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Nail Your Next Interview

It can sometimes be overwhelming . . . . most everything falls on your shoulders, including keeping the family financially stable. So, heading into an interview for a new job, or consideration for a promotion, may carry with it more stress than you’d like.

It’s stressful enough to place your ideas and YOURSELF on the line for a new job in front of a stranger – but worse when your success or failure affects more than your career goals – but also your ability to put a roof over your family’s head.

And THAT is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when you walk into an interview.

When I was married, I think the most fun I had was going on interviews. My ex-husband was the primary breadwinner, so it felt more like I was interviewing the company to determine if they fit MY needs than the other way around. This fact alone was probably the biggest reason for my relative success during interviews.

It just didn’t matter as much to me as it COULD have.

Today, interviewing for a freelance writing position causes me more stress than when I sat directly across from a CEO or medical director. My current “interviews” are nothing more than filling out applications, sending samples and answering a few questions. I’ve never spoken to the majority of my clients – but the stress is greater because the risk is greater.

No job, no money, no food, no roof.

Over the years of interviewing in front of single people, groups of people and over a computer screen, I’ve picked up a few tips. I also spent a couple of hours researching other tips from Forbes Magazine, Monster.com, Huffington Post and others to gather as many in one place to help YOU nail that next interview.

Use Your Ears First, Mouth Second

My mother used to say that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Of course, my mom wasn’t the first to say this – but it’s the first place I heard it. Interviewing is nerve wracking, and you may be focused on giving a good answer – but your best strategy is to focus on the question the interviewer is asking before forming an answer in your head.

Take a few minutes to notice how your conversations go with your friends in the next weeks. You might notice that you, like almost everyone else, starts forming your answer before your friend even stops talking!  Start listening and then take a minute to form a considered response to the entire question.

Do Your Homework

When you interview with a company you are competing against a number of other candidates that are likely as competent as you are. It’s your job to stand out from the crowd. One way to do this is by learning as much about the company before the interview as possible. In this way your questions for the interview are intelligently formed and your answers pertain to the company culture.

You’ll probably be asked the age old question, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”  While this pair of questions has been played to death, it will get asked on a regular basis. Forget the answer that turns your weakness into a strength – I’m a perfectionist, I’m too much of an achiever, I work late too often. Instead, answer the question honestly choosing your mildest weakness and a moderate strength.

Ask the Right Questions at the Right Time

The interviewer is interested if you are a good fit for the company and if you’ll excel in their corporate culture – but you are also interested in whether the company is good fit for your particular strengths.

During the interview is a good time to ask questions about the company – not about vacation time, lunch hours or schedules, but rather about the goals this department has for the next year and how your potential position fits into the plan.

Showcase Your Abilities Using the Right Adjectives

Every job position has a “perfect” employee list of adjectives. My son is interviewing for a position and was asked to write a statement about his goals and strengths. So we did a quick online search for the characteristics most sought after in this position. We picked the character traits he actually had from the list and highlighted those in his statement.

Know what the company may be looking for – independent worker, team player, compassionate, conflict resolution, negotiator – and then in short and focused responses to their questions, use the adjectives that define your real skill set in your answers.

Use examples and remember not to drone on – keep the answers short and to the point.

Positive, Positive, Positive

NEVER, NEVER badmouth a former supervisor, employer, company or co-worker – or anyone else for that matter. Your interviewer is looking for someone who fits in their company and can play with a team, even if you’ll need to be an independent worker. Negativity always loses.

Gaps in Your Employment History

Most of us have these, and your interviewer will notice them on your resume. They aren’t the red flag they used to be, but they may be relevant. How you answer depends upon your situation. Were laid off with scores of others? Did you have trouble getting a new job and so took several temporary jobs to tide you over? Be forthright, since being caught in a lie later could spell large amounts of trouble (not to mention that lying is never the answer!), but don’t dwell on the negative of the situation. Instead highlight what you learned from the situation.

Where Do You Want to be in Five Years?

Where DO you want to be in five years? Do you know? While most of America believes everyone is scrambling up the corporate ladder, this may not be your goal. First know where you want to go – or what you want to be in five years. Determine if this is part of the company you’re applying to and work it into your answer.

If it isn’t part of the current company – you’re applying for a CPA position but taking art classes at night and hope to become a sculptor – you might want to mention your love of the arts, how creative you are and how this can be an asset to the company.

After the Interview

Before you leave the interview have an understanding of the company’s timetable and what the next steps will be. If you don’t hear back within that time period, consider following up with the company. Remember to be persistent, polite and patient.

After leaving, send a personal, hand written thank you note to everyone who interviewed you. Get business cards from everyone you speak with and use them to write a short note about the person on the back. When you sit down to write your note you can include a personal comment from the interview. Send them the SAME DAY of the interview, which demonstrates your enthusiasm and organizational skills.

These notes may also be emailed – and depending upon the company may be better if emailed. A tech company will be impressed if you send them from your phone in the parking lot, while a traditional law firm may be more impressed with a hand written note.

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