The interview is one of the most crucial pieces of the job search process. It’s your first opportunity to make an impression on your potential employer and demonstrate why you’re the best candidate for the job. Whether you’re an entry-level professional or a seasoned veteran with 20 years of experience, it’s important to spend several hours preparing for an interview. Here are five tips on how to prepare for a job interview to ensure you set yourself apart from the competition:

Study the company, job description and your résumé thoroughly. An interviewer may determine you capabilities and work ethic by assessing the amount of research and preparation you have done to prepare for the interview. Take time to review the job description and write down a direct comparison of your experience for each bullet. Everything on your résumé and on the job description is fair game and open for discussion. Also research common interview questions and write down an answer for each to sound more concise and prepared.

Remember the little things. Bring a professional binder with you including a notepad, at least four copies of your résumé and a professional pen. If you bring samples, make sure they are organized and easy to browse. Also consider your attire—you want the interviewer to remember your skills and abilities, not what you wore to the interview.

Plan a strong opening statement. Not every interviewer is a great interviewer. Once the small talk is over and the interview is ready to begin, engage them right away. For example, “I want to thank you for your time to meet with me today. I extensively reviewed the job description and your company’s website and am excited to correlate my experience to your needs. How would you like to begin?”

Turn potential negatives into positives. Rather than saying, “No, I have not used XYZ software,” say, “I have not had the opportunity to use XYZ but I have used systems which are strikingly similar such as XYZ. Using that helped me achieve XYZ goal and if given the opportunity, I feel I would be able to pick it up rather quickly.”

Make the interview interactive, and always ask questions. If you don’t have a specific question for the interviewer, consider these generic questions:

“If I were to start today, what would be my most pressing task?”

“Tell me about the culture of the department/team.”

“Are there any pressing responsibilities outside of the job description?”

Also, as the interview ends, be sure to have a strong closing statement as well as thank them again for their time. “Thank you again for your time today. Is there anything about my background, skillset or experience that concerns you or that you would like to further discuss?”

Remember that your résumé got you the interview, and the interview is the opportunity to let your personality get you the job.

Do you have additional advice for preparing for an interview? Let us know in the comments below.

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