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Ace the Interview


You don't get a second chance to make a first impression.

Many June graduates miss a basic point when interviewing for a job: You're being sized up by everyone the minute you step into the office.

You can flub a job interview by showing up late, being rude to the receptionist, dressing inappropriately, speaking poorly, presenting a coffee-stained resume or telling a stupid joke.

"You don't get a second chance to make a first impression," says Jack Rayman, Director of Career Services at Penn State University. "Conservative dress is always safe for both men and women. Inappropriate dress Minyanville's Tips for June Grads can harm your chances so dress conservatively and make your appearance a non-factor in the selection process."

This isn't to say you have to be as bland as cold toast during the interview. But remember that hiring is a conservative process handled by generally button-down people. You want to show that you're smart, serious, organized and prepared for the job.

"Employers aren't interested in seeing your individuality during the job interview," Rayman says. "There will be ample opportunity to show how innovative you are when you have a job in hand."

Research the company before you meet the recruiter. If you're interviewing at a publicly traded company, click to the Securities and Exchange Commission's website and start by reading the most recent 10-Q. If the company is privately held, click to its Web site. Know the company's competitors and what sets it part from the pack. Then read as much as you can about the industry.

Your pitch to the company should be: This is what I can do for you.

Don't assume that the personnel office has passed your material on to everyone you'll speak to so tuck plenty of extra copies in your briefcase.

If the interviewer asks for your qualifications, it's not an invitation to discuss your grade point average. The interviewer wants to know how your educational background applies to the company and the job opening. The stock question "Tell me about yourself" doesn't call for a disquisition on your academic progress since kindergarten, but a brief review of what you bring to the table.

Don't knock your school, internships or part-time jobs. If you worked a summer at a cannery or other job not related to your schooling, don't tell the interviewer how dull production line work is. Instead, say the discipline of showing up for your shift helped you better organize your study time at school. You want the interviewer to see you as serious, focused and willing to work hard.

Many young interviewees talk about money, benefits and vacation before they have a job offer in hand. This is a catastrophic mistake. Never discuss these matters until you've been offered a job. If you bring up money prematurely, the interviewer will assume that you have no real interest in the job and just want to punch the clock for a paycheck. That reduces your job prospects to zero, zilch and nothing.

Make it clear that you want the job and are willing -- eager -- to move to another part of the country to advance your career.

"Be willing to compromise in the type of work, industry, salary and location," Rayman says. "As a June graduate, you're never going to be in a better position to move because you have no mortgage or dependents."

At the conclusion of the interview, thank the interviewer for taking the time to discuss job prospects. Be sure to send a thank you letter to each person you've spoken to. In the letter, sum up your educational background and experience and tie it to the job opening. The key: Don't be bashful - or boastful.

Send slightly different versions of the letter to each person who interviewed you. An emailed note will be quick, but may get lost in the clutter and a hardcopy letter sent via snail mail may have more impact. In any case, get the thank you letters off as quickly as possible and certainly no more than two or three days after the interview.

Everything you do before, during and after the interview should build a favorable impression of you and your qualifications. Employers don't expect recent college graduates to have a lot of experience. They're looking for smarts, confidence and maturity.

Interviewing is a technique and requires practice. You'll get better. Try not to be nervous during the first few job interviews. If you prepare for each interview, you'll be OK and you'll land that first job - guaranteed.

Then all you have to do is give it your best every day.

The Web sites of major brokerage houses and banks offer solid financial tips to grads, including T. Rowe Price (TROW), Merrill Lynch (MER), JP Morgan Chase (JPM), Wells Fargo Bank (WFC) and Wachovia (WB).
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