FORT LEWIS, Wash. - "What can this worker do for my business in the future'" That's the real question in an employer's mind when conducting a job interview.

Prior to the interview, the employer has read your resume or application, checked the type of work you performed in the past and has called your references (before interviewing).

The professional interviewer knows how to use observations and calculated questions to find out if you're a potential asset. Every contact (telephone call, seeing you at the mall shopping, a drop-in office visit, a formal interview) is part of the interview process.

To the employer, you'll be evaluated as a "picture of the company."

That means that your handshake, greeting, smile and good manners will tell customers that the company is just like you...friendly, professional, and caring to assist; it's the way the employer wants the world to see the company.

If the employer sees and hears you in a restaurant loudly telling a racy story, that too becomes a piece of the "picture" to (negatively) consider. In the formal setting, all interview questions the employer asks you should be related to the tasks to be performed.

A savvy interviewer plans the interview carefully to discover your: (a) general business courtesy; (b) confidence in your skills and qualifications, preparation for the interview by researching the employer; (c) ethical values and problem solving; (d) work style, and intrinsic motivators and; (e) salary and career goals.

To prepare for interview questions in these categories: practice shaking hands with friends and family and introducing yourself until it seems very easy to do; find out what the employer's biggest business product or service is, then make a list of 10 of your skills and how you can use each one to build the employer's business (Read the list twice a day; during the interview you'll probably remember two of the list items to tell the employer how you'll use them.); think of situations that could occur and how you'd correct the problems; check the ONET Web site or ask an employment specialist (in the Employment Readiness Program) for salary guidance.

Employers want to know if you are ready and suitable for the job and work schedule...and that's where the sticky interview questions and scenarios come into the mix. Since an interviewer isn't supposed to ask you personal questions (such as "Do you have children that will need child care'"), they'll often say: "This job requires being here Monday through Friday each day at 8 a.m. and working until 5 p.m. Will that be a workable schedule'"

Many interviewers try other ways.

A common practice is to walk the candidate out to the car to say good-bye, and then take a quick look to see if there's a child's car seat or toys inside. The interviewer might look for other items in the car that will provide the answers to questions. Fast-food wrappings on the floor of the car say "disorganized and messy employee."

There are others that (although not negative) are personal, and give information you might not want the employer to know (bumper stickers, religious statues, cigarette pack on the seat, medical appointment card, casino chips); check your car and ask what it tells the employer. Do "employment intelligence" and think of the interview preparation as an adventure in discovery and salesmanship.

Getting an answer to your job question might benefit others. E-mail your questions to

Carolyn Bennett works with the Fort Lewis ACS Employment Readiness Program. This article is one of a series published in the Northwest Guardian.