When you're preparing for an interview, it's easy to get overwhelmed with all the "what NOT to do" advice you hear. But don't forget that there are also things you should do at an interview, several of which are important enough to make or break your chances of getting the job. Here's a hint: all the prep work you do to learn about the company and the time you spend choosing what to wear aren't worth a hill of beans if you can’t pass the final test -- selling yourself.
Talking about yourself makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but a job interview isn't the time to get squeamish. You can count on most interviewers asking the "why should we pick you" or "tell me something about yourself" questions, so take advantage of the opening to make your pitch. Emphasize your strengths, experience and special skills you bring to the table that set you apart from the competition. But stick to attributes that connect directly to the job you're seeking; your interviewer doesn't care that you're the queen of purse shopping, unless the job is in accessories merchandising.
Look -- and Act -- the Part
The interview outfit, leather portfolio and muted makeup are perfect, so you're good to go, right? Not so fast. You can undo the whole image if you don't carry yourself professionally during the entire process. From the minute you walk through the company’s door until you're back outside again, you want to come across as a confident, capable and polished professional. Think back to the stuff your mom told you when you had to go to a "grown-up" event as a kid: sit still, smile, look people in the eye and be polite.
Expect the Unexpected
Even if you get through all the anticipated questions and give an Oscar-worthy rendition of your "pick me, pick me!" pitch, you're not out of the woods yet. Your interviewer might throw you a curve ball to find out how well you think on your feet. A lot of candidates might handle the standard questions successfully, so how you deal with an unexpected one might be the difference between you and the rest of the pack. The key is to stay, calm, cool and collected. Take a deep breath, gather your thoughts -- and then wow the interviewer with an intelligent and creative answer.
So much emphasis is placed on answering questions in a job interview that the flip side of that equation may get overlooked: You should also prepare a few questions to ask the interviewer. No, not questions about how many vacation days you get or whether you can wear jeans on Fridays. Instead, demonstrate your knowledge about the job and the company by asking intelligent questions. For example, ask a question about the company's new product line, project or program that you read about when you did your interview research.
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- State of California: Work Smart! Tips for Success -- The Interview
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