The first thing to remember is that The Job Market Sucks, especially if you're looking for high-tech work. These things are cyclical -- if we're lucky -- and the wheel will likely turn again. But in the interim, you're looking at a job market where there are many applicants for each job. This means that employers can and will be picky in hiring. Resumes get discarded for seemingly trivial reasons. But I'm not here to work over your resume -- I'm here to talk about what to do when you do land an interview.
This leads to the second thing to remember: The Interviewing Process Is Not Fair. If you're lucky, it won't be blatantly discriminatory, but Not Fair is probably the best that you can hope for. Things that didn't cause you to fail an interview in good times will cause you to fail the same interview now.
For example, I am fat. This is going to earn me negative points in an interview situation, fair or not. I can't do a lot (in the short term) about being fat, but I can try to ameliorate the situation by looking professional when I show up for the interview. This means that I need to "wear the uniform". I need a clean, well-pressed suit, shirt, and tie -- even if I'm not likely to be wearing one on a regular basis in my high-tech job. If I have a beard or mustache, they had best be neatly trimmed. My hair should have met a barber in recent weeks and should be at a normal length for a business person. (If you're a woman, you also have a uniform, but it'll be a bit more flexible. I suspect you know what it is. :) )
Why are these things important? Do they have anything to do with your performance on the job? It turns out that they do, at some marginal level. What you are trying to do is to convince your prospective employer that you are not particularly eccentric, because eccentricity is not something that a business is going to see as a plus, in general. Now, you and I both know that -- although you're a bit eccentric -- you're also really good at your job and that your minor eccentricities aren't really a problem. But your potential employer sees "Oh, my God. Another lunatic like that guy that I hired back in 1998 who was such a problem."
Don't give him a reason to think that. Once you are a valued employee with a fine track record, your employer will be willing to give you some license to be a bit -- or maybe more than a bit -- eccentric. But this is a privilege that you have to earn.
At this point, you can start to complain that all this is Not Fair. You're absolutely right. Now, do you want a job, or do you want to complain?
Good. We can move onto the third thing then.
Today You Are A Salesman and the product that you are selling is you. I hate Sales. I never want to work in Sales. The fact that I don't like Sales has something to do with the difficulties I had interviewing when I got my MBA 22 years ago and couldn't find a job. Now, I got really lucky, ended up working for one of my professors at a temporary job which morphed into permanent employment after a month and I'm still there.
Of course, if you were really lucky, you'd have a job right now. So instead of relying on luck, it's time to become a Salesman, despite the fact that it's not your forte. Look at it this way: is there a product in the world that you know the strengths and weaknesses of better than yourself? It is now time to accentuate the positive. You know what your skills are. Let your potential employer know how those skills can benefit him, because that's what he's in the interview trying to find out.
If you don't know how your skills can help the interviewer out (because, for some reason, you've been unable to get sufficient information about the company or job in advance), find out what it is that he needs done and then be prepared to think on your feet. You can have several versions of the story prepared in advance, based on reasonable assumptions about what he might be looking for, even assuming that your advance research is an utter failure. He must have seen something on your resume that interested him, so take a look at what it might have been and be ready to sell it to him.
Today You Are A Salesman. The most important thing to you is to close this deal. (Ok, there are some deals that it's better to walk away from, but if you don't get the job offer, you don't even get the chance to decide to walk away from it. Wouldn't you like to at least look at the offer first?) This means that you have to remove roadblocks that will prevent the deal from closing. Do you have a salary history from the dot.bomb boom -- assuming that you've been forced somehow to hand it over; that's better kept under your hat -- that is out of line with current salary structures? This Is Not A Problem. You understand what the going rate for this job is. (You do understand that, don't you?) Do you have some Immovable Scheduling Obstacle -- say, for instance, that you're pregnant, but not yet visibly so? Maybe you don't want to share that information just now. Or maybe the Immovable Scheduling Obstacle isn't really immovable -- if you really want the job.
You Do Really Want This Job. Even if you decide after you leave the interview that you don't want the job, when you are in the interview, You Do Really Want This Job. There are occasional exceptions to this rule -- such as, when it is obvious that this is a complete mismatch -- but usually, you're in the interview because it's not a complete mismatch. So not only can you do this job better than anyone else, but you want to do it.
(This, by the way, was one of my major problems when interviewing. I believe that there are probably a number of things that I could do and enjoy doing. That's not what an interviewer wants to hear. He wants you to be motivated to want his job, because there's somebody out there who -- even if he isn't really motivated by this particular job -- is at least capable of lying to him competently. And, you know, after you've been out of work for a while, maybe You Really Do Want This Job.)
These things may not get you every job, but they'll get some of the roadblocks out of your way. And if you knock down the roadblocks, you've got a better chance of getting through the interview process and showing them what you can actually do.