We’ve all been there. It’s the day of the big job interview and you worry about everything. Does the belt match the shoes? Do your stockings have runs in them? Does your breath reek of last night’s margaritas even though you downed half a bottle of Scope on the drive over?

Your nerves are jangled. You really need this job and it feels like even the slightest misstep could mean failure. Is your hair okay? Are your teeth at their whitest? Will you flub the double-consonants in the interviewers name, even though you stayed up all night practicing (and drinking margaritas)?

The pressure is enormous. Say one wrong thing and you’ll be laughed at. You’ll be shown the door and sent back out into the streets penniless and with your self-esteem in shambles. Your entire future seems to hang on this very interview. The more you think about it, the more you feel like throwing up in your briefcase. It’s go time and look at you, curled into a fetal ball in the back seat of your Corolla.

Snap out of it, Skippy. It doesn’t have to be this fearsome. Employment specialists insist that by doing a little research and following some simple rules, you can ace any interview, even with a hole in your sock or a piece of spinach stuck between your teeth. Although, get a toothpick before you go in because that just looks ridiculous.

Those employment specialists are happy to share their secrets of interviewing success, but every one of them can also tell you a horror story or two – interview faux pas or just bonehead statements uttered by those people seeking jobs. Mind boggling stuff. Some of them are so bad, we wish we had a sad trombone to play along with the narrative. You know: Wah, wah waaaaah.

We’ll share those interview tips and suggestions, but first we’d like to show you some of the things you should NOT do while sitting before that potential employer. Why give you the bad news first? Because it’s funnier that way and we’re all about the yuks. Now straighten that tie and peel that square of toilet paper off the back of your blouse. Seriously, we won’t always be here to help you out.

Show me the money . . . immediately

Dan Marois knows a thing or two about job interviews. From both sides of the interview desk, in fact. Today, Marois is co-owner and producer at Mystery for Hire/Mainely Improv. Back in the day, he was marketing director at Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, public relations manager at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston and community relations and development director at Stephen’s Memorial Hospital in Norway.

Like his resume? Good. Now, here’s an example of how not to conduct yourself if you’re seeking a job from Mr. Marois or anyone like him.

“I was heading up a hiring committee to hire an executive director for a social service agency in New Hampshire. I led him into the interview in front of the six or so committee members. I asked him to tell us a little about himself. The first thing he said: ‘I just want you to know that I can’t be hired for less than “X” amount of dollars. I think you should know that first of all.’

“Since his request was $10,000 more than the highest amount we could offer for the position, I said, ‘Thank you for telling us that. Let’s not waste your time with an interview today. Thank you for coming.’ I got up, shook his hand and led him from the room. The hiring committee was shocked, but agreed that if he started an interview like that, what would he be like to work with?”

Director Mary LaFontaine and the other good people at the Lewiston CareerCenter say be prepared to answer questions about salary, but don’t bring it up on your own. Dan Marois agrees vehemently.

Big egos and bad references

Rebecca J. Cote is the administrations manager of Mountain Machine Works in Auburn. Sometimes, she says, you wonder how a person ever ended up in the interview chair at all.

“When I was interviewing a potential candidate for an administrative position, let’s call her Jane, I could not believe what I was hearing. Before Jane left I knew where she shopped, who she personally liked and disliked at previous places of employment, accusations of embezzlement and illegal activity of others, and why her previous employers let her go. In most cases she said she was let go because they were threatened by her intelligence and they were afraid she was going to take their job. Wow! My head was spinning when I was finally able to end the interview. And let me tell you, ending the interview was not easy to do with someone who thought so highly of themselves and wanted to make sure I knew that I too should think very highly of her.”

Cote offered another example: “Four years ago I interviewed someone for a ‘Gold Collar’ level position. Let’s call him Jack. Jack interviewed very well but I still to this day have no idea why he gave me the references he did. I called the references and two were good and two were horrible! One was a past employer from another state. Let’s call him Joe. Joe was also the owner of the company, which is rare for a reference but I thought I would call anyway. That was when I got an earful! Joe was so mad! He said Jack was a ‘deadbeat, lowlife, stealing, lazy BLEEP and if I saw Jack again to remind him he still owed the company $5,000!’ I told Joe I had talked to two other people from his company and they gave good references. He asked me for the names and then told me . . . they were his buddies and he had fired them all at the same time for theft. I couldn’t believe this guy gave his employer that fired him for theft as a reference! Do people think we don’t call references? . . . The second company I called was awful as well. They said he was unreliable . . . a complainer and was never satisfied with any part of his job.

“So many times I have thought ‘How in the world did I misread this person’s resume?’ I almost always call references first now to save myself from a painful interview and wasted time I could be spending on a more desirable applicant.”

‘Blowing’ your chances

Kayt DeMerchant is presently publisher and editor of Macaroni Kid, a free publication that features family-friendly events in the area. Before that, she was director of marketing at the YWCA of Central Maine and director of marketing at HealthReach Community Health Centers. DeMerchant knows how lack of work experience – or having work background that is, let’s say, dubious – can hurt an applicant’s chances of employment.

“I once had a woman apply for a job as a child care worker and when I reviewed her resume I noted she listed a former employer in Texas: Wazoo’s Inflatable Fun. Her one and only skill listed under that job was ‘blowing.’ I’m not joking. For numerous reasons, we never did interview her.”

Aaargh, matey, watch your tongue!

It doesn’t matter what level position you’re looking for, said John Snyder, who used to head a local company. If you want the job, you need to conduct yourself in a professional manner, whether you’re shooting for the position of astronaut, stock trader or lawn guy.

“I was looking to hire a lawn care laborer. I held my interview with a female member of my staff. The job applicant was a young, strong fellow that would probably have fit the bill nicely. Except, all through the interview he swore like a pirate, making my female staff member uncomfortable. (Not the kind of person you want me to send to your establishment either, I would think). At the end, I asked him if he had any questions for me. He said, ‘Yeah. Remember about two months ago when I walked up to you in the street and asked you for a cigarette? You told me no.’ I did suddenly remember him and the incident. I’m sorry to say he didn’t get the job.”

Toe fetishers need not apply

Vicky Pratt worked in human resources for a temporary employment agency and said you just never know what’s coming from an applicant.

“Actually had one guy ask me if he had to kiss my shoes in order to get hired. I assured him no shoe kissing was required, we simply didn’t have any openings. He then demanded that I remove my shoes and he’d kiss each toe. I called security.”

Angry? Drunk? Using drugs? Don’t get your hopes up

You can tell that Amie Parker is a pro at interviews and the like because of the way she presented her information to us. It was beautifully outlined, with bullet points and links to additional information. The package was so impressive, we wanted to hire her on the spot. Sadly, she already has a job: as employment manager at Bates College. Do you think Parker has seen her share of interview flubs?

Put your hand down, son. It was a rhetorical question and nobody likes a showoff.

“Recently, I’ve had a number of applicants that have demonstrated what I have begun to call ‘applicants behaving badly’ behavior. Prior to even being called for an interview, I’m receiving correspondence from applicants with rude and hostile messages. Some of my favorite quotes as of late:

“‘What is the problem with your system where people with graduate school educations can’t complete them?’ (Several other people had no problems applying.)

“‘I have worked with HR departments [where] invariably the women who run them want to constantly add one more complexity on top of another to make the HR administrators look important.’ (There are so many insults in this statement, I’m not sure where to begin.)

“‘A simple, emailed resume with transcripts should be sufficient for you to make a first cut instead of wasting everybody’s time filling out endless online forms.’ (We do have a fairly brief online application for higher level positions.)

“‘I think I have already forwarded my resume with transcripts, diplomas, etc. What more do you want?’ (The instructions asked for a cover letter.)

“‘If the hiring authority is interested and wants to schedule an interview, then I can see about providing more information. Let’s see if I make the interview cut, okay?’ (Again, we asked for a cover letter.)”

Other odd things she’s seen or received:

“Last week we had an applicant come by to change his address on the application he completed the day before. He appeared intoxicated and gave us the same address that was already on the application.

“‘I was arrested for streaking. Does that count?’ (Response to our question about criminal convictions.)

“‘So, as long as I don’t do my drugs at work, it’s okay if I bring them?’ (Question from applicant about our drug policy.)

“‘I left my last job due to sexual harassment.’ (Last job was an escort service.)

“One applicant clearly thought he had applied for and was interviewing for a job at another college. He kept referencing the other college through the whole interview.”

Amie’s 100+ interview tips: First impressions are lasting impressions

By Amie Parker, employment manager at Bates College and a senior professional in human resources

To prepare for in job interview, here are more than 100 tips, questions to be ready for and questions to ask that will make you more confident and enhance your chances of success.

* The rule of thumb is that you dress one or two levels higher than the job that you’re going for. An interview is not the place to make a fashion statement.Err on the side of conservative. If you’re serious about obtaining a position, forgo trendy for traditional and avoid wild and distracting fashion statements.

* Arrive on time.

* Make sure you know where you are going. If you are able, make a test run to the interview site. Interview day will be much less stressful if you feel confident that you will arrive to the appointment on time.

* Acknowledge and treat every individual that you encounter at the interview with respect. Receptionists and other support staff often provide key input to interviewers about you by describing their personal interactions with you.

* Be mindful of how you carry yourself and offer a confident handshake.

* Keep your posture in check and have practiced your handshake. Nobody wants the “dead fish” handshake; it conveys a lack of confidence.

* Take a deep breath and try to relax.

* Mindful breathing is a great strategy to calm your nerves. If you allow tension to take over, you are less likely to be able to focus on the interviewers and their questions.

* Prepare scenarios to guide you through difficult questions. For instance: “Tell me about a time when . . .” can be an intimidating question if you have not prepared. Prepare three scenarios in your mind that you can draw from when asked behavioral interview questions. Think about a time when:

— You worked hard and experienced a great accomplishment as a result.

— You were unsuccessful at something in your work.

— Something out of the ordinary happened that was either challenging or provided you with a great learning experience.

Having these “stories” rehearsed in your mind is a foundation from which to base your answers to tough questions about yourself and your past work.

* Be clear and concise. Clarify if necessary.

* Answer questions thoughtfully and without unnecessary information. Be cautious of rambling on and on, which is a “side effect” of being nervous. If you are unsure of a question, ask for clarification. Feel free to ask “did that answer your question” after you have finished your response. Take notes if it helps you to stay focused.

*  Interview your interviewer(s). Prepare thoughtful and meaningful questions that you would like answered about the company or the position. This is not, however, the time to ask about compensation or benefits.

* Follow up. Send handwritten, thank-you notes to the interviewer(s) — immediately. Interviewing is time consuming for an employer. Acknowledging and thanking an employer for their time is an appropriate thing to do and may give you a competitive edge.

Interview questions you should be prepared for

* What do you think it takes for a person to be successful in your field?

* What do you look for in a job and a company?

* How many projects can you handle at one time?

* What activities do you / did you perform in your last position, and what was the approximate time devoted to each of these activities?

* How have previous jobs prepared you for greater responsibility?

* What did you enjoy most about your last job?

* What did you enjoy least about your last job?

* If there were two things you could change in your last or present job, what would they be and how would you change them?

* How could you have improved your performance in your last position?

* Why do you want to work here?

* Tell me about your understanding of the job you’re applying for?

* Tell me about a situation or position where you assumed responsibilities that were beyond your written or understood job description.

* How much do outside influences play a role in your job performance?

* Are you more of a task-oriented or project-oriented worker?

* Why have you chosen this particular field?

* If you could eliminate one responsibility from your last job, what would it be?

* What motivates you to put forth greater effort?

* Describe your “dream” job.

* Rank the following from most important to least: job duties, hours, travel time, pay, work environment.

* What do you do when things are slow at work?

* What have you learned from your mistakes?

* If you could start your career over again, what would you do differently?

* How do you keep professionally informed?

* What is the most recent skill you’ve learned?

* What is your learning style? Hands on, research, by example?

* What two or three accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction?

* How can we best reward you for doing a good job?

* Why do you think you’ll be successful in this job?

* Do you set performance standards for yourself? Do these evolve over time?

* How do you cope with stress on the job?

* What does the word “success” mean to you?

* What does the word “failure” mean to you?

* How do you go about making important decisions?

* What kind of people do you prefer to work with?

* What kinds of people do you find difficult to work with?

* What is the most useful criticism you’ve ever received?

* How did you prepare for this interview?

* What are the advantages of diversity in the workplace?

* Can you sell me on our product/service?

* How would you compare your verbal skills to your written skills?

* Do you prefer to communicate in person, by phone or via e-mail?

* What do you do to make the people around you feel important, appreciated and respected?

* How do you prioritize your time?

* How do you usually confront subordinates when results are less than acceptable?

* How do you handle interruptions, breaks in routine and last minute changes?

* I’ve interviewed several very good candidates, and you’re certainly one of them. What single message would you like me to remember that will convince me that you are the right person for this job?

* How does your position relate to the overall goals of your current company?

* What area of your skills would you like to improve in the next year?

* In what areas do you typically have the least amount of patience at work?

* Tell me about the last time you failed to meet a goal or objective. What plan of action did you take to get you back on track?

* Tell me about the last time you inherited a problem.

* How do you typically stay in the information loop?

* What is the reason you’re leaving your current position / left your last position?

* There appears to be a gap of _____months/years on your resume. What were you doing during this time?

* What do you think makes this position different from your current or last position?

* Describe a situation where the team fell apart. What was your role in the outcome?

* Describe a situation where the person you were dealing with enabled you to be more effective.

*  Tell me why you want this job.

Suggested questions job candidates should ask employers during interviews

*  What do you see as this position’s responsibilities on a daily basis? Weekly? Monthly?

* How, if at all, do you see these responsibilities changing over time?

* What do you feel are the most important responsibilities of this position?

* What are some additional aspects of this position that are unique to your company?

* What was the reason for this position’s vacancy?

* How many people do you employ?

* How long does the average employee remain with your company?

* What are this company’s current challenges?

* What do you view as this company’s greatest goals and missions?

* Has this company experienced a downsizing in recent history, and if so, when?

* How long have you worked for this company?

* What do you like the most about your position here?

* What is the work environment like day to day?

* Is there anything else I should know about this company?

* Are there any aspects of my skills or background that you would like to hear more about?

* Is there a job description? May I see it?

* How would my performance be measured and how is successful performance usually rewarded?

* Can you describe your organizational culture?

* By what criteria will you select the person for this job?

* Where does this position fit into the organization?

* What kind of person are you looking for?

* What happened to the last person holding this position?

* To whom would I report?

* What problems might I expect to encounter on this job?

* Are there opportunities for promotions and advancement in this company?

* What are your expectations of the person hired for this position?

* What are the three most significant things that need to be accomplished in this position in the first year and what do you foresee as the major hurdles?

* Describe the performance evaluation procedures you use.

* What tasks will occupy the majority of my time?

* What will be my first assignment?

* When can I expect to hear from you about the next stage in the interviewing process?

Interview basics

Amie Parker, employment manager at Bates College and a human resources pro, has some broad suggestions to keep in mind for your interview. Some of these tips shouldn’t need to be said, but . . . yeah. You know. (For Amie’s complete list of 100+ surefire tips, questions to be ready to answer and questions to ask the interviewer, go to sunjournal.com)

* Be respectful to everyone you interact with in an organization, on the phone or in writing.

* Ask questions if you are unsure about the interview process.

* Read instructions regarding the application process carefully.

* Do homework! (Learn about the organization, etc.)

* Send thank-you notes to everyone you interview with. (This really does leave an impression, because people rarely do it.)

* Filter, filter, filter. If it’s not relevant to employment, please don’t tell us. It may very well hurt your chances of securing employment.

“Human resource staff are people,” Parker says. “We have been on the other side of the interview table and may very well have family members/friends who are currently unemployed. We do understand how difficult it is. As an HR professional, I see it as my job to treat all applicants with respect. I love my job because I do get to help people through one of the most positive transitions in life – securing a new job with a new organization!”

Before the interview: Tips from the Maine CareerCenter

Be prepared

The best way to prepare yourself for an interview is to research both the company and the position that you are interviewing for. Before arriving, you should know:

* What the company does

* How large it is

* Any recent changes it has undergone

* What role you could play in the organization

Read the job description and responsibilities over and over. Make notes about how your experience and skills fit the position. Think of specific examples from past jobs to illustrate how your skills and experience match the organization’s needs. This will help the employer to actually “see” you in the position.

The salary question: Know what you are worth

During the interview, you may be asked what salary you are seeking. Do not bring up the salary question in the interview unless you are asked. Be prepared to answer the question with a range, and let them know that it is negotiable. They may be asking you this question to determine if you fall within their range; and that information may be used in making their hiring decision. Make sure that you have all of the information you need to determine what salary range you should ask for.

Practice questions

Practice describing your professional characteristics and practice answering common interview questions. By practicing out loud beforehand, when you are not under pressure, you will strengthen your answers during the actual event.

As a starting point, try to respond to the following questions: (When responding, focus on subjects related to your professional life, not your personal life.)

Tell me about yourself.

Why should I hire you?

What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?

Tell me about a difficult decision you made.

What did you like most about your last job?

Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or keep it.

Describe a time when you encountered a work or school-related problem and how you solved it.

Tell me about a time when you worked as part of a team.

Questions to ask the interviewer

As a job candidate you also have an obligation to hold up your end of the conversation. You should ask questions that could not be answered through your research of the company or that arose during the interview.

You can ask these questions during the course of the interview or at the end. Interviewers usually end their part by asking if you have any questions.

Be prepared with three to five questions. They can be based on the company or the position. Ask them in an open-ended manner, meaning they cannot be answered by just “yes” or “no.”

For the interview: Tips from the Maine CareerCenter

What to bring

* A neat-looking note pad and pen.

* Copies of your resume and references.

* Samples of work (your portfolio) if appropriate.

* Notes on points you want to make.

* A list of questions you want to ask

What to say

* Try to keep the interview conversational, but let the interviewer lead.

* Show your enthusiasm and self confidence in your body language and tone of voice.

* Don’t exaggerate your skills, but sell yourself.

* Be honest and positive about everything you say, especially about past employers and co-workers.

* Avoid giving vague answers. Give specific examples of what you have done in the past when responding to questions.

* Stop and consider an answer to a difficult or unexpected question. If the question is confusing, ask for clarification.

* If asked about potentially damaging information, such as gaps in work history or prior violations of the law, briefly acknowledge the circumstances and redirect the conversation toward the positive.

* Before you leave, make sure you understand the next step in the hiring process such as additional interviews and a time line for a hiring decision.

* Finally, if the position interests you, express your desire for the job.

After the interview

Thank the interviewer twice. Shake hands. Write a thank-you note within two days of the interview.

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