Some subtle tips for standout interviews

Dave Willmer suggests some dos and don'ts

In today's competitive job market, hiring managers often choose from among multiple candidates with similar skills. The interview remains their most important tool for making that decision. While most IT professionals are well versed in interview basics, many overlook the finer points of these meetings.

Concentrating on the subtle aspects of an interview can provide a distinct advantage. The "little things" don't require much work, but they can mean the difference between a job offer and a continuing search. Here are some not-so-obvious tips for interview success:

Know your interviewer. Try to find out about the hiring manager and his or her personality or preferences prior to your meeting. For example, does the person emphasise communication skills above technical problem-solving? Learning about your interviewer through your network or via LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook is not cheating (or stalking), it is further evidence of your interest in finding a fit with the company.

Loosen up. You may be eager to cut to the chase and discuss what you can do for the employer, but don't discount the value of small talk in building rapport with the hiring manager and offering a glimpse of your personality. Be prepared to chat for a couple of minutes about your drive in, the weather or a similarly light topic. An overly formal approach can lead to a stiff interaction with the interviewer that fails to give the hiring manager a sense of who you are.

Listen. A genuine two-way conversation makes a more memorable and usually more favourable impression than a recitation of speaking points. Demonstrate that your communication skills include the ability to respond thoughtfully to questions and follow the interviewer's train of thought. On a similar note, when asking questions at the end of the interview, focus them on the company's needs, not your own.

Be confident, but not arrogant. When selling yourself, think of your interviewer as a sceptical shopper. Share specific facts about your accomplishments rather than making general claims about your abilities. The more vague your statements are, the more they risk sounding self-aggrandising. Boasts such as "I turned that whole department around" won't resonate as strongly as a clear account of what you've done for past employers and how much time and money it saved them.

Be real. Present yourself as the right person for the job, not as the perfect candidate in every conceivable way. Candidates who seem too good to be true tend to be met with apprehension. You also want to make sure that you will be comfortable in the position, should you be offered it. For example, don't claim to be at ease when interacting with high-level executives if you are not, or say that you like a laid-back environment when you actually prefer a more structured one. Even if the dishonesty does not come out during the interview, it can lead you into a job or corporate environment that you simply won't enjoy.

Look sharp. While this may seem fundamental, many IT professionals still fail to dress appropriately for interviews. In a Robert Half Technology survey, 35 percent of CIOs said a business suit is the most appropriate interview attire. Another 26 percent cited khakis and a collared shirt as proper apparel, with tailored separates a close third choice, at 24 percent. Dressing professionally is easy to do, so don't take chances. Comfortable and confident body language is also commonly overlooked. Ask a trusted friend to critique your clothes and physical presence well in advance of your interview date.

Follow up with a purpose. All conscientious candidates follow up with the hiring manager after the interview. To distinguish yourself, treat the follow-up as an extension of the conversation. Use your thank-you note to reinforce a key point from your discussion or even to provide supporting evidence of your qualifications, such as a link to an article you wrote for an industry publication or the URL of your professional blog.

These days, just reaching the interview stage requires a lot of hard work. By taking a little extra time to fine-tune your approach, you can help ensure that the hiring manager gets a good look at you not only as an IT professional, but also as a potential colleague. Even if you don't receive an offer, you'll prepare yourself for an even stronger interview the next time an opportunity arises.

Willmer is executive director of recruitment firm Robert Half in the US

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