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September 07, 2009

Be Prepared: Job Interviews Are Crucial

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Be Prepared: Job Interviews Are Crucial

By The Sacramento Bee

Don't look now, but you've already blown your interview. Thing is, you probably don't even know it.

You arrived too early. You winged it. You told the interviewer everything she already knew about her company. You were too informal. You forgot about some great work you did.

Jobs are scarce and competition is fierce. Nailing the interview is key to separating yourself from the pack and landing that next job. It's important to make sure you're ready for the big day.

"Never go into an interview winging it," said Kristin Mortensen, the city of Sacramento's Career Coach for city employees. People who do "often regret that decision."

And many who think they're ready fall short.

Experts such as Jess Bushey, marketing director for the Sacramento office of employment agency Roth Staffing Cos., have seen it all too often.

Some job seekers "think they know what they're going to say, but they haven't articulated it out loud," Bushey said. "Preparation. People still don't do enough of it."

Here are some do's and don'ts to help you ace that interview.

Practice, practice, practice

It's not only how you get to Carnegie Hall, it can also put you in line for that next job.

When rehearsing, avoid buzzwords and empty phrases, Mortensen said.

Trouble comes when "you feel that it's somebody else's words you're regurgitating," she said. "You need to come up with what to say."

Bushey of Roth Staffing said she is often surprised how little interviewees know about their own work histories. "You want to know that resume inside and out," she said.

Beyond prior job experience and dates, Bushey tells prospects to prepare three universal examples of how they overcame challenges at work. "You want to cite examples - a difficult co-worker or a project. ...

"It's an employers' market, and you need to stand out for the right reason."

Arrive in a timely manner

Being a few minutes early is fine. More than that is awkward - and a little rude.

"The biggest one that sets interviewers off is definitely when you're more than 10 minutes early," Bushey said. "It's one of the biggest things I see - 25 minutes early? Unacceptable. You've already got a big mountain to climb."

The reasons? Staffs are busier than ever. More anxious, too. Waiting in the lobby makes staffers uneasy and doesn't respect the interviewer's time, she said. If you're early, review your notes in the parking lot. "Stay in the car," Bushey said.

Keep it businesslike

Even if the interview's going great, don't let down your guard. Be cordial, be professional, be polite and be engaged. But also be careful. This is an interview, not a night out with the pals.

"If you've built a strong rapport, keep on task," Bushey said. "Do not overshare. Don't get too comfortable. They may remember that off-color joke at the end instead of that 35-minute interview."

Hold the attitude

Bone up on the company by checking business Web sites like Hoover's and Manta, Bushey said. Show the interviewer that you've studied the company, but don't be boastful about it.

"You can't be too prepared, but you can be too cocky," Bushey said.

Keep your chin up

Searching for a new job is tough, discouraging work, but a prospective new employer doesn't need to know that. If there are gaps in your resume, tell the interviewer about what you've done in the interim. Are you volunteering? Maybe you've taken classes or joined a networking group.

"You don't want to give off a sense of desperation," Bushey said. "Say, 'I'm looking at different career routes' or that you're exploring different options or different industries. You want to have good posture and good eye contact. Be relaxed and be open."

Most important, stay calm and confident.

"You have to be able to tame your nerves. You can be your own best friend or your own worst enemy in an interview," Mortensen of the city of Sacramento added. "View the person as a customer who is buying your service," she said. "Tell them how you can fulfill their needs. You can convince them of that, but first, you have to believe that."

Review the interview

OK, it's the end of the day, and you've gotten out of the interview in one piece. What now? Breathe and debrief, Mortensen said. The results will help build your database for the next interview.

"Leave a notebook in the car. Take 10 to 15 minutes to decompress. Then remember what the questions were and what your responses were. It's a list that you create and grow for other interviews."

Keep the faith

People get nervous, especially before an interview, but Bushey offers these reassuring words: "Know everything will be fine. Nothing bad will happen. The interviewer is just as nervous as you are."

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