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Ace that job interview

By Jennie Bragg, CNN producer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- With unemployment at 9.6%, nailing that job interview is more important than ever.

But before you start interviewing for just any position that has an opening, take a step back and assess your situation. The days of resume spray and pray are over.

Acing your interview might require taking a little extra time to explore exactly what type of job is right for you.

Exploratory interview

Figure out exactly what you want out of your next job before you walk into the interview.

"People are going into interviews and they are being asked, 'Why do you want to be in sales?' And they are saying, 'I can do sales, I've done that for years but I could also do marketing,' says Ellen Gordon-Reeves, author of "Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview." "Well, you think you are being flexible, but you are really digging your own grave. You can't do your soul searching and exploration in front of a potential employer."

While you are still in the self-analyzing phase of the job search process, try an exploratory interview. You may not be sure what direction you want to take your career or if you are qualified for a certain gig. Iron out these details by talking to friends, colleagues, or career counselors in the field that you are interested in.

"Do the exploration," advises Gordon-Reeves. "But do it at the right time, in the right place, with the right people. Don't do it in a real job interview. Sometimes you only get one shot at a person with a lead. So you have to make the distinction and understand what you are saving this person for."

Informational interview

After you have completed the exploratory phase of the job search process, the best thing you can do is arm yourself with as much information as possible about the industry you are applying in and jobs you are applying for.

"Now you are saying I've identified an industry, a company or even a specific opening and I want talk to someone who can help me get that position," says Gordon-Reeves.

Career fairs, trade shows, or your college alumni office are great places to start. These events will allow you to connect with others in your field of interest and garner information necessary for actual job interviews down the road.

Be sure to convey a sense of motivation and interest to potential employers during informational interviews. While you might not be asking for a job here and now, these are people you will likely come into contact with down the road.

And be sure to acknowledge that the information the interviewee is giving you is important. Take notes when possible and follow up with a thank note or email.

Buddy up

You landed the big interview for the job of your dreams -- Congrats!

But don't go in there without a little practice.

Grab a friend, or better yet, a colleague in your industry and practice your two to three minute self-pitch for this person. Make sure to ask someone encouraging, who will focus on the helping you improve your interview style.

If your interview is over the phone, have your buddy call and ask you a few standard interview questions so you can prep your responses ahead of time.

Talkback: Do you have any job interview tips to share? To top of page

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