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The Career Doctor: your employment questions answered

Q: I HAVE a major job interview coming up in a couple of weeks. Academically I would rate my chances as quite good, but I do tend to get rather nervous. The only advice I keep getting is "be yourself". Is this right?

A: Yes, but only if you don't want the job you're applying for. This stale old adage is one of the laziest and most useless pieces of wisdom that ever gets trotted out. You're there at the interview to market yourself. Would you ever try to sell a car without washing it till it gleamed and getting the engine ticking over smoothly? Around 75 per cent of jobs go to people who are only good at interviews, which means that you'll be competing alongside applicants who are able to put in a very powerful performance.

Research, plan and practise. Discover the personality qualities needed for the job and develop them. Self-coach yourself towards managing your nerves by arming yourself with a mental list of all your USPs (unique selling points). Go through all the questions you think may be asked. Then rehearse the step-by-step mechanics like making an entrance, shaking hands and sitting down in the mirror until you look and feel comfortable.

Q: I was told that the company I am applying to has a "dress-down day" policy. What exactly does this mean, and what should I wear if I get the job?

A: "Dress-down" days are a ghastly transatlantic business that has caught on in some of the more formal-wear companies in the UK. Rest assured that nobody really knows what to wear on these days and confusion generally reigns.

Top-of-the-range stuff such as ties and suits are out and so is scruff- stuff like jeans, shorts or trainers. Never see "dress-down days" as an off-the-leash fashion-fest. Play it safe until you get the hang of it by opting for semi-smart trousers like chinos and an (ironed) shirt.

Q: What's the toughest interview questionthat I'm likely to get asked?

A: Probably the one about what value you can add to the company. That well-honed British talent for self-effacing modesty can scupper success at this point, but so can arrogance. Fit benefits you could offer to the company's needs and describe them positively, as in: "I am a hard, thorough and enthusiastic worker," rather than negatives: "I've been told I'm not bad at team working," or "I struggle with being organised and punctual but enjoy the challenge and am learning to improve."