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CareerBuilder Advice

Best Impression: Interview to Get the Job
Max Messmer, Chairman and CEO, Robert Half International, Inc.

Some things may have changed about job hunting, but how you present yourself in an interview is not one of them. Despite the rosy employment picture, you are probably not going to be hired until a company has a conversation with you and decides you're the best person for the job. This is especially critical when you are up against someone with similar credentials and background, or when the qualifications for the job have more to do with interpersonal and communication skills than with technical qualifications. Here are some strategies to help you do the best job of selling yourself when meeting with a prospective employer.

Preparing for the Interview

You probably wouldn't give a presentation without advance preparation. Similarly, you don't want to go to an interview without having first done some investigative work: Do the research. Make sure you are familiar with the prospective employer's job requirements, company history, and industry. If possible, try to find out a little more about the person conducting the interview. You'll make a much better impression during your meeting if you have done your homework.

Clarify your objectives. Before pitching yourself for a position, be sure you are clear on your own interests and career goals. Be prepared to explain why you want the job and why you think you would be a good fit. Your goal should be to convince the interviewer you have what it takes to do the job.

Get your questions ready. Be an active participant in the interview by developing relevant questions, some of which may be based on your research. But asking questions is only part of the equation. Also know the value of listening well: Pay attention to and thoroughly absorb what the other person is saying. It's one of the most underrated interviewing skills. If you listen carefully to hiring managers, they will often tell you exactly what they're looking for in an employee, and you can tailor your pitch accordingly.

Don't forget the "small" things. Other things to consider as you prepare for your meeting include being aware of your posture, making eye contact, pacing your answers (not talking too fast), and avoiding any distracting mannerisms such as foot tapping or running your hands through your hair. These things may sound trivial, but you want the interviewer to focus on what you are saying not what you are doing.

During the Interview

Your first meeting with the hiring manager is likely to make the most vivid impression. This is your chance to make sure you get a favorable review. There are many things you shouldn't do in an interview, but here are some basic guidelines you can follow to start off on the right foot.

Dress smart. Don't underestimate the power of your professional appearance. This is the first time the interviewer will see you and, like it or not, what you wear could affect your chances of proceeding to the next round of interviews. Your goal should be to blend in. Whether you're applying for a position at a bank or as a merchandiser for a fashion house, dress appropriately for the job you want.

Make the best first impression. The interview begins as soon as you arrive at the company. Most businesses have a reception area where you'll wait to meet the person conducting your interview, and this is when many job seekers let their guard down. Keep in mind that you may be evaluated just as much in the waiting area as in the interview itself. Make sure you are friendly to the receptionist, office assistant, or anyone else who may greet you before and after the interview. In a recent survey commissioned by Robert Half International, 91 percent of executives said they consider their administrative assistant's opinion of job candidates an important part of the selection process for positions at all levels. If you are discourteous to a receptionist or anyone else at the company, it will negatively impact your chances of getting the job.

Asking and fielding questions. Know your resume thoroughly and be able to cite specific examples that verify the information listed. Come to the meeting prepared to defend any weaknesses in your job history. Do your best to respond to questions in an open, direct way. When executives in a survey commissioned by Robert Half International were asked to name one quality that impressed them the most about a candidate during a job interview, 32 percent said honesty and integrity were most important. Enthusiasm and verbal skills were next on their list.

Keep in mind that interviews are a two-way street. Just as the interviewer wants to know if you are right for the job, you want to know if the position is right for you. It's your opportunity to find out as many specifics about the job, the company, the culture, and the hiring manager as you can.

Closing the Interview

If you've made a good impression up to this point, you want to make sure you end on a positive note. If you decide you want the job, be prepared to say so in a clear, convincing manner.

Say thank you. Regardless of whether you feel things went well or poorly, remain friendly and courteous to the interviewer and thank him or her for taking time to meet you.

Ask when a decision will be made. Without giving an ultimatum about other job offers or deadlines you may have, politely ask when the hiring manager will be making the final decision about the position for which you are applying.

Write a follow-up letter. Send a thank-you note as soon as possible after your meeting. In a survey commissioned by Robert Half International, seventy-six percent of hiring managers noted the importance of sending a thank-you note following an interview. Your letter should express gratitude for the meeting, reinforce your interest in the job, and recap the strongest points recommending you for the position.

Like most skills, becoming an expert at interviewing takes practice. But the more you prepare for the part, the better impression you'll make on the people you meet -- and the more you'll increase your chances of securing the job offer.

Max Messmer is chairman and CEO of Robert Half International Inc. (RHI), the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with more than 270 locations throughout North America, Europe, and Australia. His most recent books include the best-selling, Job Hunting For Dummies, Second Edition (IDG Books Worldwide), Human Resources Kit For Dummies (IDG Books Worldwide) and The Fast Forward MBA in Hiring (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.).