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Survey of employers reveals the importance of preparing for interviews
Attention recent grads: It's critical to craft a flawless resume and line up strong references, but acing the interview may be the key to securing a job offer, according to a recent survey by The Creative Group.
More than one-third of executives we polled cited interview performance as the most important factor they consider when evaluating entry-level applicants. Keeping a level head throughout the application process also is important; in the same survey, 36 percent of executives said entry-level job seekers have unrealistic career expectations.
Following are tips on presenting yourself as a poised and polished professional during employment interviews:
Study up. Homework assignments don't end the day you get your diploma. Prior to your interview, thoroughly review the employer's website and social media pages, recent annual reports, and marketing materials to gain a solid grasp of the company, its mission and culture. Weave beyond-the-basics knowledge into your discussion with the hiring manager - this shows you've done your research, while highlighting your resourcefulness and sincere interest in the job.
Dress to impress. For better or worse, first impressions are largely based on appearances. Play it safe (and smart) by wearing business-appropriate attire. Even if you've learned that the office has a casual environment, err on the side of caution and dress a step above what you think is expected. Also, remember that digital devices shouldn't be seen or heard.
Be polite to everyone you meet. It's not just the interviewer who's evaluating you. Research by our firm indicates managers frequently consult their assistants and other staff members when making hiring decisions. Be friendly and courteous to every employee you encounter. You never know who might have a say in whether or not you receive an offer.
Keep your focus. Give clear, concise and thoughtful responses. For instance, when interviewers open the dialogue by saying, "Tell me a little about yourself," they're not looking for your life story or biographical details that have no bearing on your ability to add value to the job. To avoid rambling, prepare and rehearse a highly focused 45-second sound bite summarizing your most relevant skills, accomplishments and academic/internship experience.
Watch your body language. Even the most experienced professionals can find interviews intimidating. It's normal to feel a bit nervous, but do your best to relax, wear a smile and maintain good posture and eye contact. Shifting in your chair, fidgeting with your fingers or having a tense expression can send the wrong signals and distract from what you're saying.
Ask the right questions. Any question you pose should address the employer's needs, not yours. It's poor form to inquire about salary, bonuses, benefits or vacation time. You don't want to be viewed as presumptuous, overconfident or entitled. That said, be prepared to discuss compensation if the interviewer raises the subject. Research average starting salaries and trends in your industry and geographic location using resources like Robert Half's 2011 Salary Guides.
Finally, regardless of how well or poorly you think the interview went, take a moment at the end of the meeting to share your appreciation for the opportunity. Even in today's increasingly digital world, it's still wise to promptly follow up with a handwritten thank-you card. In addition to using the note to express gratitude, reiterate your interest in the position and succinctly recap why you're a great fit for the role.
Donna Farrugia is executive director of The Creative Group, a specialized staffing firm placing interactive, design, marketing, advertising and public relations professionals on a project and full-time basis. In this position, she manages operations for the firm's locations in major markets throughout the United States and Canada.
Donna has more than 25 years of marketing, business development and management experience, and holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Pittsburgh.