En español | Few events in life are more nerve-racking than a job interview. You're onstage, alone, in the spotlight, with strangers grilling you to determine whether you're the best person for a job that — who knows? — could set you on a path to work you love.
"Interviews are interviews: They're scary, intimidating, and we have a lot riding on them," says John Tarnoff, a Los Angeles-based career coach. They can be even more unnerving if you're a late-career job-switcher who hasn't sat in the interview seat for 10 or 20 years.
So here's a road map to acing an interview.
Check out the potential employer. Start by going to its website. The "About" page will typically give you information about history, mission and people. Read the news or press releases page. Also check the company's LinkedIn and Facebook pages, and follow it on Twitter.
Of course, you don't want to rely entirely on what the employer says about itself. Search for it on the web and set up Google News alerts about it. Read discussions to get up to speed on what people connected to this workplace are talking about.
See if your LinkedIn network has an inside connection. If someone in your network works for the organization, or previously did, contact that person to find out more and possibly obtain the contacts of people in the department you hope to join.
Check out your interviewers. LinkedIn pages and a Google search should provide some personal background on them. Sure, employers hire for skills, but they also want to have a connection with you. Find out where people went to school and worked.
Give yourself a "faith lift." OK, you understand the organization. Now understand yourself. If you've been out of work for a while, you might be underestimating your own value. Take time to reflect on your best moments, the circumstances you shine in. Query people you trust to remind you of all those talents and skills you've honed over the years. Ask them to list two or three things you're really good at.
Practice your pitch. Get comfortable answering interview questions. They're likely to include "Tell me about yourself," "What are your strengths and weaknesses" and "Why are you a good fit for the job," says Jayne Mattson, senior vice president of Keystone Associates, a career management consulting firm headquartered in Boston. You'll need to "provide concrete examples of your work. This will show the value you will bring to the organization," Mattson says.
Make a list of points you want to convey and then practice how to bring them up if the interviewer doesn't ask about them.
If you have a job search buddy, interview each other. Consider recording your mock session on your cellphone to review and tweak your answers and presentation.
Think up questions to ask about the organization. Thoughtful questions fill out your own knowledge of an organization, but they can also convey seriousness to the interviewer. But make sure they aren't answered on, say, the employer's website. You'll look like you didn't do your homework.
Don't forget to eat. When the day of the interview arrives, start with a high-protein breakfast. Avoid sugary or starchy foods that tend to give you a quick sugar high. Drink water, but not too much. If you feel better after exercise, perform your normal routine.
Style up. Avoid looking look like you just stepped out of a time machine from the '80s or '90s. Make sure you have a fashionable suit, shoes, hairstyle and, if you wear them, glasses. Dress age-appropriate, but do keep with the style of the times.
Even if the office dress code is "business casual" or everyone wears jeans and sneakers, dress more formally. Shine your shoes.
Don't be late. Arrive 10 to 15 minutes early. If you skate in under the bell, it will show in your startled eyes, hurried appearance and damp handshake.
Turn off your cellphone. Obvious, but many people don't do this.
Pump yourself up just before the interview. As you're waiting, take some slow, deep breaths. Run through your selling points. Remind yourself that you're here to find out whether the place is a good fit for you; it's not just about selling yourself to the organization.
See also: Build Your Own Personal Business Brand
Begin your interview at the door. Greet the receptionist with the same respect that you'll show to the interviewer. Soak up the atmosphere. It will give you clues as to whether this is a place you want to hang your hat.
Be conversational. Step up to your interviewer with a firm one-handed handshake. Begin the conversation as you would with someone you've just met at a reception. These initial moments are when chemistry between the interviewer and you can spark.
Keep things relaxed but don't get too personal — hold back details on the person that your online search turned up. Commenting on pictures on the wall or on a desk accessory is acceptable. You might find a common bond if, say, you have a Labrador retriever and the person has a Lab photo displayed.
Offer your résumé before you sit down. This will make it an interactive asset, a conversation piece.
Follow the leader. Sync up with the interviewer's rhythm. Go at his or her tempo and refrain from trying to set the agenda.
Answer concisely; don't ramble. Try for a confident, calm manner. You want to show that you're decisive, organized and clear-thinking. Pause before you respond to a question — even repeat it if need be — to buy yourself some moments to gather a measured response. Don't be thinking ahead to what you want to say next about yourself.
Show your passion. You don't want to jump up and down on your chair, obviously, but don't be afraid to express your feelings about the job and your fit in assertive terms.
Pay attention to body language. Sit up straight. Maintain eye contact. A clear, direct gaze portrays candor and sincerity. But don't stare. You need to glance up or away every so often as you consider a point or shift your focus. When the interviewer begins to answer one of your questions, lean slightly forward to show interest.
If you've got a point you want to play up, a hand gesture works well. But for the most part, keep your hands laced together with your thumbs on top, resting calmly in your lap or propped lightly on the arms of your chair. Avoid nervous habits like stroking your neck or fiddling with your pen or bracelet.
Be sensitive to younger interviewers. Refrain from telling war stories about how things used to be. Interact in the same way you would with a person of your own generation.
Follow up promptly. Thank your interviewer by email within the hour, from your smartphone. And send a handwritten thank-you note the same day. Tarnoff advises you to have the note card and stamp in your pocket or bag all ready to go. Your interviewer will be impressed. "It may not get you the job," he says, "but it demonstrates your thoughtfulness and your character."
Then, relax! "Win or lose, as important and maybe even life-saving as getting this gig may be, it is ultimately out of your control," Tarnoff points out. What's important is that you've done your best.
Kerry Hannon is a career transition expert and an award-winning author. Her latest book is Getting the Job You Want After 50 for Dummies. She has also written Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness and Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy…and Pays the Bills. Find more from Kerry at Kerryhannon.com.