The stakes are high during job interviews, especially when you're competing for the ideal job. It's no wonder you'll be nervous. But you can minimise your anxiety and put yourself in a position to win the job by preparing for your interview thoroughly.

Here's how:

Research the Company in Depth

Firstly, your interviewer will expect you to know quite a bit about their organisation. So at a minimum, browse the Web site, read as many of its marketing materials as you can, and look for articles about the company in major periodicals or industry trade journals. If you can, visit the site and carry out a mystery shop.

Identify What You Have to Sell

What are the top three skills or experiences you can offer to the employer that other applicants cannot? Identify them before the interview, and then determine how you'll communicate them to the interviewer.

Prepare Examples

Anyone can make claims in job interviews; far fewer people back them up. Ensure you fall into this latter group by thinking about some actual events you can tell from previous work experiences to support your statements. Consider developing a career portfolio and using it as a presentation prop during the interview.

Develop Some Intelligent Questions

At some point during your interview, you'll be asked whether you have any questions. Asking questions demonstrates your level of interest in the job. So be sure you develop a few ahead of time, and write some down during the interview.

Develop Your Closing Pitch

Successful salespeople know how to effectively close meetings with clients to win sales. Similarly, you need to learn how to close your interview to win the job - if you really want it that is!

Know Where You're Going - Literally

You cannot be late for interviews, so get good directions to your appointment ahead of time so you can relax and prepare yourself before you go in.

Rest Up

Get a good night's sleep before your interview so you'll be as physically, psychologically and emotionally ready for it as possible.

The purpose of your clothing is to project an image of professionalism. Consider:

  • Your clothes should subtly add to your appearance. More importantly, clothing shouldn't detract from your business persona. As much as you may want to stand out, wearing the business 'uniform' communicates instantly that you are a mature, stable professional and a member of the team.
  • Even if the internal dress code is very casual, your interviewing attire should adhere to a conservative standard.

Here's how to dress for the best possible outcome:

  • Research the prospective employer - companies and even industries have definable corporate cultures. Find out what the corporate uniform is - and wear it.
  • Select an outfit you have worn before and are comfortable wearing.
  • Try on the outfit a few days before - enough time to have dry-cleaning and repairs completed.
  • Clean your shoes.
  • Check the ensemble for missing buttons, frayed cuffs and other needed repairs.
  • Everything must be clean, neat and ironed.
  • No bulging pockets or sagging coat lining.
  • Hair and nails must be clean and groomed.
  • A survey has shown that blue is the most favoured colour - it conveys trust, calm and confidence. Blue is a very good interview colour.

The fine points.

  • Shoes should be comfortable and polished. Shoes that are well cared-for signal 'Good attention to detail.' Scuffed shoes create a very bad first impression.
  • Clean and polish your briefcase or bag; organise the inside so you can find everything you need, take out anything you won't need.
  • A winter coat must be cleaned and pressed, particularly since a coat may be the first your interviewer sees.
  • Bring a pen and paper, check that the pen works and doesn't leak. Remember to take a copy of your CV.
  • Allow time to dress with care and deal with emergencies. Examine the results, front and back, in a mirror.

Men - Consider These Tips and Advice

  • Be presentable; make sure you shave or if you have facial hair trim it neatly. Do you need a hair cut?
  • Dark suit, light shirt.
  • Business shoes (clean) and dark socks.
  • Matching tie in low-key colours. Do not be tempted to wear a novelty tie.

Women - Consider These Tips and Advice

  • Wear you hair away from your face and preferably in a style that you won't be tempted to fiddle with during the meeting.
  • A simple suit, a fitted dress, a dress & jacket combination or simple blouse and skirt or tailored trousers. Do not wear a sleeveless outfit, if the weather is hot go for short sleeves or a light cardigan or jacket over a sleeveless top.
  • Skirts and dresses should hang between knee and calf length, don't go too short or too long.
  • Avoid loud or flashy styles and colours.
  • Use makeup sparingly. Go for a natural look.
  • Make sure that your shoes are clean and comfortable and most importantly that you can walk in them. High heels are fine providing you are used to walking in them and can be certain you won't fall over!

What Are Your Weaknesses?

This is the most frightening question of all. Handle it by minimizing your weakness and emphasizing your strengths. Stay away from personal characteristics and concentrate on professional qualities.

Why Do You Want to Work Here?

The interviewer is listening for an answer that indicates you've given this some thought and are not sending out resumes just because there is an opening. For example, 'I've selected key companies whose mission statements are in line with my values, where I know I could be excited about what the company does, and this company is very high on my list of desirable choices.'

What Are Your Goals?

Sometimes it's best to talk about short-term and intermediate goals rather than locking yourself into the distant future. For example, 'My immediate goal is to get a job in a growth-oriented company.'

Why Did You Leave (Or Why Are You Leaving) Your Job?

If you're unemployed, state your reason for leaving in a positive context: 'I managed to survive two rounds of corporate downsizing, but the third round was a 20 percent reduction in the workforce, which included me.' If you are employed, focus on what you want in your next job: 'After two years, I made the decision to look for a company that is team-focused, where I can add to my experience.' Do not be negative about your current job, company or boss as this will not sit well with potential employers.

What Makes You Unique?

This will take an assessment of your experiences, skills and qualities. Summarize concisely: 'I have a unique combination of strong technical skills, and the ability to build strong customer relationships. This allows me to use my knowledge and break down information to be more user-friendly.'

What Are Three Positive Things Your Last Boss Would Say About You?

It's time to pull out your old performance appraisals and boss's quotes. This is a great way to brag about yourself through someone else's words: 'My boss has told me that I am the best sales person he has ever had. He knows he can rely on me, and he likes my sense of humour.'

What Salary Are You Seeking?

Not usually a question that comes up in a first interview, but one that you should be prepared for nonetheless. It is to your advantage if the employer tells you the range first. One possible answer would be: 'I am sure when the time comes, we can agree on a sensible salary. In what range do you typically pay someone with my background?' another way of answering this question would be to say what you current package is ' I am currently earning X with a bonus potential of XX meaning my OTE last year was XXX, I would ideally be looking to improve on this for my next role.'

Confusing an Interview with an Interrogation.

Most candidates expect to be interrogated. An interrogation occurs when one person asks all the questions and the other gives the answers. An interview is a business conversation in which both people ask and respond to questions. Candidates who expect to be interrogated avoid asking questions, leaving the interviewer in the role of reluctant interrogator.

Making a So-Called Weakness Seem Positive.

Interviewers frequently ask candidates, 'What are your weaknesses?' Conventional interview wisdom dictates that you highlight a weakness like 'I'm a perfectionist,' and turn it into a positive. Interviewers are not impressed, because they've probably heard the same answer a hundred times. If you are asked this question, highlight a skill that you wish to improve upon and describe what you are doing to enhance your skill in this area. Interviewers don't care what your weaknesses are. They want to see how you handle the question and what your answer indicates about you.

Failing to Ask Questions.

Every interview concludes with the interviewer asking if you have any questions. The worst thing to say is that you have no questions. Having no questions indicates you are not interested and not prepared or worse still that you weren't paying attention during your interview. Interviewers are more impressed by the questions you ask than the selling points you try to make. Before each interview, make a list of five questions you will ask. A good question is, ‘Can you tell me about your career?' as everybody likes to talk about themselves, and it shows a real interest.

General Questions for a potential employer

  • Can you tell me why this position is open?
  • What do you like best about working at this organisation?
  • The people who do well at your team: what skills and attributes do they usually have?
  • Who are the companies and departments key customers?
  • What are your goals for the department?
  • How would you describe your management style?
  • What type of support and tools are provided in this role? Leads? Sales Support?
  • How is the team performing, are you on budget, how is the pipeline looking?

Researching the Company But Not Yourself.

Candidates intellectually prepare by researching the company. Most job seekers do not research themselves by taking inventory of their experience, knowledge and skills. Formulating a ‘brag file' prepares you to immediately respond to any question about your experience. You must be prepared to discuss any part of your background. Creating your ‘brag file' refreshes your memory and helps you immediately remember experiences you would otherwise have forgotten during the interview. You should include details of your sales records and achievements, articles you may have written or been mentioned in, evidence of work you have completed such as presentations and anything else that may be interesting and useful to you in an interview. Have a photocopy of your passport with you and if required a copy of your visa too.

Leaving Your Mobile Phone On.

We may live in an always-available society, but a ringing phone is not appropriate for an interview. It may sound obvious but make sure you turn it off before you enter the company, it's surprisingly easy to forget. A good way to remember to switch your 'phone off is to set a reminder in your 'phones calendar for 15 minutes before your interview with the subject - switch off 'phone! this way an alarm will go off in plenty of time to remind you to turn off your phone and it will work even if you're in an area with limited signal.