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Five Common Interview Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Up to this point, you've conducted a flawless job search. You've developed lots of networking contacts, tailored every cover letter and resume to individual employer needs, and sent your two best suits to the cleaners regularly. Now you are ready to begin scheduling your initial group of employment interviews.

To maintain your admirable track record, you'll need to consider the following questions before you launch into your first interview. Have you spent some time contemplating how to prepare for each of your interviews, or do you plan to "wing it?" Do you have a clear understanding of what the relationship between you and the interviewer should be, or are you assuming your role will evolve in situ? Do you know what to do if you receive an offer less than what you are worth, or have you decided you will deal with that problem when and if it occurs? Have you put together a list of questions for your interviewer, or do you think it's his job to do the asking?

If you have decided to take a spontaneous approach to interviewing, stop for a moment and think about the uncanny parallel between making the right choice in your career versus finding a great marriage partner. If you make a good match, you will live with your spouse and your colleagues for years. You will spend many hours with both your personal and professional partners motivating and mentoring each other, pursuing common goals, celebrating successes and sharing failures. You will be bound financially, in sickness and in health.

Even though our career and marital relationships are both very important, we spend much longer selecting a mate than we do choosing our next job. While I don't advocate taking months or years to make a sound career move, it seems this critical decision deserves more thought and preparation than "hoping for the best." Below are some common mistakes that job seekers make on a regular basis, because they don't recognize the need to collaborate with their potential employer in selecting the best match for both parties.

1. Winging It

Any time you are heading into unknown territory, it's a good idea to do a little research in advance. Interviewing with someone you have never met isn't exactly exploring the Zambezi, but there will undoubtedly be some psychological rapids and verbal quicksand to navigate during the course of your conversation.

To prepare yourself for any eventuality, find out as much as you can about the company and job opening ahead of time. Some very useful information may include: sales volume, profit for the last several years, debt load, major products and/or services, opportunities for growth, number of employees and branches, the mission statement, corporate giving to charitable institutions, reputation and background of the management and job responsibilities. Some of this data is easily available at your local library in reference books, trade journals and annual reports. Other pieces of information, such as the management's approach to growing its employees along with the company and the job's description and compensation package, may require a little more digging. Contacts are generally the best way to capture these less tangible, but very important elements.

2. Telling the Interviewer What You Think He Wants to Hear

When you are looking for a potential marriage partner or good friend, do you represent yourself as the individual you think this person wants you to be? Or do you realize that a long-term relationship depends upon honesty and straight forward communication?

If you assume an employer-employee partnership will be a long-term association, it makes sense for both parties to be candid and open with each other from the start. Rather than approaching an interview with the goal of getting the job, look upon your initial contact as a vehicle for finding out if the organization, management and position are congruent with your skills and values. Too many job seekers pride themselves on winning the offer whether they want the job or not. Unfortunately, this misguided approach often leads to a scenario where pride goes before the fall, and the victor's spoils are not worth the battle.

3. Assuming the Interviewer Holds All the Aces

When you are looking at your interviewer from across the table, do you have the uncomfortable feeling that she is the cat and you are the canary? If you do, you are not alone. Yet many job seekers, in assuming a potential employer has her act totally together, are giving her too much credit and too little empathy. If you put yourself in her shoes for a moment, you will realize that she has as much at stake in this interview as you. What if she hires the wrong person? Someone who alienates her carefully nurtured team. Someone who isn't nearly as capable as she thought. Someone who covets her position enough to sabotage her at every turn.

She can't afford to make a mistake in choosing the best person for the job. She is under a lot of pressure, maybe even more than you. Think of her as just another nervous professional who puts on her mascara one eye at a time.

4. Leaving the Questions to the Interviewer

The last time you bought a car or a home, did you have a number of questions to ask concerning the financing, construction, reliability, etc.? Of course, you did. Is your next career move at least as important as your Lexus? Of course, it is. Do you want to impress your potential manager with your grasp of the position and knowledge of the company. Absolutely. If you agreed with the answers above, having your own list of questions for the interviewer should make a lot of sense.

Good questions serve two important functions in an interview. They give you the information you need to make an intelligent decision about the opening and they impress your interviewer. A savvy manager knows you have done your homework by the questions you ask. He realizes that you understand the position because you are prepared to discuss its potential opportunities and challenges. And he enjoys the mental gymnastics required to answer your thought-provoking questions.

5. Ignoring Red Flags

Have you ever taken a position, knowing in your gut that is wasn't the right job for you? If you have had this experience, you probably rationalized that your misgivings were groundless and would disappear once you started working. Unfortunately, it only took you one or two miserable weeks to confirm that your intuition was correct.

In our left-brained culture we tend to give little credibility to our hunches because they are instinctive and often illogical, yet, personal history usually proves they are right. The next time an interviewer embarrasses you, asks illegal questions, makes promises that are too good to be true, insults your intelligence, equivocates on an answer that should be black or white, or boasts that 60 hour weeks are "the way this company believes in doing business," finish the interview, write a pleasant, but noncommittal thank you note, and cross this job off your list. Life is too short to work with a jerk.

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