Employment Guide: Expert talks interviewing strategy

By Lindsay Carroll

It’s the scariest and most important part of a job hunt — the interview.

However, college… It’s the scariest and most important part of a job hunt — the interview.

However, college graduates can prepare themselves so that they don’t meet their employers empty handed.

Justin Kelly, a career and employment counselor at the Career Development Center of Jewish Family & Children’s Service in Squirrel Hill, said applicants should be able to sell themselves — and their experiences.

“More than anything, relevant experience is what gets noticed on résumés,” Kelly said.

These experiences can include internships, involvement in student organizations and part-time jobs, he said.

How to prepare

You can prepare yourself for the job market by learning how to sell your “transferable skills,” Kelly said. These include leadership, teamwork and customer service. Before the interview, you can think of all the experiences that demonstrate these skills and examples of times when you had to use them.

Students planning on going into certain fields might expect unusual questions from their potential employers.

Kelly said that sometimes, employers could ask applicants “bizarre” questions to test skills they can’t otherwise observe.

For instance, people applying for consulting jobs might get “case interview questions,” Kelly said. One example might be, “How many pingpong balls fit into a 747 jet?”

He said employers will ask these questions to test applicants’ thought processes to see how they break down a problem and come to a logical conclusion.

Another type of question applicants can be aware of is the “stress interview” question.

Kelly said an employer, such as those in a retail establishment, might ask this to focus on an applicant’s behavior while he or she answers the question.

The employer might ask if the applicant has stolen anything on the job before and then see if the person gets stressed out, changes eye contact or fidgets.

People applying for creative positions should bring a portfolio, Kelly said. It might be a hard copy or an electronic one.

“It’s great to be able to discuss it, but it’s even better to show your creativity, whether it’s written or in graphic form.”

Students can also prepare by seeking professional help, either through Pitt or private firms.

The Career Development Office at Pitt offers career counseling for students, including resumé help, internship advice and mock interviews. You can schedule an appointment in advance or come to the office’s walk-in hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for resumé advice or a mock interview.

If you make an appointment early into your college career, Career Development counselors can help you decide on a major, plan for internships and network.

Kelly said mock interviews are important — you might even want to videotape yourself to see the mannerisms and body language that you use.

And another part of preparing for the interview actually occurs after the interview.

You should send a thank-you note to the employer within 24 hours after meeting them — at least, in an e-mail.

You might even want to send a hand-written note.

“It might sound like a little bit of overkill,” Kelly said. But so few send hand-written notes that they could stand out.

“In the competitive environment in which we’re in, you need to be able to stand out,” Kelly said. “That just might be the way you can stand out from the crowd.”

Try not to make mistakes — and don’t wear cologne

If you fail to arrive to the interview on time, it can be a deal-breaker with your employer.

Kelly said that people can avoid a worst-case scenario (such as being stuck in traffic or getting lost) by arriving early — even if the time frame seems drastic.

“I might have to be really, really early, but I’m going to make sure I avoid traffic issues,” Kelly said. If the interview is at 10 a.m., you might want to plan to be there at 9 a.m., he said.

Other common mistakes include miscommunication through body language or dress.

“If you’re saying you’re really excited about the position, you need to be smiling and nodding — sitting forward in your chair, rather than a laid-back or casual stance,” Kelly said.

Sometimes, people don’t communicate their accomplishments well — they might “undersell” them, he said, or fail to verbalize those accomplishments.

“You need to understand the impact of your contributions to a team or to a project,” Kelly said.

And you should buy a suit for the interview.

“You really want to be cleaned up,” Kelly said.

Except when allowing for cultural sensitivity, he said that applicants shouldn’t wear lip rings, eye rings, nose rings or show their tattoos during an interview.

And even though you might wear it for a date, avoid wearing perfume or cologne to an interview, Kelly said. Your employer could be allergic, or you could be overzealous when you use it.

“It might just be so overwhelming for them,” he said.