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Nail your interview by setting the right tone

(MoneyWatch) Relatively speaking, the mechanics preparing for a job interview are easy: An updated resume, addressing accomplishments and impact rather than just job responsibilities, dressing right, and so on. But a major dynamic of any interview is the tone you set with the way you speak and act. And that intangible is really challenging. It's also why a lot of otherwise qualified people don't get the job.

Think of it this way: It's a buyer's market out there. There are a slew of reasonably qualified candidates for most positions, and when you interview you're facing off against any number of other folks who, on paper, look just as good as you. That's why the real hiring decisions are made in the margin -- by assessing intangible qualities that tell hiring managers if you're a good fit for the company and the culture.

Recently, Wall Street Oasis ran a story called "How to nail an interview" which covered a lot of this same ground. The focus at Oasis is interviewing for a banking position, but a lot of the advice is universal. As you prepare for the in-person interview, here are some thoughts for how to present yourself and put your best foot forward.

Be confident. Easier said than done -- but you need to project confidence and enthusiasm when you speak. Bring energy to the meeting. Don't look down when you talk -- look at the people you're speaking to. Don't mumble. You get the idea.

Be concise but thorough. You need to strike a balance: Answer the question but don't take too long. If in doubt, err on the side of completeness, but don't ramble or repeat yourself, and be careful that you don't stray into free-form explorations of related topics. If your answers are too brief, it can feel like you don't have any expertise, you're not a sufficiently thoughtful person, or -- worst of all -- you're not being truthful. At the other end of the spectrum, you don't want to be the person who uses most of the interview to answer a single question, or who has to keep getting cut off so there's time to cover more ground.

Sell yourself -- but be humble. Of course, the interview is all about explaining how you can add value to the company. And that means making sure your hiring manager understands what skills, experience, and perspectives you bring to the table. On the other hand, you need to temper that with some humility. Be sure to acknowledge you're a team player and call out how others contributed to projects that you're taking credit for. If it seems that you're trying to say that you did everything yourself, you can come off as egotistical and difficult to work with.

Be careful with eye contact. You want to look at people you're talking to and appear to exude confidence. But be careful with your eye contact -- too much, too long, can make people uncomfortable. If you're a natural introvert and not used to eye contact, you should practice this with someone before the interview.

Don't monopolize the clock. Certainly, you need to be responsive to the flow of the interview. Look for cues that your interviewer wants to talk or break in with a question. In addition, it's possible you might find yourself in a group situation with other candidates for the same position -- such as if the group of you are taken out to dinner for a meet-and-greet before the interview day. This kind of meeting calls for delicacy; you'll want to be sure to interact -- don't sit there quietly for the whole evening and only speak if directly spoken to -- but you must likewise be careful not to monopolize the evening and not let other people talk. Your job isn't to shut out the other candidates or appear more awesome; it's to show that you are personable and collegiate.

Photo courtesy Flickr user servantofchaos

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