How to Nail Your Job Interview

Here's how to fight the panic.

Classic suits for a day at the office
(Image credit: Joshua Jordan)

Fight the Panic!

You've nabbed the elusive interview. Now what? We asked career coach Nicole Williams, author of Earn What You're Worth, how to close the deal.

MC: How do I mentally gear up for an interview - other than blasting the 8 Mile soundtrack?

NW: I'm always surprised by how many people give up before they enter the room. They buy into the hype - that there are so many more qualified applicants, that no one's hiring - and assume they're not going to get the job. You've got to go into every interview believing this is the one you're going to nail.

MC: In a room full of candidates, all tricked out in their Ann Taylor pantsuits, what can I do to set myself apart?

NW: Don't underestimate the power of the nonverbal. You'd be amazed how many people come in for interviews with poor posture, weak handshakes, and blank stares.

MC: At the end of an interview, I'm always asked if I have any questions about the company. How should I answer?

NW: The best questions are of the get-to-know-them variety: What do you enjoy most about working here? What attracted you to the company? The worst: How many sick days am I allowed?

MC: Is it career suicide to take a pay cut or lesser title just to start bringing in a paycheck again?

NW: A lower-paying job can still help you advance your career. Ask yourself, What skill am I going to learn here? Will I meet people who will be useful to me down the road? Who knows what could happen - maybe the head of marketing leaves and you can score her position.

MC: Should I mention in an interview that I'm available for freelance work?

NW: Only if you mean it. Freelance isn't for everyone - you've got to be aggressive and enjoy working alone. But you could make more money than you ever imagined.
- By Julia Scirrotto

Dubious Gigs

Need to earn some cheddar, pronto? There's always Craigslist.

Mandarin lyric translator, $35/song, Atlanta

Bud Light girl, $20 - $30/hour, Boston

Scotch taster, $20 - $25/hour, Chicago

Line Dance Teacher, $50/two hours, San Diego

Marilyn Monroe impersonator, $50/hour, Las Vegas

Muscular-calf model, $50/hour, Houston

Alpine ski-racing coach, $4000/two months, Minneapolis

Victorian séance party bouncer, $50/event, Portland, OR

Flag-football official, $10/hour/game, Phoenix

Pregnant woman for art installation, $250/four hours, NYC

Confessions of an Interviewer

For any candidate who's ever wondered whether those ragged fingernails and scuffed shoes have cost her a job: Yes, they have. The bosses dish on interview pet peeves.

"I hate sob stories. Don't tell me about your divorce or the coworker who stole your e-mail account info. I have my own headaches. Tell me why you have the chops to get the job done." - Marc Ecko, founder of Marc Ecko Enterprises

"Improper grammar is a deal-breaker for me. I was speaking with one candidate who said, 'Her and I worked together on that project.' I literally cringed." - Laura Danford Mandel, VP of publicity, Telepictures Productions

"I once had a candidate walk in late, wearing leggings, chipped black nail polish, and doused in perfume. I thought I was being punk'd." - Polly Blitzer, editor-in-chief, Beauty Blitz

"I once received flowers with a résumé attached. That's a good way to get my attention. But know where to draw the line - don't wait outside my office for three hours, hoping to catch me." - Kaity Benedicto, HR director, Travelzoo

"Don't apply for just any opportunity. It sends a signal about how seriously you take your career." - Erin Hand, VP of talent & development, Cox Communications

"Candidates should know we make more than chocolate. Familiarize yourself with our brands." - Judy Cascapera, senior VP of HR, Nestlé USA

7 Shameless (but Effective) Ways to Make Contacts

1. Sync your company-gym workouts with those of the execs. Spot them during chest presses. (They'll owe you if you save their life.)

2. Identify the children of your industry's power players. Encourage your niece and nephew to befriend them on the playground..

3. Steal all the toilet paper and tampons from the office restroom. "Rescue" the VP in the next stall.

4. Frequent happy-hour bars in the business district. Buy a drink for the person everyone's sucking up to.

5. Host a "cocktail party" (read: job fair) and invite only your management-level friends. Stash copies of your résumé in the goody bags.

6. Bring your business cards to funerals. Distribute with a solemn, "I'm here for you."

7. Raid the business-card bowl at restaurants known for their power-lunching patrons.
- Thea Palad