I have some new job interviews coming up, and with so many people out of work, I know I’m probably competing with a lot more candidates than before. How can I be sure to make a great first impression, stand out from the crowd, and increase my chances of landing the job?


Good thinking. Many people feel that a job search strategy is three-pronged. It begins with refining the resume; hits the middle mark when that resume is sent in response to targeted opportunities; and ends with landing the interview. They think, “I’m done here, because at the end of the day, I am who I am.” What else can you do but show up for the interview and be you?

Actually, you can and should do quite a lot. And those who do usually land the job. This is the part of the job search where we listen closely to the Boy and Girl Scout mantra: always be prepared.

Here’s how to PREP for a solid interview:

P is for Put in the Time. You need to learn as much about your potential employer as possible before you walk into the interview. Start with some web research and scour the company web site. Read the press releases, note any awards, and be able to articulate the mission statement in your own words.

Come in with an understanding of the company’s target markets, and how the economy is likely affecting ABC Company’s specific industry. Read up on current events to make any connections between what’s happening in the business world and the potential impact on this particular company.

Find out how many people you’ll be interviewing with so that you can bring enough resume copies (and other materials, such as letters of recommendation or past project samples) for each person. Have a folio with you for note-taking and two pens in case one runs out. By doing your homework and showing up prepared, you demonstrate to the hiring manager that you are the type of person who will do the same kind of legwork for company clients.

R is for Remember to Zip It. Just because you’ve done all your homework doesn’t mean you should waltz in and try to wow the interviewer with your innumerable perspectives on what ABC Company is all about. It’s extremely important to listen more than you talk in any interview so you can learn about the corporate culture, the specifics of the job itself, and what truth may lie behind a slick web presence.

Once upon a time I conducted an interview during which the applicant never shut up. She went on and on about her industry perspectives and how she assumed my company fit into the scheme of things, but never asked me a single question about the company itself. The real kicker was when she would interrupt me and attempt to finish my sentences, assuming she knew where I was going. She guessed incorrectly and guess what? She didn’t get the job.

Your preparation will be revealed as questions are asked of you. When it’s your turn to speak, don’t pontificate about how you see things. Instead, ask focused, results-oriented questions, such as “Six months from now at a performance review, what would you like to have seen me achieve here to consider me successful and effective in my role?” or “How does the current economic climate impact ABC Company’s planning for the year ahead?”

E is for Evaluate the Competition. When researching the company you are about to interview with, spend some time researching that company’s industry in general. Who are the top ten companies in that field nationally? Globally? What’s the overall media perspective on the industry? Any new laws or regulations that will impact the business moving forward?

Think about how your skill set addresses these big picture issues. If you are interviewing with an advertising or marketing firm, for example, bring some ideas about how to leverage social media to combat what the recession has done to ad revenues. Think about what challenges the company is likely facing, and have some ideas in your back pocket should the need arise.

If you don’t have any ideas, Google the issue. Some blogger out there no doubt has come up with a list for you.

P is for Polish your Appearance. Put some thought into how you show up for an interview. Interviewers do factor this in…and rightly so. If you race into the office, breathing heavily, lamenting the traffic with a leaf in your hair and a coffee spill on your sleeve, you send a message: “I’m a mess. And I will be a mess in front of clients, the media and the Board of Directors.”

If you always wear your navy suit and pinstriped shirt to interviews, you may want to re-think that one. That may work for a law firm, but not for a web technology office. If your potential job is creative in nature, show a little flair with a colorful scarf or piece of jewelry…but don’t go nuts with loud earrings or funky shoes. Conversely, if the company is more conservative in nature, be sure to cover up that Tasmanian devil tattoo you regret from Spring Break all those years ago with a button-down that would make Ralph Lauren proud. Be clean, pressed, flossed, and deodorized.

And buttoned up, for Pete’s sake. Ladies, even a hint of cleavage is too much. I don’t care if it makes you feel like a woman; this isn’t a cocktail party. When you bare your brain instead of your breasts, you demonstrate respect for yourself, your talent and the women who came before you who fought for the equal opportunities that made this interview possible in the first place.

If you can’t afford professional attire right now, check out groups like Suited to Succeed and Dress for Success, which both provide career wear to women in need so they can show up to any interview in style.

You’re prepped. You’re ready. Now go get it.