Most interviews are performance-based--they focus on your past work experience to gauge how well you might function and excel in the current job opening. An interviewer will look to see how well your skills match the position requirements, as well as if you fit into the corporate culture. Questions will often focus on the actions you took related to a specific challenge or job function, so it's important that your answers are thoughtful and an accurate reflection of your capabilities and talents.

Here's how to manage the hiring process from beginning to end, so you can nail the interview and land the job:

Before the Interview

When you see an opening that interests you, take time to do a little detective work about the company and the position. Find out what their products and services are as well as their customers, vendors and business history. Although it takes some time, this type of information will help you decide whether the job is really right for you. If possible, try to determine the daily tasks you'll be asked to perform. Do they appeal to you? Find out how your performance will be measured. Have you had past accomplishments or experiences that are similar and transferable?

The Resume

Your resume is your first introduction to the hiring manager. How you present yourself will make all the difference. Resumes that are sloppy, disorganized and riddled with misspellings will go straight into the trash. Follow the philosophy of less is more. A resume is simply a summary of your accomplishments. It should be brief, concise and action-oriented. No matter how extensive your experience, your resume should be limited to one or two pages.

Remember, the average time spent perusing a resume is 20-30 seconds. Your resume should make use of white space, and be formatted in an attractive and easy-to-read way using bold type, capitalization, underlining, italics and bullets to emphasize key points.

Cover Letter

Most hiring managers will not interview you if you send a resume without a cover letter. The cover letter gives you a unique opportunity to highlight your work experience and why you are applying for the job. Unlike the resume, the cover letter can be a little less formal and show more of your personality. You should also customize your cover letter with some specific information regarding the company, the opening and why you think you are a solid candidate. Employers will be able to tell if you send a basic, standardized cover letter. Take the time to show that you've thought about this specific job.

Highlight any recent distinctions or experiences, such as an award or what you are currently working on, and point out any accomplishments or experiences that parallel the current job requirements. Be prepared to discuss these accomplishments in detail during subsequent interviews.

Be sure to provide ALL of the information requested, such as salary requirements or your current job status. Don't phone if the company specifically asks that you don't. If you are sending a resume and cover letter electronically, you might want to imbed the electronic resume in the body of the emailed cover letter. People are often reluctant to open an e-mail attachment from an unknown sender.

The Phone Screening

The initial phone conversation will often determine whether you'll be invited for a face-to-face meeting. Be sure to LISTEN carefully and answer clearly and with ease. Often the phone screening will be to simply set up a time to meet in person, but sometimes it is a way a prospective employer uses to rule out inappropriate candidates.

Before the call, review your research and formulate your own questions. Keep pen and paper handy to write down questions as they are asked. This will allow you to focus on the question at hand without verbally "wandering" into other subjects. It also will give you some information to refer to later in a follow-up letter or at the interview itself.

The Interview

Come up with your elevator pitch - a quick, concise, verbal snapshot of your skills and talents and how they match the job requirements. The interviewer's primary goal is to determine whether you have the appropriate skills, education, motivation and character to perform successfully. In our experience, all employers are looking for the same thing--the most qualified candidate. Here are a few helpful tips to show you're the right person for the job in the interview:

  • Arrive at least five minutes early
  • Dress for success and wear business attire
  • Be well groomed, clean and modest in your appearance
  • Shake hands firmly and make immediate eye contact with a smile
  • Be articulate, and don't try too hard to impress - be yourself.
  • Look the person in the eye and show interest in what they are saying
  • Try to get the employer to talk about himself/herself. The best interviews follow the 50-50 rule: half the time you talk, the other half they talk.
  • Bring at least three clean copies of your resume, a list of your references and a business card if you have one. More and more of today's job candidates are also leaving behind professional portfolios containing artifacts of their achievements.
  • Bring a pad of paper to take notes
  • Ask for business cards from each of the people with whom you interview

After the Interview

Always send a thank you note within 24 hours to all of your interviewers. The thank you note shows that you are considerate. It also helps the employer to remember you, gives you an opportunity to reiterate your interest in the position and add anything you forgot to tell them that you want them to know.