What you say

Talk. Be prepared to drive the conversation. Too many of us sit and wait to be asked questions. A little small talk starts things off well. It helps you look and feel more comfortable and confident. It's best to pick the weather or something you saw on the way into work (a construction project for example). But make it short and noncontroversial. Your interviewer might have been cheering for the other side last night.

Work your top-sellers. Come up with three points about yourself that you consider your "top sellers." If you are fresh out of school, you may want to select something about your personal qualities, something about your academic achievement, and finally, something about your extracurricular activities. If you have a few jobs under your belt, identify your top qualities as a leader, an innovator, or a hard worker.

Prove your points. I coached a woman who had worked in customer service at a hospital. She told me she liked "helping people." Many people say that. So when I pressed her to give me an example, she told me how she once managed to locate a person who spoke Urdu to translate for a patient who no one could understand. She went above and beyond, and didn't give up when others might have. Little stories always sell big points.

Make it about the employer. Ask not what the job will do for you, but what you can do on the job. Explain why you're a good match for this particular company and industry, and what you can bring to the party.

Do your homework. Check the company website for basic information and for news releases. During the interview, cite specific things about the company that appeal to you, or ask specific questions about new offerings. Do a more general search on the company to see what others are saying about them. By being knowledgeable about the employer, you are proving that you don't just want a job; you want this job.

Anticipate challenging questions.

Know that you will be asked, "What are your weaknesses?" The key here is to identify a challenge briefly, then discuss how you solved the problem. I once interviewed a young job applicant who admitted that she had a hard time allowing a former manager to take all the credit for her work. She wanted the business owner to realize her contribution. Rehearse your answers ahead of time.

How you say it

According to studies, how you say something matters more than what you say. That means your style is at least as important as your substance. To take your style skills up a notch, consider the following.

Show them you'll "bring it." Express your enthusiasm and your willingness to do anything, not just the most interesting stuff.

Smile. It's one of the easiest ways to win people over. Plan to share an appropriate and relevant story that will prompt a smile. All things being equal, people will always choose the person who is most likeable.

Don't rush. Sometimes, nerves make us rush through an answer just to have it over and done with. Slow yourself down and speak in a normal conversational tone that allows your interviewer to hear and understand your answers.

Make sure to have good eye contact. Looking away or down at your hands signals a lack of self confidence.

Dress the part. Dress in the same style as the most conservative people at the business where you are applying for the job. If some are wearing coats and ties while others just coats, add the tie and make sure it is not the one with the neon cartoon figures. The rule for men and women is, "anything that distracts, detracts." You want to appear as though you fit in, so make it part of your due diligence to find out what they are wearing.

Finish off with a handshake. You'd be surprised at the number of people who don't think to end an interview with a "thank you" and a firm handshake, but rather just turn and walk out the door.

A proper exit will leave your potential employer with a positive impression.

Follow-up. Before you leave, ask how and when the interviewer would like you to follow-up. Drop your interviewer a note of thanks letting them know that you appreciated the opportunity and look forward to hearing from them. You'll not only be seen as well-mannered, but you'll also keep your name out there.

Knowing what you're going to say and how to say it will naturally help reduce your "fear factor." But I can also offer some fear-fighting advice gleaned from my 20 plus years as a television reporter and anchor. First, realize that although the butterflies in your stomach may not go away altogether, you can get them to fly in formation. Once you've acknowledged that:

Be well prepared. Research the company. Practice answering those tough questions, or even the basic ones, aloud.

Remember to breathe. Taking a few nice deep breathes before and during the interview will help slow your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and reduce your adrenaline flow.

Take a moment before answering. You don't need to answer a question the millisecond after it's asked. There is nothing wrong with saying, "Let me think about that."

Don't mention you're nervous. Telling your interviewer you're nervous is not likely to reduce anxiety and might leave your interviewer looking for flaws.

Visualize. Visualize yourself in a job where you felt confident and efficient, and try to project that attitude during your interview.

Today's job market may be a bit more challenging than that of a few years ago, but the bottom line is that companies are still looking for bright, assured, and qualified applicants. And that applicant could be you. Just remember to separate yourself from the crowd by communicating with confidence.