by Victoria Pelham – for The AZ Republic

Job interviews are critical to snaring that coveted job. But you won’t have much time to make that winning first impression, career experts say.
That’s because companies know within a few minutes of an interview if the job candidate will fit into the company’s culture, says Jessica Pierce, founding partner and executive director of Career Connectors in Gilbert. Those looking to stand out during the interview process should really know what they will bring to the company before being interviewed, she says.

“The interview is almost a dress rehearsal. (What) interviewers look for is somebody that will make an immediate impact for them and will make a difference for them,” Pierce says.

Some tips to help you shine during the interview:

– Fully answer the question.

This means providing real-life examples from past work experience, rather than non-specific or obtuse responses, if you want to stand out from the pack.
“It’s having an answer to their major concerns, proving to them how you’ve already done it so you can solve their problems right away,” Pierce says.

– Be conversational.

Interviewers don’t want conversations to be one-sided. So be brief and succinct in your responses, but also ask questions and truly engage in the dialogue. A good rule of thumb is to ask three pertinent questions that show you’ve already researched the company.

– Bring an interview portfolio.

Create and leave an interview portfolio where you can tangibly demonstrate your past accomplishments, which will show the interviewer you were a valued and productive employee. And remember, the portfolio must be tailored toward the specific company, Pierce says.

– Fully research the company.

The most common pitfall for interviewees is not knowing enough about the company, Pierce says. For example, asking specific questions about a company’s past projects, rather than just asking general questions, shows initiative – that you are well-prepared and really want to work for that employer.

– Show you fit the company culture.

Learn about the company’s culture by speaking to current and past workers, which you can track down on social-networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

– Reiterate your strengths.

Mary Wolf-Francis, business liaison for the Phoenix Workforce Connection, says that restating during the interview process what you can bring to the table is an effective way to leave a lasting impression.

“They obviously want to hire you for some gap in their environment they want you to fill,” Wolf-Francis says. “Always think about the person that you’re talking to and how you can make their environment better.”

– Lastly, be professional.

Be friendly but professional. This is not a social event; it’s a job interview. So dress appropriately, and when in doubt, overdress. Always exude a professional demeanor.