Interview magic: Do your homework, dress the part

"I'm qualified, so I know I'll get the job."

This phrase may be the most naive statement in the annals of job hunting. First, you probably aren’t the only qualified person applying, and hiring managers hire the person they want to work with, not necessarily the most qualified.

This may not be fair, but the philosophical and actual practices of corporate hiring aren't going to change any time soon. Here’s how to get hired when being qualified is just a small factor in the decision.

Many people have interviews but get no offers. Yes, interviews matter, but you also need to turn an interview into a job. Here’s how:

Research the company. On the Internet, search every section of the company's website and memorize it like cramming for a test.

Unlike a test, though, you won't have a chance during the interview to spout six things you know about the company. Rather, at one random second, one of those relevant facts will be the answer to something the interviewer says. To find the comment for that moment, wide knowledge and good judgment are required. Try to seem as though you’re intimately acquainted with the company.

Get the right outfit. Corporate America has a uniform: wear it. People usually hire people who look like them; clothing is the easiest way they judge. An interview is not the time to dress to express yourself. You’ll fit in and work best with others by keeping eccentricities to a minimum.

Prepare stock answers. Most interview questions are standard, and surprisingly enough, have standard answers. Take the question, "Why did you want to leave your current job?" The correct answer incorporates phrases like, "I’m looking for a company like this one," and "Your company offers a unique opportunity that’s a perfect fit for my skills." Learn these answers before the interview, and be prepared to deliver them naturally so they don't seem rehearsed.

Go to the gym. Taking charge of the first 15 seconds of an interview is critical. An interviewer will judge you first and most significantly on non-verbal cues, and having good clothes alone may not be enough to make the best impression. It’s a fact that thin, good-looking people are more likely to get hired than fat, less attractive people. If you have a scheduled interview, it's probably too late to drop 40 pounds. But go to the gym anyway. Using your chest and back muscles to life weights helps you stand straighter– which shows poise and self-confidence. Use the treadmill. The more energy you expend now, the more relaxed you'll be at the interview: being calm will help you seem more confident.

Prepare to close the deal. Leave nothing unsaid when you leave the interview. Say at the end, "I really want this job. Do you have any reservations about hiring me?" This is scary, because the interviewer might have reservations you can't overcome. Risk hearing any reservations about hiring you because it's better to confront them and fail than to never try. You have nothing to lose.

When I tried this, the hiring manager told me her reservations (which were large). After I countered them one by one, she was so impressed that she offered me a job on the spot. But I also had done my homework. I had memorized the company information and the answers to the 100 most common interview questions, plus I managed my impression during those first 15 seconds as if my life depended on it.
Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more. She penned this column several years ago, but she's busy with new things–- too busy to write new things.