Ideally, an interview should be a relaxed, two-way conversation in which both you and a representative of your potential employer have the opportunity to share views and get to know each other better.
All the same, this is still a formal meeting - you are being assessed for a position - and what you say and do will be observed closely by the hiring manager.
Here are some tips on how to market yourself to advantage:
Be enthusiastic. Convey an appropriate amount of enthusiasm, warmth and sincerity - you want your interviewer to know that you want the job. Be positive, avoid negative topics and don't vent hostility. Remember to smile.
Don't fidget. Try to relax. No matter how nervous you are, do not clench your fists. Avoid fidgeting, scratching, playing with objects such as a pen or jiggling the change in your pocket. You want to appear calm and professional.
Speak clearly. Don't mumble or drop your voice to a whisper towards the end of your sentences. Modulate your voice pitch - monotone answers will give the impression that you have over-rehearsed your answers or, worse, make you sound dull and uninteresting. Also, try to avoid slang and colloquialisms such as "you know".
Communicate effectively. Mirror the style and pace of your interviewer. Answer forthrightly and stop when you have answered the question. Do not over-elaborate with details or anecdotes, and try not to ramble or interrupt.
If you do not know something, say so. Clarify a question if you do not understand it. Listen before you talk and think before you speak.
Show how your strengths and aspirations align with the company's goals, drawing on your research into the company or specific elements of its mission statement or business plan.
This tactic will help the interviewer identify your fit with the organisational culture, which is as important to the hiring decision as it is to your long-term job satisfaction.
Listen carefully. Concentrate on what the interviewer is saying and maintain eye contact 90 per cent of the time, but don't stare. Indicate your attention and understanding with nods and smiles, avoid interrupting and allow silence when thought and reflection are needed.
Is the job right for you?
Up till this point, the focus has been on convincing the organisation that you are worthy of being offered a position. But you should also stop to think if the organisation is right for you.
If your values and goals are not aligned with those of your future employer, you may have a hard time finding happiness and success within that organisation.
Therefore, clarifying your fit within the corporate culture of a prospective employer should be one of your top priorities during the interview process.
Find out by asking focused questions - besides the more obvious ones about the nature of the job and the people you will be working with - at appropriate moments of the interview.
Questions you should ask
The answers to these questions may give you insights into the realities of working with the hiring company:
1. How would you describe your management style?
After the interviewer gives his answer, ask yourself, 'Can I see myself working for this manager?'
If the person seems to be a micro-manager, and you prefer someone who looks at the big picture, you know that your styles do not match.
2. What are the most important traits you look for in a subordinate?
Asking this question gives you an opportunity to assess how well you match the qualities the hiring manager is looking for.
If, for example, you like to speak your mind and this manager or the company prefers a deferential approach, you are unlikely to be happy working here.
3. How do you like your people to communicate with you?
Does the manager prefer e-mail to an "open door" policy? If you prefer a high-touch style and have regular face-to-face communication with your manager, then you must find a manager who has the same communication expectations.
4. What are the most critical factors for success in the unit I hope to join?
The hiring manager's answer will help you to gauge how your position is viewed within the organisation - and whether you will play a significant role in the company's future.
5. Where do you see the company (or your role) in the next few years?
If the organisation seems to be stagnant and not open to change, and you don't see much room for personal or professional development, ask yourself if this is the type of organisation you want to work for.
6. If you and I were developing some philosophical differences, how would you prefer to resolve it?
The interviewer's answer will give you an insight into his communication style and his methods of resolving conflict.
This is an important issue that is best discovered before you accept the job.
Like many things in life, a successful interview - whether you accept the job or not - depends on the quality of your preparation.
The guidelines above, coupled with your pre-interview preparation and research, should help you make a good impression that lands you the job.