Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Interview Dilemmas: Dos and Don’ts for Getting That Call

by Laurel Mylonas-Orwig

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve had a bevy of interviewers roll through our offices. This is good news for students: even in a down economy, many companies are still hiring for entry-level positions. In fact, according to a September Chicago Sun-Times article, entry-level jobs are the least affected in this economy, because they’re the least expensive. Because of staffing shortages caused by layoffs, this is also a good time for recent graduates to get higher-level experience than they might otherwise.

So, that’s the good news. The bad news is that, as you might have guessed, this job market is even more competitive than usual. That means that job-seekers need to be on top of their game at all times to snag that illusive and all-important interview. You’ve probably heard the most important tips: make sure your resume and cover letter are targeted and polished; try to submit your materials to a person, not a database; do your research on the company and the position. You also probably know that setting up an appointment with CAPS is a good way to get advice and feedback on your materials and your job search, as well as practice for an interview. Once you’ve taken care of the obvious steps, however, here are a few more tips to keep in mind:
  • Get a business card. Even if you don’t have a title to list under your name, a business card is a lot less likely to wind up in the trash than a scrap of paper with your name scribbled on it. Printing companies like Kinko’s offer relatively inexpensive cards, as do a lot of web-based companies. Don’t try to be fancy—stick to your name, address, and contact information. The bottom line is that when you meet someone unexpectedly—on the bus, in the grocery store, at a cultural event—you want to give them a way to remember you. After all, personal connections can go a looong way when you’re looking for a job. And speaking of networking...
  • Look for a person, not a position. Try to figure out what company or companies you’re interested in working for, then look for people you know who can help you get there. Talk to anyone you can think of, because you never know who might know someone who knows someone get the idea. According to the same Sun-Times article, 80% of jobs are filled by personal referral. The bottom line? Make your network work for you. And remember that your network also includes thousands of University alumni. Check out the Alumni Careers Network (find log in instructions at to make contact with those working in the industry you’re interested in.
  • Dress to impress. True story: one prospective candidate wrote in her cover letter, “I have been in professional environments and I know when I need to pull my hair up and act like a lady.” Then, she showed up to her interview in jean shorts. Bad call. Whether you’re going to an interview or simply meeting an acquaintance for an information session, make sure that you’re dressed professionally and appropriately. Be mindful of your audience—i.e., whether you’re talking to someone in a formal or informal company—but when in doubt, wear a suit. One recruiter who was recently at CAPS told us that when making decisions about which students to invite back, how an interviewee dressed can make or break it.
Once you've gotten the interview...
  • Use your waiting time effectively. Keep in mind that you aren’t just trying to impress the interviewer—you can make important connections in the waiting room, too. One job-seeker found out that the receptionist at the company she was interviewing with was a friend of a friend, a connection that worked in her favor. While you won’t necessarily get that lucky, you can learn a lot from the waiting room, like the culture of the company and the types of personalities they are looking for. Whatever you do, don’t get on your cell phone and loudly recount your exploits from the night before. Be professional at all times.
And finally, mistakes not to make in an interview... has built a website around funny, stupid, and in some cases, unbelievable mistakes that job-seekers have made in cover letters, resumes and interviews. But as you laugh, remember to proof your materials thoroughly...some of the resume and cover letter mistakes could happen to anyone.

Some of the top interview tips, courtesy of Not Hired:
• Don’t stretch out on the floor to fill out a job application.
• Don’t bring your dog to the interview.
• Don’t wear an MP3 player and tell the interviewer that you can listen to it and
him/her at the same time.
• Don’t challenge the interviewer to an arm-wrestling match.
• Don’t ask to see the interviewer’s resume to see if he/she is qualified to judge
• Don’t tell them that if you’re hired, you’ll demonstrate your loyalty by having
the company logo tattooed on your forearm.
• Don’t whistle while the interviewer is talking.
• Don’t throw up on the interviewer’s desk, and then start asking questions about
the job although nothing has happened. Actually, don’t throw up at all.
• And most importantly, don’t offer the interviewer cocaine (or any illegal substance) at the start of an interview.

Check out to read more hilarious, scandalous, and awkward job-search mistakes.

Questions, comments, tips or interview stories of your own? Post a comment!