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Question
Dear Ralph,

I have an interview scheduled for next week with a really great company.  I'm sort of anxious about it since I haven't interviewed a lot and am going a little crazy just waiting around for the day to get here.  What things can I do to get rid of the jitters and fill in the time until interview day?  Thanks.

Answer
Hi Mike,

Yours is a great question, one which faces the majority of people getting ready for an interview.

First, let's look at why you have the "jitters."  Certainly job interviewing, for most people, is a bit difficult on the nerves anyway.  But even more to the point, you may be jittery because you are anxious about the unknown.  What will they ask?  How should I act - assertive or businesslike?  What are they really looking for?  The best way to get rid of these kinds of concerns is simple: preparation.  

Here is what you should be doing.  Find out everything you can about the company.  You said this is a "really great company."  What makes them "great"?  How are they different from others in the same industry?  Look at their history, mission statement, executive officers, information about people in the department where you will potentially work, awards, recent news items about them (check websites of local newspapers or other sources), and anything else you can think of that would make you better acquainted with this institution.  In other words, by the time you interview with them, you should know more about them than they know about themselves.  

You absolutely HAVE to do this because if you don't, you are treating this interview just like all other interviews; i.e. this company is just another company.  You think this process is about you.  But that's only half the equation.  What the interview is REALLY about is how you fill their needs.  And you will only determine what their needs are by researching the company and their unique attributes.

Think of it like this: they will interview you to see what makes you special, how you can fill their needs better than the person who interviewed before you and the one who will interview after you.  As a matter of fact this forms the basis for a very common interview question: "We just interviewed a really great candidate.  Why should we even consider you?"  If you prepare properly, you will not only take a big step in the direction of understanding what the company wants and needs, you will also calm your anxiety.  When you were in school you always felt better about an exam if you had studied properly, right?  And you were anxious if you went in unprepared weren't you?  This is the same thing.  Only now, the "exam" has a big dollar sign attached to it.

I am assuming that you read the job description and qualifications carefully before you applied.  What makes your work history, education, and other qualifications special TO THIS COMPANY?  Not to ANY company, THIS one.  Everything you reference in the interview should have the company needs in mind.  You should describe how you will be an asset to this company based on what you bring to the job that fits with what they need.  And you won't really know what they need unless you do your research.

These needs will form the basis for the interview.  For instance, using the question I posed above about "why should we consider you," you will respond with something along the lines of "I noticed the job description mentioned familiarity with ABC.  I know the company has focused on ABC over the last X years which I am quite excited about.  In my last position (or in my senior year of college) I was quite active in providing solutions for ABC issues and have been interested in that kind of innovation for X years."  

You get the idea here.  You link all your responses to what they need and how you fill that need.  You don't trash anyone else, you simply emphasize your expertise and experience.  Also, don't make the mistake of thinking everyone has actually read your resume and/or cover letter.  Unfortunately, it is quite common for interviewers today to have not even looked at your app documents prior to the interview.  This is, in my opinion, not very professional.  But it is just is what it is.  So, you have to be sure you drive home the points that you want them to know about you.  Don't assume anything.  

And this brings me to the issue that should occupy a lot of your time between now and the interview.  Write out a series of interview questions you are likely to be asked and then write out a few talking points that, again, respond to the question by linking your skills with their needs.  I know what you're thinking.  "How am I supposed to know what they will ask?"  Actually, this is a lot easier than it sounds.

Interview questions normally come from about four basic categories.  I call them the Four Cs.  They are Competence, Character, Commitment, and Creativity (or Confidence).  To be prepared, you don't need to guess every question they will ask.  You only need to prepare talking points that cover each of the four categories.  They determine your qualification/skills, your likely behavior on the job, your professional goals, and your ability to think on your feet (respectively).  Though this forum doesn't allow for me to go into a lot of detail, I will be happy to send you a list of questions that will get you started if you'll drop me an email at the address below.

This preparation should be done with a person whose judgement you trust.  They can ask you questions and then give you feedback on how you responded.  There is a lot that goes into this process other than the information you impart, of course, so your partner should coach you on your body language, eye contact, sureness of delivery, and other non-informational characteristics.

If you can hone your talking points to where you are able to deliver them with ease, that nervousness you are now feeling will, to a large extent, vanish.  It will enable you to do the interview with confidence and credibility.  And that alone will go a long way toward distancing you from the other applicants (who are unlikely to do the extensive prep I have outlined for you here).

Best of luck; I look forward to getting you email.  

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Ralph D. Converse, Ph.D.

Expertise

I can answer questions about general job searches, resume construction, crafting an effective cover letter, and how to prepare for, and conduct, a winning interview. My speciality is the field of education, but I also have extensive background in business and administration. I know what works and what doesn't work and I can make your application package stand out from the rest ... because that is what you have to do.

Experience

I have interviewed for, and held, dozens of jobs in a career going back more than 42 years. I have taught at all educational levels including middle school, high school, community college, and university. In more than 42 years of experience on both sides of the job-search process, I have interviewed hundreds of applicants and have reviewed literally tens of thousands of job application packages. I am the author of 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them! I conduct workshops for job seekers in a variety of locations every year.

Publications
Music Educator's Journal, Teaching Music, Music and American Culture (forthcoming, 2013), Last Teacher Standing: The Job is Yours Now! and 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them!

Education/Credentials
B.A. New Mexico State University; M.Mus. Southern Illinois University; Ph.D. University of California and University of North Texas

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Thousands of individuals

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