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To succeed in an interview, you must be self aware.

Go to a friend or family member and ask that person to sum himself or herself up in 25 words or less. Chances are, he or she will be totally unprepared to answer. You may hear incomplete thoughts and sentence fragments, along with a lot of mumbling. You, on the other hand, must be able to discuss yourself in clear, credible terms.

Start by asking yourself why you want the job in the first place. If money is the only answer you can come up with, you should think about it some more or call the organization back and decline the interview. What motivates you and how can this job, this company profit from your motivation? Have a ready, concise answer to this question, an answer that would impress YOU, were you on the other side of the desk. Here are some examples of good responses:

"I want to make an important contribution and I understand that this company values good ideas and hard work, regardless of how young someone might be."

"This is an organization that would really allow me to use my people skills."

"I have friends who work here, and they've said it's a great place for really ambitious people."

You don't need a dissertation, just a brief, clear answer.

Next, write down a list of your strengths. Do you perform well as a member of a team? Do you learn new skills quickly? Can you juggle several tasks at the same time? Are you a creative problem solver? Are you good at handling details? Do you like to be challenged? Are you comfortable in new settings? When you've listed your strong traits, then write down next to each an example from your personal or professional life. For instance:

Good team player: serve on a neighborhood watch committee.

Can handle several tasks simultaneously: worked two jobs while going to school full time, and still had a 3.7 GPA.

Good at handling details: as an Executive Assistant in my last job, kept the minutes of two corporate steering committees.

Part two of this particular exercise involves an examination of your weaknesses. Do you hate talking on the telephone? Do you become impatient with others? Does mundane paperwork drive you up the wall? Make a list of your shortcomings, and next to each, show an example from your personal or professional life demonstrating how you've worked to correct or modify that behavior. For instance:

Hate talking on phone: I use a hands-free headset so I can move about the room as I talk. That makes me more relaxed on the phone.

Impatient with others: I recall times when I might have tried someone else's patience, and that keeps me a little more grounded and humble.

Hates paperwork: I get as much of it done in the morning as I can. Then I don't have to think about it the rest of the day.

To be asked about weaknesses by an interviewer does not mean that you have to reveal your deepest, darkest secrets. Just consider the manageable items on your downside, and be prepared to discuss them.


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