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A job interview is really a sales call where the aim is to sell yourself, said executives of The Ayers Group Inc., a New York placement and outplacement consulting firm. As such, it requires much more than simply dressing well and giving the "right "answers to the interviewer's questions.Instead, applicants should walk in prepared to ask some pointed questions and steer the conversation in their favor.

Doing pre-interview research about the company is vital, both to impress the interviewer and to help the applicant learn more about the company and the job, said company President William Ayers. At the start of the interview, ask the interviewer exactly what the job entails to make sure a want ad or job-placement agency described the job accurately, said Ayers. This ensures that applicants don't stress their technical qualifications throughout the interview, only to find out that the firm is looking for more business knowledge.

A time-honored technique among salespeople is to get the customer to talk about their wants and needs. That's a tactic the job hunter should use as well, said Ayers. "The conversation has changed from an interview to a sharing of information," he said. "You [the applicant] understand what the business problems are and what the technical problems are and are looking to solve those problems. You're becoming a part of the team" even before the interview is over.

Of course, this assumes that applicants did a thorough inventory of their skills before the interview and can weave those accomplishments into the conversation. Joe Szigethy, vice president and director of outplacement services for The Ayers Group, suggested emphasizing the positive, not the negative. If an interviewer asks applicants if they have experience with a specific product, the applicants shouldn't just say no, said Szigethy. A better response for applicants is to refer to experience with a similar product, he said, leaving the interviewer with a positive thought.

Another critical time during the interview is the "close" - asking for the job at the end of the interview. "It's OK to say, "This job sounds exciting and I'd like to be part of the team,' "said Ayers. This sends a message that the candidate wants the job, and gives the applicant a chance to find out what the next step in the selection process, he added.

It's important to line up references before the interview and know what they plan to say, said Steve Dimowitz, a vice president of the firm. "Make sure the reference will talk, and explain to the individual what the job is and how you want them to respond to the questions [they] will be asked," he said.

For example, he said, a reference for one of our clients backfired when a reference told the potential employer, "He's a terrific guy-put him a room, leave him alone and he gets the job done." However, Dimowitz said, "The company was looking for someone who was a team player, who didn't want to work by himself." Finally, "Even if you lost the job, find out why, so you don't repeat the mistake," said Ayers.

Authored by: Robert Scheier