Augustin Cherng, 26, isn't like most young job seekers.
For one, he actually enjoys interviews.
Strange, I know.
And it's not that all of his interviews have been easy. "I've had some tough interviews, but going in feeling prepared and knowing somewhat what to expect really helped," he said.
Interviews can be the most nerve-wracking part of the job search process. But the better prepared you are, the less stress you'll suffer on the big day. Here are a few tips to get you ready:
* Start with the Web site. People often overlook this obvious source of information about an organization. Don't limit yourself to the "Work for Us" section that many employers include on their sites. The richest details about what it would be like to work for an organization are often found elsewhere, particularly the Web page targeting potential investors. Here you will find data about the company's stock performance, its self-perceived mission, and links to annual reports and filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. A similar level of detail can sometimes be found on a nonprofit employer's Web page targeting big donors. For nonprofits, you can also obtain the group's filings with the Internal Revenue Service. GuideStar.org has a free basic service that you can use to learn more about a potential nonprofit employer. Read this material carefully to get a sense of the organization's needs -- and what you can do to fill them.
* Work your network. An organization's official face to the world is revealing, but it won't tell you everything you need to know, especially when it comes to workplace culture. For this, you need to talk with real, live human beings. Do you know any current or former employees? Do your friends know any? If so, try to get the dish on the previous person who held the job, as well as what the company is looking for in the replacement. Insiders could also tip you off to any quirks of the interviewer, such as a bias against women who wear pants or an aversion to smokers.
* Walk through a dress rehearsal. It's a great idea to buy a new outfit for a big job interview, especially if the rest of your wardrobe is an amalgam of worn-out flip-flops, patched-up low-rider jeans, and velour hoodies sporting your college's mascot. But don't let the interview day be the first time you wear the new duds. Nothing will sap your confidence faster than the sudden discovery that your fab new button-down is two sizes too small and your skirt rides up with every step. Plan to break in the new outfit by wearing it in public a few times, whether it's to work or to the grocery store.
* Anticipate the questions. Interviews are very predictable in some ways. Most hiring managers model themselves after the people who interviewed them, right down to asking the same questions. Even the "wacky" questions, such as "If you were stranded on a desert island and could have only one thing, what would it be?" are so routine now that they shouldn't come as a surprise to you. At minimum you should have positive, upbeat answers to questions about why you want to leave your current job, where you see yourself in 10 years, and what your strengths and weaknesses are. Oh, and don't say your greatest weakness is "perfectionism." Too trite.
* Craft questions of your own. Interviews aren't just for employers to learn about you; they're also a chance for you to learn about them. Bring a written list of questions to ask the interviewer -- ideally based on the research you did on the organization's goals and challenges. Cherng, an information technology consultant who lives in Ellicott City, said he never asks questions during the interview that involve publicly available information. "There's no point wasting interview time asking about company performance or mission statement when I can probe into management style, employee morale and retention, company direction," he said.
Hold off on questions about pay, benefits and vacation time until an offer comes through. Bring a pen and paper with you to take notes. If nothing else, it will help keep you from fidgeting.
If your palms are still sweating, take heart. They wouldn't have called you in if they weren't impressed, Cherng said. "Once you actually have an interview, all you have to do is close. The buyer is already interested."
Join Mary Ellen Slayter at 2 p.m. Oct. 10 for Career Track Live, an online discussion of issues affecting young workers, at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/liveonline/jobs/careertrack.