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What to Put in Your Interview Prep Toolkit

Miriam Salpeter

Contrary to popular belief, the holiday season can be a great time to look for a job. Hiring continues right through the end of the year, so you'll want to be ready for interviews. Since you will no doubt be busy and distracted by activities that may seem more important than your job search, this is a good time to get your interview preparedness kit ready.

What do you need to have on hand so you can confidently interview for your targeted jobs at the drop of a hat?

Your "what to wear" kit. Do you have your interview attire clean and ready to wear? What if your dream employer calls and invites you to come in tomorrow, but you never had those new interview clothes tailored, or the dog chewed up your best shoes and you have no time to shop before the meeting? When's the last time you saw the black belt you plan to wear with your interview suit? When you are looking for a job, you should be prepared to interview at a moment's notice--literally. If someone calls, you should be able to get dressed and go. If you're not ready, now is the time to get organized.

Your marketing materials and pitch. This seems so obvious; you need to sell yourself as the best candidate. However, many job seekers miss this crucial detail: The interview is where you make it clear why an employer should hire you. Don't expect the interviewer to ask questions that naturally highlight your top qualities. It's your job to come in with a clear understanding of what the organization needs and to raise those points during your conversation with the hiring manager.

Answers for questions you don't want to address. Were you fired? Be prepared to discuss it. Did you hate your last boss? Have a good answer if and when the topic comes up. Is there a skill the employer wants that you don't have? Plan what you will say when it surfaces. When you're prepared, you will worry less about questions you'd prefer not to answer. The best approach: Do not dwell on anything negative and don't allow the interviewer to lead you down a path where you're providing in-depth responses to things you'd prefer not to discuss. Smile, give an answer that helps him or her feel confident that you're not the type of person to blabber on about negative topics, and move on.

Questions for your interviewer. It does not take a rocket scientist to identify the best types of questions for you to ask. Your interviewer hopes you're smart and capable, so ask questions proving you have both of those qualities. Don't ask anything you could easily find from online sources via the click of a mouse, but do feel free to ask the interviewer to expand on or elaborate about something you learned about the organization online. You'll be surprised by how few candidates make a point to research organizations before they interview, so any pointed questions referencing your research should help impress your interviewer. You know where you applied for jobs--keep lists of questions relevant for each targeted employer.

Your follow-up plan. Another often overlooked aspect of the interview process: Most job seekers don't send a thank you note, nor do they follow up with their interviewers. Others only send a short, generic note, but fail to make a positive impression at the follow-up stage. How can you prepare? If you meet with more than one person, make notes in between interviews. (Excuse yourself to the restroom if necessary so you have time to jot down some details about your meetings.) Be sure you have the complete names, titles, and contact information for everyone you meet; it makes following up so much easier.

Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to empower their success.

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