You've armed yourself with a good degree, done a quick reccy of the career options, and earned your stripes on the shop floor working to pay off the loan. According to the Job Hunter's Guide to the Galaxy, you're the ideal candidate for everything from environmental waste manager to superannuated sales exec. The only thing that stands between you and a lifetime of national insurance contributions is­ the interview. According to Mark Sharland, a director of grocery recruitment specialist Michael Page, even the best candidates can make a poor impression. "Lack of preparation is the most common complaint. We have lots of people turning up at the wrong offices and asking for the wrong names." His advice is to check, check and check again ­ including not only how to spell your prospective employer's monicker, but also how to pronounce it. Some candidates are so strung out by the time they reach the right destination that they've already resorted to the pub in a bid to steady their nerves. "It's okay to be nervous," says Sharland reassuringly, but don't go on a bender the night before."I wouldn't advise going out for a big curry, either ­ it tends to put the interviewer off." Better to stay in then, contemplating what to wear ­ another pitfall for the uninitiated. "You don't have to be conservative, but make sure that how you present yourself is appropriate to the job. I interviewed someone recently who had gone over the top with the fake tan ­ they were bright orange, literally Tango'd. It might have been appropriate if I'd been interviewing for a modelling contract, but I had trouble stopping myself from laughing." Anything that distracts the interviewer from what you have to say can compromise your chances of success. But there are other conventions that need to be observed, and it helps if you understand the subtext. "First-time job candidates tend to be clear on what their interests and career goals are, but when somebody asks them Why do you want to work for us?' they tend to give woolly answers," says Sharland. "That question should be read as an invitation to identify your strengths and weaknesses and even to give a summary of your work experience to date. Treat the whole thing as a conversation with a purpose rather than an interview." The one question guaranteed to make any graduate who made a wrong first degree choice squirm is Why did you choose to study that?' Be brave, says Sharland. It doesn't matter that your 2:1 in zoology means you know the inside of an elephant, but can't tell one baked bean can from another ­ just so long as you've got enthusiasm, honesty and integrity by the spade. "If you feel you made a wrong decision at 18 then explain why," says Sharland. "And if the degree you ended up with isn't specific to the job you're looking for, respond in an open and direct way. The worst possible answer to give is I've been certified by the school of real life'." The benign face of recruitment these days is the human resources officer who will almost certainly be among the people you encounter when you turn up for a first round interview, along with a graduate recruitment officer or their equivalent. Gone are the days of interrogation by a panel of grey suits. That's not to say every employer will be fully equipped to deal with you. It's not unknown for interviews to be conducted in back rooms, cupboards and on a busy shop floor. "The companies that don't make time or adequate provision for what is a serious and important event are the ones you don't want to work for," warns Sharland. But if all goes smoothly and you successfully complete round one, you're likely to be invited back for a more detailed discussion with senior members of staff. Don't be fazed if you're invited to an overnight or weekend assessment centre. But be warned, they can engender a false sense of security. "You'll probably check in at 4pm and go for an evening meal together. Whether or not you're told you're being assessed, it's best to assume you're on parade the entire time you're there," says Sharland. In the grocery sector where there are more jobs than quality candidates to fill them ­ especially in marketing and IT ­ the magic combination of enthusiasm, good qualifications and relevant work experience can open doors on to a glittering career. But never forget that the people you meet on the way up are inevitably the ones you bump into if you're ever on the way down. So go home, take off the tan, pour yourself a large drink, order the curry, and sit down to write the Thank You letter. "It's worth its weight in gold," says Sharland. {{Z SUPPLEMENTS }}