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Interviewing Dos and Don'ts

Interviewing doesn't have to be a nerve-wracking or daunting ordeal. With thoughtful preparation, a positive attitude and strong skills, you can not only survive your interviews, but you can also thrive in them. Here are 14 of my favorite dos and don'ts that will help you put your best foot forward.

DO:

Be clear on the who, what and why. You need to be clear on who you are, what you want and have to offer to the job/employer, and why you're interested in the opportunity. Knowing the who, what and why will help you clearly convey how you're unique and different from others vying for the job.

Let's take the question: Who are you? Spend some time reflecting on it. For example, if I asked you to describe yourself in one brief sentence or with five adjectives, what would you say?

Also, what do you want in a job, employer and career? You can answer this question by figuring out answers to the following: What are you are most proud of in your life? What are your strengths? What motivates you?

Be sure you've got well-thought-out answers for the above. As well, be able to answer: Why are you in this interview? In other words, why would I want to hire you?

Know your resume inside and out. Rather than listing out everything you've done in school and work, create a resume that is a compelling snapshot-displaying the highlights-of what you've accomplished and achieved in your educational experiences, work-both paid and volunteer-and to round you out, your interests and any special talents. Remember that everything on your resume is fair game for your interviewers. Make sure you can discuss what you've accomplished, how you did it and how it made a difference to others, your employer, a project or a larger goal. You should be able to talk succinctly and put meaning to anything on your resume.

Anticipate what you'll be asked. At least two weeks before the interview, jot down 10 to 20 questions you think you may be asked. Formulate key thoughts, phrases or full answers for the questions. Practice speaking them aloud so that your answers have a natural flow.

Practice with mock interviews and get feedback. Ask a friend to take you through a simulated interview. Give her your list of questions and have her add some tough ones to ask you so that you can practice being graceful under fire. Make sure to ask for honest and specific feedback on ways you can improve. Keep practicing with different friends as needed.

Do your homework. Research the industry, the company and what the job involves. Try different avenues by which to get the information you need. Learn the lingo, who the key players are in the industry, the current types of challenges and priorities, and relevant events affecting the company and the industry.

Tap your network and find people who are in the industry, individuals who work at the specific companies you're interviewing with or who do the job you're gunning for. Go to a few informational interviews to learn as much as you can about the organization and job and how you can make yourself a stronger candidate in the actual interviews. Review the company website. Read the key industry journals or periodicals. Be resourceful and efficient.

Know your weaknesses. Think about concerns the interviewer may have regarding your qualifications or background. Do you lack the years of experience, a specific skill set or education needed? Do you seem to be a job hopper-never staying at one job or company for very long? Do you seem to be all over the place with little focus in your choice of prior jobs? Think about how you will handle the worst questions that might be asked, directly and with conviction.

For example, let's say you're lacking in experience. You could talk about your ability to learn quickly and give several examples of how you took the initiative to do so. If your resume appears to lack focus, you could admit that for awhile you weren't sure what you wanted, but then convey the common themes that tie all of your work experiences together-for example, all of your jobs required creativity as well as analytical and people skills; and/or they involved working in fast-paced, team-oriented environments. You could also note that each experience helped you learn more about what you do and don't want. The point is to think about potential weaknesses in your background. Figure out how you would address them head on. Interviewers will appreciate your honesty and awareness of developmental areas.

Prepare some intelligent questions for the interviewer. When it's your turn to ask the interviewer questions, make sure you have a few ready. These can set you apart from others, show your initiative and signal your interest in the industry, company and job.

Sample questions include: What's your background and how did you get started in the industry? What do you like best and least about your work? Tell me something I might be surprised to know about the company. What are the critical success factors for someone to do well in your organization? What concerns about my background or abilities to do the job do you have that I can address right now?

DON'T:

Be afraid. Confidence is key. Have faith in yourself and your abilities. You've made it this far in the process; after all, you've scored an interview. Make the most of the opportunity. Remember, no one is better at being you than you.

Be arrogant. Confidence is a good thing, but being cocky or arrogant is a big negative. Show some humility. Articulate your achievements and strengths, but watch out for too many "I's" when there should be many more "we's" when you talk about working well with and through others to produce results. Admit if you don't know something or if you made a mistake and learned from it. Even if your interviewer's arrogant, don't be tempted to respond in kind.

Oversell. Paint an honest, clear picture of who you are, what you are capable of doing and why you would be the best person for the job. Don't sell yourself short in relaying your strengths and abilities, but be careful not to brag or embellish.

Think you have to know everything. If you're asked a question and you really don't know the answer, it's OK. You can say something like, "That's a really interesting question. May I think about that and get back to you on it?"

Focus on your mistakes. If something goes wrong in the interview, forget about it and move on. Maybe you spilled your bottle of water or you realized your shoes don't really work with your outfit. Maybe you made a joke that didn't go over well or called the interviewer by the wrong name. Apologize for the gaffe and laugh at yourself, then keep going.

Forget your etiquette. Remember the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would want to be treated. Little things can make a big difference. For example, be on time to your interview. Turn off your mobile phone and your pager. Offer a firm handshake and a smile and make eye contact when introducing yourself to your interviewer. Give him or her your full attention and interest. Engage! Don't interrupt when the interviewer is talking and don't drone on and on with your answers. Thank the interviewer enthusiastically at the end of your time together and say that you look forward to hearing about next steps.

Take a no-a rejection-as final. My mom always told me that when a door closes, there's usually a window that's open. If you are not called back for further interviews or aren't given a job offer, don't despair. Let key people in the company know you're still interested and would enjoy working with them. Ask someone you particularly connected with if you can call him or her periodically to see how things are going. Sometimes the candidates who receive the offers don't take them or other jobs open up. You want to be on the top of the potential employer's mind to be considered for a job.

Sherrie Gong Taguchi is author of "The Ultimate Guide to Getting the Career You Want ... And What to Do Once You Have It" (McGraw Hill, $14.95). She has interviewed thousands of candidates during her 17 years as VP of Recruiting for Bank of America, Director of Human Resources for Dole Packaged Foods and Assistant Dean at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She is Principal of Career Inspirations (www.career-inspirations.com).

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