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Personal Finance > Five Tips
Acing the interview
5 Tips: Put your best foot forward in a job interview.
August 6, 2004: 3:05 PM EDT
By Gerri Willis, CNN/Money contributing columnist

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Today's jobs report shows employers are still cautious about hiring. So it's more important than ever to really wow a potential employer.

Here are today's 5 Tips to help you put your best food forward and nail that interview.

1. It's not all about you.

When you're in an interview situation, or meeting someone who has the ability to hire you, if you're thinking about yourself in that interview, you're losing. You should be thinking about that person. What is it that they need? What is it that their company needs?

The idea of getting back into the workforce after a period of joblessness can be intimidating, especially in a tight job market. You're bound to feel a lot of anxiety about the interview process and getting back into the game.

But Rick Cobb, executive vice president at outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas, says if you've been out of the market for a period of time, you have to be much more careful about your tactics than other jobseekers.

Though you may be nervous as you enter meetings with potential employers, it's important not to think about yourself. Let the interviewer do the do the talking. Let them tell you about themselves and the company.

The more the person in authority talks, the more you'll learn about them. That gives you the chance to match what your skills with what they need. Remember, you're there so they can see how you're able to help them.

2. Understand how work life has changed.

Forget the water cooler. There's no standing around these days -- not now that workforces have been streamlined. If you're not hip to the changes, employers can easily screen you out.

Employers can't ask you whether you're married or have children but they can ask questions that will help them gauge your ability to transcend the boundaries of a 40-hour workweek.

They may throw a scenario at you -- what if you need to work longer hours or come in on some weekends? Before you say, "I have pottery classes on Saturday" or "the kids have soccer practice," put yourself in the employer's frame of mind. Employers don't want to hear that you can't compromise or be flexible -- especially in a time when companies are forced to do more with less staff.

You might say, for example, is that your job is important to you and cite examples about how you've gone above and beyond to get an important project done before. Show them that you're up to a challenge and you know how to go the extra mile.

3. Practice makes perfect.

If you're going to go into an interview without practicing and working on your responses, you might as well not go. You don't want to be in a situation where someone asks you a question, you answer and then that night at dinner say "Oh my god, I had a much better answer, this is what I should have said." You really need to think about the critical questions that people commonly ask.

You need to have more than one answer for any question you're going to be asked. If you fumble, it will seem like you're unprepared.

The interview table isn't where you want to be thinking of great answers. Before your meeting, you should review your work history. Think about what is it that you actually did when you were working last -- and then put that experience in different contexts.

Write a different resume for each interview you do. Review the things you've accomplished and then try to focus them towards what your potential employer's needs may be.

One mistake easy to sidestep: Don't interview at the company you've really got your heart set on first. Practice on a few potential employers you're less interested in. And hey, you never know, you might discover a great company and a great boss.

4. Consider easing in.

At a time when so many companies are reluctant to add full-time staff, easing in can be a great strategy.

If there's a way to do an interim or project-focused job, it could be your chance to show them what you're made of. If you really wow 'em, chances are you're the one they'll come back to when hiring picks up.

But don't lump part time jobs in this category. Cobb says part-time jobs are problematic because they take the momentum out of your job search and they often don't fulfill your needs.

"It's almost like subsistence in terms of food. You get enough to get by but you're not really making any progress," Cobb says.

5. Leave money for last.

While money is the reason why so many of us work, it's almost counter-intuitive to treat it like a mere detail. But talking money right off the bat is a big no-no.

Gerri Willis
5 Tips

People can easily get filtered out if they start setting limits about what they will do and how much they'll do it for. Making demands about money is a poor way to endear yourself to a potential employer.

Not only does it knock you out of the running if your price is too high, it takes the focus off of what the potential employer needs from you, the jobseeker.

Cobb advises worrying about getting the job first and negotiating later. "In the end, people will pay for what they need, but they'll pay more for someone they really like."

Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News. Willis also is co-host of CNNfn's Open House, weekdays from Noon to 12:30 p.m. (ET). E-mail comments to  Top of page

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