Most of us can clearly remember the first job interview we ever had. Maybe it was for a position flipping hamburgers or perhaps as a clerk in a small bookstore. More than likely, you weren't too nervous because you were too young (and naive) to consider the consequences of doing poorly in an interview.

Today, the story has changed. People who are in the middle of their lives - and careers - are going through job interviews again as they face the painful reality that no job lasts forever. And learning that a lousy interview can land you back on the street.

"The biggest mistake people make in interviewing is deciding to wing it," says Paul D. Green, an expert on interviewing. "People think they can just do their best rather than just do their best with preparation. The three keys to good interviews are to prepare, to prepare, to prepare."

Green, who has educated managers for 25 years on how to interview and hire the right person and has interviewed more than 5,000 people, says that the biggest challenge is for the job candidate to "build a rapport faster, deeper and better than the other person being interviewed." "And you do that by being prepared to tell the interviewer what you do well," he adds.

For example, even if you think you can relate all your skills well to an interviewer, you have to consider that the job market is changing so fast you may need to reposition what you know about yourself in terms of the performance skills and technical skills today's employers are looking for.

"The technological stakes are very high, and so interviewers will often question you about computer skills," Green says. "They are also going to be more structured in how they get information on performance issues such as coping, teamwork and creativity. They're going to focus on your work habits." Green advises candidates to make a "skill-benefit statement," for the interview that is :
  1. a basic description of a skill you have
  2. a summary of the benefits the skill can generate, or your value to the organization.
For these statements, combine "I can" with "able to." ("I can program your inventory so you will be able to reorder supplies at just the right time.") Remember that these statements aren't a chance to brag - you're providing information to the interviewer, not waxing poetic about what a stupendous human being you are. In his book, Get Hired! (Bard, 1996), Green has a few other suggestions for interviews:
  • Because of legal mandates, interviews will be much more focused on the job requirements and less on your personal lifestyle and values.

  • Try to find out in advance what the job involves. Then prepare statements that emphasize the skills you have most relevant to the position. If the organization is moving to team-based management, stress the experience you have in that area.

  • Without sounding negative, compare or contrast your work with the good work of others. Try not to sound critical of co-workers or your organization, but compare your skills with a higher standard to show them in a better light to the interviewer.

  • Bring a work sample to the interview and describe the skills you used in developing it.

  • Don't give the interviewer the impression you are solely responsible for your success. Describe the opportunities you were given, then explain what you did to take advantage of them.

  • Either consciously or unconsciously, interviewers are influenced by body language. Keep your hands away from your face, sit up, lean forward and nod affirmatively to reflect confidence and pride.

SOURCE: Adapted from Anita Bruzzese, Take This Job and Thrive (Manassas Park, VA, 2000), pp. 102-103. All rights reserved.