Top 10 tips for acing a job interview

So, your killer resume has won you an audience with an executive of the firm you’ve been aching to join. Now what?

The next milestone is: acing the job interview. But this task is easier said than done, according to top recruitment specialists.

For tips on why job searches fail click here.

For starters, the first interview rarely ends with a job offer.

Yet this initial meeting could make or break your chances of your being called in for a second interview – the one that could land you your dream job.

This is why it’s very important to make a positive first impression during this initial meeting, according to Terri Joosten, CEO of CareerDoor Inc. a Toronto-based job fair firm. CareerDoor serves as a matchmaker for employers and jobseekers.

“The problem for many applicants is getting an interview at all. That’s why – when you finally get the interview – you have to make the most of it.”

And how do you do that?

Right off the bat, candidates have to exude “confidence and competence,” says Sandra Lavoy, a vice-president with Robert Half Technology, an IT recruitment firm in Toronto.

Because time is limited, jobseekers need to craft “key messages” that cue-in interviewers to their unique qualities – that are appropriate for the advertised position, said Susan Leahy, a professional motivational speaker.

Leahy is co-founder of FreewayGuides, a Los Angeles-based developer of digital and online training guides for a wide variety of courses.

And Joosten, Lavoy and Leahy have several other great suggestions that we’ve distilled into 10 easy to remember tips that you could use to ace the job interview:

1. Research the target

Knowing a few basic facts about the company you want to work for doesn’t only tell the job interviewer you are interested in the firm, it also indicates that you’re probably not a slouch, says Joosten of CareerDoor.

“With the Internet at your disposal, there are no more excuses for a job candidate not to know things such as what a company does, who its key competitors are and what its strengths are.”

Company Web sites would be a good source for researching the corporate values and key objectives of a firm, while news items can provide information on how the company stacks up with its competitors.

Joosten suggests identifying areas where you might be able to squeeze this knowledge into the interview, and mentioning how your skills or experience could add value to the organization.

2. Prepare your key message

Before facing your interviewer, practice your “key messages” – articulating the qualities you have that the prospective employer will find ideal for the position.

Leahy said these could be split into two categories – technical and performance.

The first category will focus on your technical training and ability such as training proficiency in software or technology that is relevant to the position.

The second will deal with so-called “soft skills”, or how you perform on the job and can highlight qualities such as being a self starter or a team player.

3. Create a portfolio

Visual aids are often very useful in making sure an interviewer remembers you. A brief portfolio containing samples of your accomplishments will come in handy to show interviewers what you are capable of, according to Leahy.

The portfolio can include articles you’ve written or illustrations and Web pages you’ve developed, but candidates need not have an artistic background to create a portfolio.

“One client I had was an accountant,” Leahy said. “She created a portfolio that contained certificates of courses she took, samples of the projects she was involved in and letters of recommendation from previous bosses.”

This candidate, said Leahy, then took it one step further, by converting the portfolio to a digital file that she could e-mail in the case of a phone-in job interview.

4. Dress for success

It’s best to show up clean, neat and wearing “corporate attire” for an interview, according to Lavoy.

For men that would usually mean wearing a suit, and for women formal office attire even when applying for a junior position.

If you’re worried about appearing too formal, consider calling up reception to find out what the usual office attire is, and then “dress at least a step above that.”

Applicants should also be mindful of their body language, the Robert Half executive said. “Appropriate eye-contact, firm handshakes and good posture are always a plus. Appear composed but relaxed. Avoid fidgeting.”

5. Be an active participant

Don’t just wait for the interviewer to ask questions, ask the interviewer some questions as well.

Stay away from questions about salary, bonuses and vacations unless the interviewer mentions them or if you have been offered the position already.

When given the opportunity, candidates should ask questions that will demonstrate some knowledge of the company, the industry or the position they are applying for, said Joosten.

For instance, a candidate may inquire about the progress of recent company initiatives in a certain field that he or she is currently working in.

6. Package your skills

Chances are, the recruiter has interviewed numerous applicants with skills, training and experience similar to yours and will be hearing a lot more of the same after you leave.

Take the time to research the company’s needs or what the position demands and try to frame your assets in this context, says Joosten.

Mentioning your accomplishments and successes in a manner relevant to the job is another strategy. “If you can say something like ‘I was able to cut the project backlog in my previous job and I can use the same time-management skills in this position’ that would be a definite plus.”

7. Prepare to mention some weaknesses

Very often candidates will be asked to name their weaknesses. And it’s not easy for everyone to convincingly mention one and spin it into a positive, said Joosten.

One strategy is to mention a weakness and mention what steps you are taking to remedy the situation. For instance, you might mention you’ve always felt the urge to upgrade your Web development skills and so you’ve taken some .Net courses.

“Of course this would work much better if the position doesn’t need someone who is already proficient in .Net,” said Joosten.

For tips on the hottest IT skills and how to get training for them, click here.

8. Watch what you say and never lie

“It’s amazing how many people shoot down their opportunities with one-liners that come out of their lips,” observes Joosten.

Two of her favourite examples – and her comments:

I only want to work from nine to five – “Nobody’s going to hire someone if they think that person will be watching the clock”.

I want to get a government job – “This one was from someone applying at private firm, a definite no-no.”

Joosten also advices against fudging facts about your work experience or background. “The employer can always check”.

If you were fired from your previous job, admit it if you are asked but don’t dwell on it in your discussions. “You can always say something like ‘I’d rather not talk about it, perhaps we could discuss my accomplishments instead’.”

9. Don’t be negative

Avoid putting yourself in a negative light and do the same thing for previous bosses or employers.

“If you don’t have Canadian experience, there’s no need to raise a flag about it. Just mention the skills and experience you have and explain how this can benefit the company,” said Joosten.

And there’s absolutely no need to bad mouth about your previous employers, said Lavoy of Robert Half. “This actually reflects badly on your own image.”

She also suggests toning down self promotion. “Rather than saying ‘I managed to exceed department targets’, consider “our team managed …”

10. Close by leaving the door open

Don’t let the interview end without knowing what the next step will be, says Leahy.

Ask questions like: When will you be making the decision? How many more candidates will you be interviewing? When can I contact you for an update?

“This will help you determine how long will it take for a call back or when you can ring them up yourself.”
Always write a note to the interviewer thanking him or her for her time. Include a brief reminder about your skills and how they apply to the position.

If you don’t get the position but still want to work in the company, inform the interviewer that you would welcome another chance should another position become open.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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