Your achievements and educational background set you apart from the pack. You've reworked your cover letter and résumé until both are as smooth as polished oak.
Your diligence soon pays off: You land an interview for what could be t-h-e dream job.
Congratulations, but remember: Your résumé got you in the door. Your interview skills will land the job offer (see: "Writing A Killer Résumé").
"An interview is all about your answers to the company's questions," says Brenda Greene, author of "You've Got the Interview: Now What?", scheduled to be published in November. "You got the interview because the company believes you have the necessary skills to handle the job. The interviewers are looking for 'fit.' Before making a job offer, they need to know that you mesh with the corporate culture."
Interviewers want to gain insight into how you think and react to unexpected and perhaps uncomfortable situations. A good job interviewer will deliberately try to break your stride by tossing out an odd question to see how you handle the unexpected. You're judged on both words and demeanor.
You're being prodded, tested and evaluated by everyone you speak to in a series of corporate interviews. Never let your guard down, because everything you say and do counts.
Greene says stock questions such as "Describe your strengths and weaknesses" have been replaced with tougher questions intended to reveal more about your character and how you think. Prepare for questions such as "Describe your most challenging work environment and how you dealt with it," or "Describe a project that failed" or "What's your biggest regret?"
The questions may seem irrelevant to your job skills, but hiring a new employee is expensive and time consuming. The cost of employee turnover has been estimated at $2,300 to $13,000 per worker, depending on the company and position. Major companies take one to three months to fill important slots. Still, about 22 percent of American workers voluntarily leave their jobs in less than a year.
Turnover quickly becomes expensive for a company with thousands of workers — and an immediate punch in the pocketbook for small enterprises. This focuses the attention of employers and demands great attention to small details when hiring. The result is the marathon hiring process now familiar to job hunters everywhere.
"Employers feel they can teach you needed skills quickly," Greene says. "They want integrity, because after the latest corporate scandals, companies have a vested interest in the company they keep."
Greene says employers value expertise, but place a premium on job candidates who are energetic, ambitious, hard-working, respectful, positive, efficient and trustworthy. In short, competence in your field isn't enough to get the job.
Do your homework. Read as much as you can about the company before the interview. Start with the company's Web site. Read your prospective employer's mission statement and about its products or services. If it's a public company, such as Intel, ExxonMobil or JPMorgan Chase, take the time to read deep into the annual and quarterly reports.
Basic research will show the interviewers that you're serious about working for the company, and it will also answer a basic question for you: Do you want to build a career with these guys?
Greene says those who bluff their way through an interview often become disillusioned after several months on the job, and their performance drops. This damages your future prospects. You don't want to have a lot of short stints on your résumé, because the next employer may write you off as a job hopper and figure that you'll soon become dissatisfied and quickly move on.
Prepare to meet with interviewers for about an hour. But that's often just the first round, and you can expect several rounds of interviews, especially for a high-level job. In some cases, you may meet eight to ten people in a series of interviews throughout the day. Grab the opportunity with both hands.
The company is likely to have a stack of résumés for each opening, and the first cut often is made in a telephone interview. Make notes on each job you apply for and keep them handy so you can flip through them when that call you've been waiting for comes out of nowhere.
Think of it as a pop quiz: The person calling wants a brief overview of your qualifications, skills and educational background. You must sell yourself quickly and emphatically or you won't get an interview.
Never talk money until you have an offer in hand. Your pitch must be clear: This is what I can do for you.
Be sure to ask questions at the interview. Not just any question — the right questions. Your questions should show an understanding of the company and its mission and underscore your interest in the job. Keep questions short and to the point. Don't take over the interview by turning a few pointed questions into an inquisition. A good interview is a 50-50 exchange of information: The employer is evaluating you, and you're sizing up the company, but that doesn't mean an even split of the questions.
"People are often lured by the wrong carrots," Greene says. "Many go for the money and quickly find they're miserable in a new job. Do your research and determine what's important to you in a new job."