I've had more than my share of interviews in the last year. Some have gone exceptionally well, others not so much. As a result, I feel as if I am somewhat qualified to pass on some interviewing tips to those of you who are new to the workforce, reentering the job market, or desperately looking for work in this crappy economy.
1) Let's back up. In order to get the interview, you must have a good resume and cover letter. Have your resume professionally written, or at the very least have someone knowledgeable about resumes look it over. (Shameless plug: That would be me.) Have several versions that you can send out based on the kind of job you're applying for (i.e. I have a resume that highlights only my writing and another that encompasses all of my marketing experience).
Target your cover letter to specific job requirements and your qualifications. Note that if you're sending it online, make sure you pull keywords from the job description itself. Many of the online job applications are electronically spit out based on matching keywords.
2) OK. You got the interview. Obviously, don't be late. That's just stupid. And unless they tell you specifically otherwise (and don't ask), dress professionally. I don't care if the office attire is jeans and a t-shirt - if they don't tell me specifically to dress casual, I'm showing up in black slacks and a nice blouse.
3) Know about the company. Take a look at their website, Google them, talk to people who might know about them. Be prepared to answer the question, "What do you know about us?" TRUE STORY: I had an interview awhile back that for various reasons I was completely unprepared for. Upon arriving I realized I knew very little about the company. Luckily, the receptionist was very chatty. I started asking her questions real casual-like about the organization and she ended up giving me a Cliff Notes version of what they did. In my interview, the director asked me what I knew about the company and I regurgitated basically what the receptionist had told me. Her response, "Well, you certainly know more about the company than anyone else we've interviewed!" Disclaimer: I would NOT suggest doing this.
4) Be prepared. Some interviewers may just tell you about the job, ask you to review your qualifications and you're on your way. Others read from a list of questions that they've been instructed by HR to ask you and every other applicant. Some may ask "behavioral" questions, such as, "If you were faced with XYZ crisis, what would you do?" Then there are the out-of-the-box questions. No lie, in one interview my final question was, "Can you name three things you can do with a straw besides drink from it?" Really, I'm not sure what my answer told him, but one of my uses was to spear the olive at the bottom of my Bloody Mary. But seriously, know the answers to "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" "Where do you see yourself five years from now?" and be able to "Think of a time when you...".
5) Know when to shut up. Don't babble. Say what you need to say then sit and wait for the next question. On the other side of the coin, "yes" and "no" are not good interview answers. Expand and take the opportunity to relate your experience to the position.
6) Sit up straight. The whole time. I know it's hard. Halfway through a long interview I have a bad habit of slouching in my chair to the point that by the end I'm halfway under the table.
7) Turn your cellphone off. Not even on vibrate - OFF. There's nothing worse than being in a quiet interview room and noticing that your purse (or pocket) is shaking.
8) Don't badmouth a previous job or boss. We've all had crappy jobs, and your interviewer may sense you've had a crappy job, and he or she might ask you if you've had a crappy job. Don't bite. Learn to be politically correct when speaking about previous employment. Badmouthing an old employer only makes YOU look bad.
9) Don't make a lot of jokes. Being humorous if you feel it's warranted is one thing. Making a joke about every question is not funny. Also, don't cuss in your interview. I know it seems obvious, but just today I said the word "sucks" in an interview. I immediately felt stupid. In some respects, an interview is not necessarily the time for a potential employer to see the "real you", so to speak.
10) Speaking of the "real you", potential employers WILL stalk you. They will Google you. They will look for you on Facebook. Or MySpace. Or Twitter. Because they can. And they should. So clean up your pages or lock them down or it may come back to bite you in the butt.
11) Ask questions. Even if you don't really have a question, ask at least one. Keep a list handy that you've written earlier just in case you draw a blank come question time. Good ones include, "What would be a typical day for this position?" "Who are your competitors?" "Where do you see this position/this company in five years?" "What would be my opportunities for advancement in this position?"
12) If you want the job, say so. My good friend turned me on to this one. I always thought it was a little "needy", but he insists it's key. At the end of the interview, shake their hand and say, "I appreciate you meeting with me, and I want you to know that I am very interested in this position."
13) And this may be your "Lucky 13". Send a thank-you note. Others may disagree, but I think an e-mail thank you is fine, especially with the speed at which employers sometimes make decisions. Best to sacrifice the snail mail for the immediacy of email.
There are tons of other tips I could add: make eye contact, don't play with your hair, don't flirt with the interviewer, bring a clean copy of your resume, a list of references and a copy of the job description, don't lie... you get the idea. Above all, be professional and personable, and SELL YOURSELF. At the same time, don't be so focused on what you're going to say that you forget to listen to what THEY have to say. The interview is a two-way street. I'm just trying to help you cruise down that road and get that job.