REACHING the most critical stage of your job search - the interview - can cause any professional to feel downright jittery.

Interviewees who are able to clearly explain what skills and knowledge they can bring to a position are more likely to land the job than those who cannot.

According to a recent survey by global recruitment firm Robert Half International, 32 per cent of 1,400 chief financial officers at American companies said that the interview stage of the hiring process was where job applicants make the most mistakes.

Common gaffes include showing little knowledge of the position or the company, displaying an unprofessional attitude or appearance, or bringing up topics such as compensation prematurely. Such behaviour often leaves the interviewers with a negative impression.

While there is no way to guarantee your job interview will be a textbook success, preparation can tilt the odds in your favour.

Think about the time you spent creating your resum and crafting that standout cover letter. This same level of thought, effort and care should be applied in preparing for the interview.

One good way to prepare is to put yourself in the interviewer's shoes and practise responses to the types of questions you are likely to be asked.

Develop key questions and ask a friend or family member to play the interviewer's part, and provide feedback.

You will not be able to anticipate every question tossed your way. However, most questions are likely to be straightforward and designed to help the interviewer determine if you are qualified for the position and compatible with the company's overall corporate culture.

Here are tips on how to respond to some common questions:

Why do you want to work for our company?

Don't say, "Well, I've heard really good things about your company."

Such a bland response will not win an interviewer over. Instead, state specific details that will highlight your knowledge of the company and the expertise you could bring to the position.

Try saying: "I recently read an article about your company which said you were looking to focus more attention on (state the expertise areas). Given my experience in that area, I thought I would be a good fit for your organisation."

Can you tell me more about your current job?

Provide a concise summary of your current responsibilities. Emphasise skills and knowledge that you believe will be valued by your potential employer.

Even if you have a low level of enthusiasm for your current job, do not let this show. Focus on the positives instead.

For example, you could say: "I started with the company as a (state job position) and within two years, I was promoted to (state job position). Today, I manage three staff members, which has been a terrific experience because (state reasons)."

I see you have been unemployed for several months. Why did you leave your last employer, and what have you been doing during this period?

Do not get defensive when asked this. Bear in mind that it is not unusual for highly competent people to find themselves unemployed through no fault of their own.

Respond honestly with the reasons why and explain what you learned: "I was laid off from my last job, and I admit, I was surprised when it happened. Since then I've been involved in activities that make good use of my time."

It is important to demonstrate that you use your career "downtime" wisely by being engaged in creative and positive activities. You can highlight your involvement in volunteer work, mention an enrichment course you have taken up or say that you have been doing freelance work or working part-time.

Take your time

Pause to think through a question before responding. Remember, your time is just as important as the interviewer's.

Even though you should try to answer as promptly and directly as possible, it is important that you provide meaningful answers to each question.

Be professional

On the day of your interview, arrive on time and dress professionally. Even if the company has a casual work environment, your first appearance should always be formal.

Always keep your demeanour professional regardless of how the interview plays out and whether you are offered employment.

Act with grace

While this may sound like simple advice, remembering to say "thank you", shaking hands, maintaining good eye contact and giving a warm smile are all necessary to portray a positive work attitude. Be polite towards every person you encounter.

While making a great impression during the interview is important, your top priority should be projecting yourself as a true professional who would be an asset to any employer.