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Published July 31 2010

Interview intervention: Tips to help you ace that job interview

"Just wonderful,” were the words Greg Toutges used to describe a particular resumé that came to him. It was “very readable,” used bold statements and was laid out very well.

Unfortunately, Toutges, director of career and disability services at Minnesota State University Moorhead, says that picture-perfect document was accompanied by a hand-written cover letter with poor grammar and spelling and on spiral-bound notebook paper.

As you may have guessed, the applicant didn’t get the job … or even an interview.

With only minuscule private-sector job growth for the second consecutive month, according to a recent article by the Brookings Institute, it’s not the kind of impression jobseekers hope to make with their resumés.

But if your clean, grammatically correct resumé does get you into an open job’s interview process, what do you need to do to avoid looking or sounding like a poor resumé?

Do you know how to stack the deck in your favor at the interview? Do you have a secret weapon or two up your sleeve? If you don’t, or if you just need a quick refresher course, here are a few tricks you can use during the all-important job interview.

Nice guys finish first

Katharine Brooks, author of “You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career,” says the “interview starts at the parking lot.”

You just don’t know who’s going to see you sitting in your car playing air guitar to your old Rush CD to psych yourself up for the interview. And that guy you turned to in the elevator and said “This building is sort of dumpy” may be the CEO.

“Be nice to everyone you meet” at the organization, says Jay Thoreson, director of the career center at Concordia College.

You never know who will have input into the decision to hire you … or someone else.

“If they were rude to the receptionist, I didn’t give them the time of day,” Toutges says.

Cleaning up

There’s some unavoidable law in the universe that you will spill coffee on your dress shirt within 20 minutes of an important meeting. Don’t fight it. It will happen.

The difference between you and the next guy or gal at the interview is you’ll have a remedy approved by moms everywhere: the Tide To Go pen, Shout Wipes or a similar item. These portable cleaning products can kill a little stain quickly. Nobody sees, nobody knows.

Not all messes are of the textile variety. There’s the mud on your wingtips, the 4-inch Magic Marker line your toddler drew on your face, the doughnut glaze coating the area from your hand to your shoulder, etc. A pack of moist wipes solves all of these problems and a host of other last-minute messes.

Jill Berg, president of Spherion Staffing franchise in North Dakota, says she keeps them in her own car.

The right directions

Why sweat the destination? Mapquest.com and Google Maps are easy to use and provide directions free of charge. Print them out, and take them with you to the interview.

Directions “lower your anxiety,” says interview expert Marky Stein, in an article on employment website Monster.com.

Stein also advises making a test run to the location of the interview (including parking the car) at some point before the real thing. That way you know how long the trip takes.

Dig a little deeper

You already know to learn something about the company you’re interviewing with. But Brooks suggests going broader.

If you’re applying for something in the business world, for example, read the business section of the Wall Street Journal. Whatever field you’re looking to work in, read the latest issue of the trade journal in that field prior to the interview.

It allows you to say you just saw an article in (insert publication),

Brooks says. And that makes you appear informed. Hey, it might even make you informed.

Have some questions, not just answers

You’ve drilled on every possible question you can be asked at an interview. You’re ready for anything … except what to ask them.

Toutges says if he asks an interviewee if they have questions and their response is “nope,” they’re done and their candidacy is over.

Have questions, Toutges says. “And have them typed out and with you.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734