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Sport and Competition

10 Ways to Ace a Job Interview

Give yourself an edge over your competition.

The job market is getting tougher and tougher. Improve your chances with these tips — you'd be surprised at how many people don't do these 10 things. And that gives you an advantage over your competition.

Here's where I add the caveat that every place of employment is different, and not all of these tips may apply. Take what you want, and leave the rest.

1. Do your research.

Look up the company. Look up their competitors. Read their last annual report. Know that company backwards and forwards. Know their past, current role in the market, and their goals for the future. How can you help them achieve those goals? It doesn't matter if the company has 10 employees or 10,000. Every company knows where they are now, and where they want to be. Figure out how you can be the bridge that gets them there.

If you know who will be interviewing you, look online to see if they have written any articles for professional magazines and journals — then read them. You don't have to be all, "Hey, I read your article on amazing cat toys!", but it does help to know their background and opinion on issues. It also helps if you find out that your interviewer is from the same town as your best friend's dad. Networking — it helps. A lot.

2. Role-play your interview.

The old joke goes, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice." The same thing applies for job interviews. Have a friend (preferably one with a good interview track record) play the interviewer and run through an interview from start to finish. (A list of common job interview questions and answers can be found here.) Then have your friend critique your performance. Finally, switch roles, with you as the interviewer and your friend as the interviewee. Take note of how your friend answers interview questions. Now practice again. And again.

3. Practice your handshake.

Your handshake says a lot. A nice, firm handshake says you are professional. A floppy handshake gives the impression that you are passive and lacking in social skills. Too firm of a handshake gives the impression of aggressiveness. Not fair, you say? Sure, you could argue that — and not get a second interview. Practice your handshake with a friend.

4. Learn a company's culture, but be genuine.

A business has its own culture, or set of social norms (behaviors). If you learn that the business expects you to wear a business suit, dress accordingly. If you are being interviewed in a culture that is different than your own, educate yourself. You aren't expected to follow the exact social norms when you go to a first interview, but you should at least be aware of them. How do you find out the company's culture? Get Googly. Look them up. Watch their training videos, if available online. If you know someone who has worked at the company (*if* he or she is very trustworthy) ask them about their job at the company and the "unwritten rules" of the workplace.

Remember, be genuine. Don't fake a behavior that is foreign to you. The only thing that is okay to "fake" is a feeling of confidence.

5. Look smooth when you arrive for the interview.

When you step out of your car, or walk from the train station to the building, the interviewees may be watching you from the window. (Yes, it's true.) How you carry yourself is important. This means that you wear an outfit that needs minimal to no adjusting, tugging, or any other distracting "fixes." Your outfit fits you well, and you feel comfortable in it. Women, if you are wearing heels, practice walking in them before your interview. Also, make sure the portfolio you have with you is neat and organized.

And since you know exactly where you are going and left enough time to get to the interview, you will exude ease and confidence. Walk with purpose and direction. And don't talk on your cell phone as you walk to the building. Just don't.

If you aren't feeling all confident and smooth, fake it. Act like you are. Repeat to yourself (in your head, not out loud) that you are confident. And soon you will be.

6. Be punctual, but not too early.

Arriving 15 to 20 minutes before your scheduled interview is acceptable. Any more than that, and you may be sending the wrong message. Plus if you arrive too early, the staff may feel like they need to entertain you or continue offering you coffee, etc. They're trying to make a good impression too.

Granted, if they ask you to get there 15 minutes prior to your interview to fill out paperwork, get there 25 minutes early. So what should you do if you arrive early? Take some deep breaths, repeat an affirmative saying to yourself, like "I am competent and intelligent" or "this interview is going to go really well". Sounds goofy? It works.

7. Know how to answer the infamous "What are your weaknesses?" question.

If you answer with, "I don't really have any weaknesses," it doesn't make you look confident. Instead, you look arrogant and lacking in the ability to self-reflect. Answer the question with something that is relevant to the job, and a way that you are working on improving this issue. However, you have to be careful with the answer — if you are applying for a job at a zoo, you don't want to respond with, "I'm working on my hatred of animals." Instead, you may say, "I'd like to learn more about marine conservation efforts. I'm going to be attending the Marine Conservation Conference in July so I can learn more." Phrase it as a positive. Say, "This is what I'd like to improve upon, and this is how I'm going to do that" rather than, "I'm not good at blah."

8. Know what to ask your interviewers.

Remember, you are also interviewing the company. You want to make sure that it is a good fit for you. Never respond to "Do you have any questions for us?" with "I'm good, no questions." Bzzzzz! WRONG! I'll tell you what you DON'T want to ask - "What's the salary for this position?" or "How much vacation time do we get?" You don't have the job - yet. DO consider asking about the day-to-day responsibilities of the position, the company's management style, or opportunities for growth within the company. You may also want to consider asking the interviewees what they enjoy about working for the company. Practice this part of the interview in the role play mentioned in secret #2 (above).

9. Send a "thank you" note.

Send a real thank you note. Not an email. Email thank yous just look lazy. And lazy is not the impression you want to give the interviewer(s). Mail a thank you note right away. Use a professional-looking thank you note, not your thank you notes with teeny tiny butterflies. Professional thank yous are pretty simple. They say "Thank You" on the front. That's all. Say that it was nice meeting the interviewer(s) and you look forward to hearing from the company soon.

10. Follow up.

If you haven't heard back in a reasonable amount of time ("reasonable" differs on how long the interviewer told you it would take before they made a decision), give the interviewer a call. If you didn't get the job, It's appropriate to ask what you could improve upon in the future. Never underestimate this important step. I know quite a few people that got jobs at the company of their dreams because the first candidate withdrew — and the interviewer remembered which candidates followed up after the interview process was over.

Good luck, and go get 'em!

Copyright 2012 Sarkis Media LLC

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