdotes to defend your resume. Many times a savvy interviewer will say, "It says here you did X. Explain that to me." This is the easiest thing for you to bat out of the park, but so many people mess up here by not prepping in advance.
Don't Ignore the Classics
From "tell me about yourself" to naming your biggest weakness to revealing what you hope to be doing five years from now, it's often the most obvious questions that candidates spend the least time preparing. That's a mistake. Click here for a series of likely and potential interview questions.
Don't Avoid Connecting Personally
By the time you've been called for an interview, an initial judgment has been made that you likely have the hard skills to do the job. Your education, experience and knowledge -- all of which are listed on your resume -- have given the employer reason to want to talk to you. A big part of the interview process is to size up your soft skills -- your personality, your work style and preferences. Will you be a good fit for the culture? Will they like working with you every day? How's the chemistry? It's critical to connect personally, which can be started through chit chat in the first three minutes. Find some kind of common ground -- local sports (wow, how about that game); a photo (oh, is that your toddler); even art or an award hanging on the office wall. This initial small talk can break the ice and set the tone for a more comfortable conversation.
Don't Shy Away From Selling Yourself
This isn't the time to fear coming across as conceited or a show-off. Trot out your best ammunition to demonstrate why you'd be an asset to the organization. Your past performance is the best indicator of your potential for future success, so be willing to talk about your proudest professional accomplishments. If it's pointed out that you're missing a key skill, don't bury your head. Explain that you're a quick study and share an example of something you had to learn previously and how you did it. Don't hold back.
Don't Discuss Special Needs in the First Meeting
Unless the interviewer brings it up first, a first interview is not the time for you to bring up money, hours or special needs like flex time. Wait until they've established a strong interest in you. If you're already talking about the hours or your desire to work from home in the first 20 minutes, you're more focused on yourself and your needs than the needs of the employer. During that first meeting, you need to put them first, not you.
Don't Be Negative About Your Past or Your Present
This includes bad-mouthing former bosses, as well as apologizing for the choices you've made. "If I had known then that it would be so hard to get back into the workplace, I never would have taken time out for my kids." If you are feeling any panic or desperation, hide it. The mortgage is overdue, you're going through a divorce, you've got child-care or elder-care issues; we all have personal challenges, but the interview is not the place to share this kind of baggage. Keep it to yourself. Don't wear your heart on your sleeve.
Don't Miss Chance to Ask Smart Questions
Now is the moment to really sell yourself and you can do that not just by answering questions but also by asking smart questions. Some questions you should ask include: Why is this position vacant? Maybe someone was promoted from within -- a good sign. Maybe there's high turnover. You don't want to discover on Day One that you're the sixth person in three months to sit at that desk. Another key question: What's the biggest challenge (or goal) facing this department and how do you plan to tackle it? Not only do these questions make you appear curious and engaged, they offer good insights to what you might be stepping into.
Don't Fidget and Don't Rush
This means don't pick your nails or flip your hair, which convey a lack of confidence. Turn off the cell phone and pager. Sit still; don't tap your feet or sway in your seat. Make strong eye contact. Take your time answering questions, even if it means pausing for a few seconds to collect your thoughts before responding.
Don't Leave Without Establishing the Next Step
It's hard to get someone on the phone, so while you are still face-to-face in the interview, don't leave without determining the next steps. Ask directly: What are the next steps? Will I be expected to meet with other people? How soon do you expect to bring someone on board? If I don't hear from you, what's the best method for me to follow up with you? The responses help manage your own time frame and expectations and enable you to follow up effectively to ideally land the job.
Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women for Hire. Connect with her online at www.womenforhire.com.