The past couple of years have been pretty rough for most American workers. With the economy stuck in neutral, many companies shed staff at a time when few other employers were looking to add new jobs. In response, most of us hunkered down like ships in a storm and hoped we weren't the next one to get a pink slip.
But with strengthening economic data, the storm clouds appear to be breaking, and employers are beginning to hire again. However, before you begin imagining yourself landing that prized job that puts you in the corner office -- or at least not in a gray cubicle -- you'll need to hone your interviewing skills.
Too many people simply assume that being qualified for a job means that they will get the job. Wrong.
First off, you are unlikely to be the only qualified person applying for the job. And second, hiring managers don't hire the most qualified person: They hire the person they most want to work with.
To win a job, you also need to work hard at turning an interview into a job offer. Here are five steps to take between landing the interview and going to it that will help you get an offer.
- Research the company. Don't just go to the Web site and check out the "About the Company" page. Comb through every section of the company's site and memorize it as if you were cramming for a test.
- Look Good. I know, I know, employers should choose the best person for the job regardless of their appearance. And bacon shouldn't taste so good and be so bad for you. Life isn't fair.
- Be nice. Remember, with each contact you make, you are being assessed. No matter if it's the CEO or the receptionist, their impressions of you are important. Be on your best behavior at all times. Whether you are on the telephone booking the appointment or sitting in the reception area, be careful. Every move counts!
- Prepare general answers. Almost every interview involves a few stock questions, such as "Why did you want to leave you current employer?" or "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" And if there are stock questions, you can bet there are stock answers.
- Close the deal. Don't walk out of the interview with any lingering questions about your ability to do the job in the mind of the employer.
Unlike a test, though, you won't have a chance during the interview to spout the six facts you learned about the company. Rather, there will likely be a random, fleeting second when a relevant fact you gained from the site will be the perfect answer to something the interviewer says. To find the right comment for that fleeting moment, you'll need wide knowledge and good judgment.
The overall goal is to appear as though you are intimately acquainted with the company and the fact that you desperately need a job has nothing to do with your desire to work for this particular firm.
Make sure to wear the right outfit at an interview. Corporate America has a uniform -- wear it. People like to hire people who look like them, and clothing is the easiest way to make this impression. An interview is not the time to dress to express your quirky side.
Also, if you don't go to the gym, you should consider starting. The first 15 seconds of an interview are critical. An interviewer will judge you first and most significantly on non-verbal cues, and having a great interview outfit alone may not be enough to make the best impression.
For example, take the question "Why do you want to leave your current job?" The correct answer incorporates phrases like, "I am looking for a company like this one," and "Your company offers a unique opportunity that is a perfect fit for me."
Take time before the interview to prepare your answers to these questions. But be careful to deliver your answers naturally. Don't seem rehearsed.
This means saying at the end, "I would really like this job. Do you have any reservations about hiring me?" This is a frightening strategy for most people because they fear the interviewer might just say, "Yeah, I got a lot of reservations about hiring you."
But the interviewer will have those reservations whether you ask or not. It's better to confront them during the interview, give your best counter arguments and let the chips fall where they may than to walk out of the room without making your case.
Nobody likes being interviewed. (For me, it has always been an unnatural cross between boasting and groveling.) But preparing for the interview will make it much less stressful and could help you land that dream job.