A job interview can be one of the most stressful situations that you encounter in your work life. It involves sitting down with unfamiliar people to discuss your skills, weaknesses and career goals. If you prepare carefully, a productive interview can open the door to a wide variety of opportunities, but if you blow one, it can seriously derail your career.

Preparing for a job interview takes some time, but if you ace it and receive a new opportunity, it is time well spent. Even if you do not get the job that you interviewed for, the skills that you learn in one interview can be useful in another position or situation.

Know the Job

If you want to ace an important job interview know that the preparation that you do ahead of time will be just as valuable as how you present yourself when you are in the actual interview room. If you expect to walk into an interview situation and be able to succeed based on your glowing personality, you are going to be disappointed. Preparation is a critical part of wowing an interviewer or hiring manager.

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Read the entire job description carefully. Read it again. Print it out and highlight the job duties listed and the most important qualifications. Do some quick research online and see if the job was posted in multiple places and if you can glean any additional information about the job. Knowing about the job and why you would excel at it will help you to answer typical interview questions such as, "Why would you be a good fit for this position?"

Research the Company

In addition to researching the particular position that you are interviewing for, take time to research the company as well. What do they do? Who are their clients? If the company makes a particular product, try to use it or learn more about it.

Find out if you know or have connections with anyone who already works for the company. If you do, reach out to that person and see what information they can offer. Check the company's website and Facebook page to get a sense of the workplace culture. Put all of that information together to build a mental profile of the company and its needs and priorities.

Prepare Talking Points

What you say in the interview is important, so readying a few talking points ahead of time can help you to feel confident in the interview. Research some common interview questions and practice your answers with a friend or in front of a mirror.

Prepare a few 30 second to one minute vignettes to tell when people ask you about yourself or describe your biggest strengths and weaknesses. Having some of these illustrative stories and talking points ready ahead of time will ensure that you are self-assured when you sit down for the interview rather than stumbling around for an answer.

Prepare More Talking Points

Once you have a thorough understanding of the company and the job description, prepare your talking points. Put yourself in the shoes of the company and think about what they need.

What is the main problem that person they hire is going to be expected to fix or improve? If you don't know the answer to that question, go back to your research and think about what you have learned about the company and the job you are interviewing for. Analyze some issues that the company might have. If you were hired for the position, how would you tackle those problems?

Prepare a proposal or some bullet points that outline your sense of the company's issues and your proposed solutions or plans. This might seem excessive, but this preparation and in-depth knowledge of the company's issues along with your proposed solutions will help to set you apart from everyone else who is interviewing for the same position that you are after.

Pack Your Bag

Once you have done your preparation, set out everything that you need for your job interview. Lay out your clothes ahead of time and make sure that everything is appropriate for the company and the position that you are applying for.

Pack a bag or briefcase with copies of the job description, maps to the location, your resume and the proposal that you have prepared. Make sure that you know how to get to the interview location and where to park and go when you get there. Write down the name of the interviewer that you are meeting. Fill your car with gas the night before so that you aren't rushed in the morning. Leave yourself a bit of extra travel time, but do not arrive more than 10 minutes early.

Nail the Job Interview

Once you get to the interview location, smile and be polite to everyone that you meet. Turn off your phone before you walk into the building and put it away until you leave. If you sit in a reception area or waiting room before the interview use the opportunity to connect with other people in the room, look at a magazines or look at company literature in the room.

Remember that the receptionist, hiring manager and any other employees that you interact with might also comment about your conduct before and after the interview. Be sure to shake hands, make eye contact and answer any questions clearly and concisely. If anyone helps you by offering water, showing you to the restroom or answering a question about the company be sure to say thank you.

During the interview, answer each question that is asked, using your prepared stories. Once you have covered the basics with the interviewer, pull out your proposal. Discuss issues that you noticed the company might be having and your proposed strategies and solutions. This technique helps to show the interviewer that you understand the company and its needs and that you are focused on what you have to offer to them. Close the interview with a handshake and smile and an expression of interest if you feel that the position is a good fit for you.

Excelling at Lunch or Dinner Interviews

Lunch or dinner interviews include all of the stress of in person interviews plus the added complication of food. All of the usual guidelines for preparation and acing an interview apply in this situation. Additionally, be mindful of the fact that you are in a public place. Be polite to wait staff and the host or hostess who seats you.

Do not order alcohol, especially if you order first, but if a bottle of wine is ordered, you can sip at a single glass or politely decline if you are a nondrinker. If the interviewer insists that you order a drink, try to order something in the same general category as what they have ordered, or decline politely and order soda, sparkling water, tea or lemonade if you are a nondrinker.

Order a meal that is easy to eat and not messy such as salad or chicken, and do not order the most expensive item on the menu. Mind your table manners, use your napkin and take small bites so that you can swallow and respond quickly if you are asked a question.

What to Do at the End

If you are meeting with more than one person be sure to include everyone at the table in the conversation. At the end of the interview thank everyone for the meal and their time and restate your interest if you feel like the position and the company are a good fit. The interviewer should pay for the meal and tip so you do not need to offer to contribute.

Acing Phone and Video Interviews

Many companies use phone interviews as an initial way of contacting prospective employees. Video interviews are also used when a position is remote or when multiple people need to be involved in an interview. A phone or video interview can make it more difficult to read body language, so these situations require some extra care and preparation.

If your phone or video interview is scheduled for a specific time, make sure that you are ready a little bit early. Check that your phone or computer are fully charged, clear the room of any distractions and make sure you have a pen and paper handy to take notes. If you need access to any specific website or videoconferencing services make sure that you log in early and that you do not have any connection issues. Have a glass of water nearby in case you need to take a sip while you are talking.

In phone or video interviews, it is especially important to speak clearly and without hesitation. You may find it helpful to record yourself talking as part of your preparation process. Work to clear up your speech if you notice that you use verbal tics such as saying, "umm" or "like" often, as these will be more obvious during a phone or video interview. Watch or listen carefully during the interview to make sure that the speaker is finished speaking before you start to talk. If you think of a comment while someone else is speaking, write it down on your paper so that you remember to return to it later.

Say Thank You

Regardless of the type of interview that you have had, it is essential to say thank you after it has been completed. Collect business cards for everyone that you interact with during the interview process, including receptionists, hiring managers and other employees if possible.

If you reached out to a friend or colleague connected with the company, be sure to thank them as well. Send out an email or thank you note to each person that you met as soon as possible after you leave the interview. Mention something specific to each employee to help them remember who you are. Express that you are still interested in the position and that you hope to hear back from them soon. This will help you to be even more memorable to the interview team and increase the chances that you will stand out from the crowd.

If you are interviewing for your dream job or a new position at a company, preparation is essential. Knowing the job description and needs of the company will help you to be confident. Showing the interviewers how you can meet those needs will wow the interview team and set you apart from the other candidates. Sending a thank you note or email afterwards will make you even more memorable and help you land the position that you are after.

About the Author

Stacy Zogheib's writing has been published in various online publications including Classroom.Synonym. She is a teacher and developmental specialist with experience teaching first grade, special education and working with families of children ages 0 to 3. She has a Bachelor of Arts in elementary and special education from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio and a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education from Northern Arizona University.