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Interview should go both ways

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An interview can be a nerve-wracking experience.

The job seeker feels pressure to answer questions and make a good impression.

But career experts say interviews need to be two-way streets if job seekers want to make sure they won't hate their new jobs in six months.

Specifically, job candidates must be armed with questions to really learn what an organization is all about. They've got to ferret out information to help them avoid a boss who channels Attila the Hun or an organization that is a poster child for dysfunctional companies.

“People think an interview is when they have to sell themselves,” says Alexandra Levit, co-founder of the Career Advisory Board. “But I think it's also a time to ask questions and find out more about the employer.”

You should ask to talk to other employees who would be colleagues if a job is offered, Levit says.

“Ask them questions about what sets the organization apart, what they really like about the company and their jobs,” she says.

Companies are likely to offer “rah-rah” employees who will say only good things about the employer, but Levit says they still can offer valuable information.

Carol Kinsey Goman, a business coach and expert on non-verbal communication, agrees.

Look at what employees aren't saying with words but indicating with their body language, she says.

“Probably the biggest mistake people make when trying to read body language is that they take one signal for having a ton of meaning,” she says. “But what you want to do is look for a cluster of signals.”

Engage in small talk during an interview because hiring managers can gauge your “likeability” and see how you might fit into the workplace culture.

And to spot a hiring manager who may be hiding something, Goman advises you to look down. People may be savvy enough to cover evasions with smiles or eye contact, but they forget about their feet.

Watch for these examples, Goman says:

• If a hiring manager's legs are crossed, pay attention to the foot on top.

If it's angled toward you, the manager is interested. If it's pointed away, the person may be withdrawing.

• If you're in a negotiation and you notice a lot of foot-jiggling, or rocking back on feet and raising toes, the manager probably feels he or she has the upper hand.

“Next time you want to know what someone's thinking, take a closer look at their feet,” Goman says. If you don't like what you're hearing and observing, your feet can take you to a better opportunity.

Write Anita Bruzzese in care of USA TODAY/Gannett, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va. 22108.

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