Master your job interview with these preparation secrets

If you've nailed the job application and are preparing for the interview, there are some simple steps you can take to maximize your chances of getting the job offer -- and leapfrog over people who have many years more experience than you do.

I learned how interviews worked while I was interviewing for college scholarships. I secured interview after interview, but I kept losing -- until I finally videotaped myself and realized I never smiled! I was speaking in a monotone, and finally saw how I may have been qualified, but my body language was making me look like a boring, unfriendly candidate.

Once I cracked the code, I changed my presentation and starting closing interview after interview, netting me enough scholarship money to pay my way through my undergraduate and graduate degrees at Stanford.

I refined my techniques to land job offers at Google, Intuit, and a multi-billion-dollar financial firm, then I tested them with thousands of students to help them find a job they loved.

Here are 5 proven strategies to help you prepare for your next job interview -- and beat out the candidates with years' more experience than you.

Interview Tip #1: 80% of the work is done before you ever set foot in the room

Imagine the difference between these two candidates:

Candidate 1 walks in the room, says "Nice to meet you," and spends the next 30 minutes answering the interviewer's questions.

Candidate 2 walks in, says "Nice to see you again!" and spends the next 30 minutes not only answering questions, but also talking about the company's challenges and making specific recommendations on how they can help.

The difference is striking. Many of my readers walk in already knowing their interviewer, because they've reached out to the people who work at the companies before they applied. They used their networks, including LinkedIn and mutual connections, to run informational interviews and learn precisely what the company's challenges are. When they walk in the interview room, they know the exact words that hiring managers use to describe their business challenges -- and often, they know the person interviewing them.

Interview Tip #2: Know your top 3 selling points that you want to get across

Your job in an interview is not simply to answer questions. It's to get your main points across.

Watch the masters of this: CEOs and politicians. When they're interviewed, they don't simply answer the question -- they always get their talking points across.

Now, you don't have to be smarmy or obnoxious. But you should have 3 talking points, like:
• "I have experience in exactly this area" (followed by specific examples)
• "I'm a team player" (followed by stories of how you worked together with difficult team members)
• "I'm proactive" (ideal talking point for startups and small companies)

Average candidates answer interview questions. Top performers answer the interview questions, but they also take every opportunity to hammer home their key points with stories and examples.

Interview Tip #3: Prepare ultra-crisp answers to the most common questions

This sounds obvious, but if I asked you right now, "Why do you want to work here?" do you have a crisp, 30-second answer?

We all "know" we should prepare answers, but we don't (usually because we don't want to sound rehearsed). Ironically, preparing answers will actually allow you to focus on the intangibles like eye contact and body language, making you sound less rehearsed!

Here are common questions you should always be prepared for with a 30-second response:

• Tell me about yourself.
• What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
• Why should we hire you over all the other candidates?
• Can you explain [your resume's biggest red flag]?

From interviewing hundreds of people, I was surprised that roughly 5% were actually prepared with answers to these questions -- questions they certainly knew they would get. This tip is an easy way to stand out.

Interview Tip #4: Prepare answers to the company's biggest challenges

This is an unconventional technique that has produced job offers, salary increases, and new clients for thousands of my readers. It's called The Briefcase Technique, and it ties together the above tips with a powerful result.

Instead of simply treating an interview like a meeting where you answer an interviewer's questions, you do your homework beforehand, studying the company and even taking employees out to coffee for an informational interview.

By the time you walk into the interview, you know precisely the hopes and fears of the interviewer -- and you can craft your experience to match what they're looking for.

Come up with 3-5 ideas for the company/job department you're applying for -- then actually do the work and bring it into the meeting (e.g. a proposal, an analysis, a business plan, etc.) This shows them that you know what you're talking about, and it also shows that you take initiative instead of waiting to be told what to do.

If you're curious, watch an actual video of the Briefcase Technique.

Insert video here

Interview Tip #5: Advanced preparation: Use a mirror, a friend, and a camera

You might be the most qualified person for the job, but if the interviewer doesn't connect with you, you'll get passed up. That's why the softer skills -- body language, smiling, how much you ramble -- matter more than most people think.

Here's what to do. When you prepare for your interview, don't just memorize your answers. Practice your body language too.

First, ask your toughest friend to interview you. Have them give you candid feedback on how your answers sounded. Were you confident? Friendly? Rambling?

Next, take your improved answers and watch yourself in the mirror. What can you do to improve your gestures and appearance?

Finally, videotape yourself answering the most common questions. The first time you do this, you'll probably cringe. But after systematically watching and improving yourself on video over and over, you'll be a polished version of yourself -- your best self.

Even the best "naturals" practice. This is how you can look confident and collected when answering tough interview questions.

Becoming a master at interviewing

If you'd like to learn more about how to nail your job interview, I put together a video of the 3 biggest mistakes people make in interviews -- and how to avoid them.

Most of us can become dramatically better at job interviews with just a few hours of work. You don't have to be a natural, or walk in as a pre-rehearsed robotic candidate. But with some practice and a focus on understanding what the interviewer is looking for, we can give ourselves the best shot at our dream job by becoming the best version of ourselves.