Subtle tips for standout interviews

In today's competitive job market, hiring managers often must 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:

Dave Willmer
Dave Willmer

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 emphasize communication skills above technical problem-solving? Even knowing a detail such as the person's alma mater can help you build rapport and feel less "in the dark," even if this bit of information does not come up in the conversation. Learning about your interviewer through your network or via LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook isn't cheating (or stalking), it's 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 favorable — 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 skeptical shopper. Share specific facts about your accomplishments rather than making general claims about your abilities. The vaguer your statements, the more they risk sounding self-aggrandizing. 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.

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