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Preparation and pitfalls

So the efforts you went to compiling the perfect CV (Your Career, 30 March) have at last paid off and you have secured an interview for your dream job. You can congratulate yourself on clearing the first hurdle, but beware of complacency - a much larger one lies ahead.

This said, interviews do not have to be the draining ordeal many of us experience in the course of our working lives. The secret is to be suitably prepared.

According to Clare Willis, a senior training consultant with communications company SpeakFirst Training, lack of preparation is where most people go wrong in interviews: 'You need to be prepared for all the questions you might conceivably be asked, ' she says, 'Including quite basic ones like 'Why to you want this job?', 'What could you bring to the company/organisation?' and 'Tell us in 30 seconds why we should choose you'.'

You also need to think about the information you want to get across, says Willis; things that are relevant but not necessarily apparent from your CV.

Interviewees should avoid being long-winded, insists Tim Cawdron, Amey's human resources director. 'The biggest mistakes candidates make are over-answering and not listening to the questions, ' he says.

Where candidates frequently fall down, says Willis, is through not practising their responses to questions. 'Speak your prepared answers or key points aloud to someone, ' she advises, 'Even if it's only to the cat.' As well as making sure that what you are going to say sounds right, she says, it is a good way of boosting your confidence.

If you are prone to interview nerves, you could try the positive power of visualisation. Sniggering scepticism aside, it is amazing how merely imagining yourself performing confidently - push aside those negative thoughts - can have a positive bearing on your performance.

Needless to say, even the most positive visualisation will not make up for lack of preparation, which should include finding out as much about the company and position as you can beforehand.

You can also improve your chances of succeeding at interviews by dressing appropriately.

Interviewers are not always skilled in interviewing, says Willis, and many will make snap decisions based on a candidate's appearance. Make sure that you and your clothes are clean, and that you are dressed comfortably. Avoid wearing new clothes or shoes for the first time and if the job entails a lot of client contact, make sure you have dressed the way you would be for meetings. And do not forget the oftenrelated, and undoubtedly apocryphal story of the woman who munched a hamburger at a job interview. If you really want the job, make sure you have eaten a good meal first.

And finally, be punctual. If for any reason you are late for an interview, make sure you apologise and provide a succinct and believable excuse.

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