The job market is notoriously rough these days, and job seekers are constantly looking - or, at least, they should be - for ways to get a leg up on their competition. Luckily for them, folks like interview coach Stuart Taylor want to help them get the jobs they're fighting for.
Taylor, president of the recruiting company Top Performers and author of "How to Ace a Job Interview," coaches job seekers on everything from their pre-interview research to their handshake at the end of the interview, and he never lets a candidate go into an interview unprepared. "I would never send anyone out to a company that I wouldn't hire myself," he says. "It can make or break a company to have the right or wrong individual brought onto the team, so our goal is to provide top-performing individuals at all positions."
If you'd like to be a top-performing job candidate too, Taylor suggests following his tips on pre-interview research, interview etiquette and following up with your potential employer afterward.
Pre-Interview. Do your homework. Taylor says one of the biggest mistakes job candidates make before even stepping into the room is not adequately researching the company. "A lot of people show up and ask what I call 'first-level questions,'" Taylor says. Asking questions like "Can you tell me about your company?" or "What products do you make?" makes potential candidates seem ill-prepared for both the interview and the job, he says. "By gathering that information prior to the interview, you'll have a better understanding of how you can apply your own strengths to the position you are applying for," he says. "Also, it shows the interviewer that you've taken some time to research the company as opposed to just showing up, which really doesn't get you too many points."
[See: 6 Overused Résumé Statements to Nix .]
Don't limit your research to just the company you're interviewing with, though. Taylor says doing homework on yourself is equally as important as researching where you want to work. "You have to ask yourself, 'What are the strengths that I'm bringing to the table that line up with this position?'" he says.
Taylor suggests making a list of your five greatest strengths. Ideally, he says, you should have a list of your 10 greatest strengths and multiple examples to support each one. "This should be done ahead of time so you don't have to think of the best answer during the interview," Taylor says. "Rather, you [should] have rehearsed the list before the interview so that you know exactly what strengths you're bringing to the table."
On the interview. One of the most basic ways to improve your interview presence is by improving your handshake. "The handshake is a physical representation of who you are," Taylor says. "If it's too weak, or if there's no tension in it, you're really not doing yourself a service." He suggests keeping your handshake firm and professional, but not so firm that it seems like you're trying to overpower or intimidate your interviewer.
More important than the handshake is your posture. Taylor instructs his candidates to never let their backs touch the back of their chair, which forces them to sit slightly forward. "You want to exude confidence," he says. "That slight difference [in posture] makes a huge visual difference to the interviewer. It expresses interest, while sitting back in your chair says, 'Eh, I'm not really concerned.'"
[See: The ABC's of Interviewing.]
Taylor also says it's critical for a job seeker to maintain a positive attitude throughout the interview. It's fine to discuss professional problems you've faced - in fact, most companies want to see that you've been through some adversity - but you have to end the discussion on a positive note. "You should be answering the questions, 'How did I solve this?' or 'How was the situation better because I was in it?'" Taylor says. "Where people screw up is when they discuss a challenge, but leave it on a negative note or leave it open-ended. It's fine to talk about challenges you've faced, but you have to be solution-oriented."
Post interview. Treat your interviewer like a date. Just like you wouldn't want to end an enjoyable date without telling the other person how you feel, Taylor says you don't want to end an interview without expressing your interest in taking the next step in the process. "You want to tell your interviewer how excited you are about the position, reiterate your interest in taking that next step forward and actually ask for that next step," he advises.
If you think your interaction with your interviewer is over once the interview is done, think again. Similar to how your interview starts long before you enter the interview arena, Taylor says it also doesn't end when you leave. "It's important to follow up with the interviewer once you've left, and it's equally important that that sentiment manifests itself promptly and physically," he says.
Taylor suggests going to a business center - or anywhere you can access a computer, printer or paper - immediately following the interview and typing out or handwriting a thank-you note. Then, if possible, go back to your interview site and give the note to a third party to be delivered to your interviewer. "This looks phenomenal to an interviewer because it lets them know, before they've even left the vicinity, that you've followed up with them," he says.
"Little things like that make or break an interview," he adds. "Let's say you're neck-and-neck with someone, and you send a thank-you note when they don't. Well, now you're ahead of that person. Little things like sending a thank-you note an hour after your interview or a firm handshake are noticeable. They make a difference."
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