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Career & Resume Tips

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How to Prepare

Employers don't interview candidates they don't feel are qualified, therefore once you’ve made it past the initial screening it's your opportunity to convince an employer, using your powers of persuasion and communication skills, that you are the right person for the job.
Research Yourself
  • Clarify the skills and abilities you have to offer an employer, thinking of an example for each one
  • Develop a list of your five to seven strongest skills for a particular position
  • Review the CDC’s work-related values inventory, selecting the ten top values as factors to help you find the right organizational fit
  • Work with a counselor to explore your skills, interests, personality style, and values as they relate to your career choice
  • Research the Position/Field
  • Research the career field/position you are pursuing to convince yourself this is an occupation you would enjoy (it’s much easier to convince a potential employer once you’ve convinced yourself)
  • Review CDC Career Resource Library and online resources describing various career fields
  • Talk with personal contacts and alumni,  about the nature of their work and the organization they represent
  • When a job description is available, list the key skills being sought so that you can match your skills/strengths with the needs being listed
Research the Organization
  • Conduct thorough research on the organization, developing a checklist of information to share with the interviewer during the interview
  • View CDC publications and resources listing in the Researching Employers section
  • Visit the organization’s website
  • Prepare questions to ask about the organization during the interview
Prepare for Questions
  • Review the commonly asked interviewing questions and prepare answers in advance
  • Answer questions using specific examples to support your response. Think of the acronym STAR (situation/task, action, and result), to focus on specific experiences to support your responses:
  • Situation/Task - describe a task or project for which you had responsibility
  • Action - talk about the approach you took to deal with the situation
  • Result - discuss the outcome of your action, making sure to mention accomplishments or improvements resulting from your action
  • Emphasize the most relevant and impressive aspects of your background and qualifications (including paid and volunteer work) and don’t be afraid to talk about accomplishments and skills
  • Highlight the skills that you have developed that are transferable to the potential employer
  • Speak in positive terms about previous experiences and employers
  • Assume that what you don’t tell an interviewer, she/he won’t know
  • Don't assume that the interviewer has read your resume in depth
  • Practice Interviewing
  • Schedule a mock or practice interview with a CDC Career Counselor. Mock interviews, conducted in 45 minute appointments, enable you to practice answering typical interview questions and receive feedback on your responses
  • Have a friend play the part of the interviewer to enable you to practice your responses; ask for constructive criticism
  • Attend one of the Interviewing Workshops conducted each quarter at the CDC
  • Talk with a CDC counselor about how to best present yourself in an interview
Lack of Preparation = Rejection
  • Lack of Self-Knowledge
  • An interviewer cannot determine where you fit into the organization until you explain your career interests and applicable skills
  • Lack of Company Knowledge
  • Most employers make information about themselves readily available, especially if they recruit on campus. Failure to review company information demonstrates a lack of interest and initiative
  • Lack of Questions
  • When employers ask if you have any questions for them, a negative response indicates a lack of interest on your part
  • Lack of Enthusiasm
  • Employers want to hire someone who is excited about the prospect of working with their organization
  • Lack of Confidence
  • If you doubt your ability to do the job, an employer will also experience doubt
  • Poor Communication Skills
  • The employer must be able to hear you, understand your words, and follow your train of thought. The inability to communicate necessary information indicates a lack of practice
  • Unprofessional Application or Appearance
  • It is true that you only have one opportunity to make a first impression. If your resume is sloppy or has typos, you are at an immediate disadvantage and may not get an opportunity to interview. Additionally, if you present yourself at an interview inappropriately dressed, an employer may decide you wouldn’t fit into their organization
Helpful Hints
  • Arrive Early
  • Ten to fifteen minutes can provide you with a cushion should some unforeseen problem occur
  • Bring Along Extra Copies of Your Resume
  • If the interviewer has misplaced your information this will assist them and add to your image as a prepared person
  • Maintain Eye Contact
  • Unwillingness to look someone in the eye is often taken as evasiveness
  • Ask for Clarification
  • If you’re confused by a question, ask the interviewer to restate it. This shows poise on your part and allows you to answer questions appropriately
  • Be Yourself
  • Interviewers respond well to those candidates they feel are being sincere and genuine
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Interview Attire and Business Etiquette

What To Wear
What kind of suit is appropriate for a business interview?
  • Women should opt for a fashionable business suit in a low-key color such as navy, black or gray. Patterns are acceptable if they are extremely subtle, such as a fine dress tweed or pin stripe.
  • The jacket should have long sleeves, with a straight or pleated skirt
  • A coatdress, with clean, simple lines, is also acceptable attire
  • Men should wear a clean and professionally pressed two-piece, single-breasted suit in navy, black or charcoal, wool or wool blend, and solid or very thin pinstripes
  • Your suit should always be worn with an all-cotton, well-ironed white or possibly light blue, long sleeved dress shirt
Where can I shop to find an inexpensive suit?
  • You can find suits, dress shirts, blouses, and shoes that are very inexpensive and in good taste at thrift shops, discount stores, consignment shops and outlet stores
  • Remember that the key is a simple style in a conservative color
  • If you find a dark suit with contrasting buttons, replace them with buttons the color of the suit
  • Have the suit cleaned and professionally pressed
I have only one suit. How can I change my look?
  • Wearing a different tie or shirt can dramatically change the look of your suit
  • A woman can accent her basic outfit with a different blouse, a scarf, or a simple small pin
Can I wear a pantsuit to the interview?
A pantsuit can be very smart and professional looking provided that the jacket is tailored to fit with matching slacks and is worn with a simple no frill blouse.
Does it matter what kind of tie I wear?
Yes. You should wear a silk tie in a simple stripe or repeating pattern, with no more than three colors. The background color should be neutral perhaps navy, dark gray or burgundy.
What are the appropriate shoes to wear?
  • For men, shoes should be leather, black or brown, and polished with no worn down heels. The wing tip and other plain lace-up shoes are the traditional footwear. Slip-ons work as well if they are dressy and in good taste.
  • Business socks should be over-the-calf, never ankle length or even slightly droopy, and should match your pants or shoes. Never wear white gym socks
  • For women, the best shoes are plain pumps with one to two inch heels. You can go higher if you don’t feel tall enough, but make sure you can still walk quickly and steadily. Shoes should be of high quality leather in black or the color of your suit.
  • Wear sheer stockings in a skin tone
I was told to dress casually for my interview - what is casual?
Appropriate business casual is usually a pair of slacks, shirt, and sports jacket. Never wear jeans, T-shirts, tennis shoes, sandals or boots to an interview
What about accessories?
  • Women should carry a small, simple purse
  • Men, if you are not yet in the habit of carrying a wallet, now is the time to start, and the place for it is in one of the inner chest pockets of your suit
  • A briefcase is not necessary. However, a leather portfolio or notebook holder is a good idea for on-site interviews; on campus, a notebook to hold a few extra resumes would be appropriate.
  • Now is the time to wean yourself from your faithful backpack
What kind of jewelry should I wear?
Women should wear post or simple earrings, no dangles. Too much jewelry or the wrong jewelry can be considered distracting and can elicit negative responses. Men should wear a watch.
I have worn an earring throughout my college years. Is it okay, as a man, to wear it to my interview?
It is not in your best interest to wear your earring because it breaks the rule of executive dress. This style of jewelry is acceptable when you are with your friends or even in some work environments, but it is not appropriate for the job interview.
Is it appropriate to wear perfume or cologne?
No, don’t wear any scent at all. The most appreciated scent is your natural, fresh smell after a bath or shower. Do use a deodorant after bathing. Avoid smoking in your interviewing outfit. Cigarette odors can cling to your clothes for several hours and many people find this odor offensive.
Should I wear make-up?
If you choose to wear make-up, keep it understated. Opt for a healthy, natural look. Your nails should be short with clear or pale polish.
Should I cut my hair to look more professional?
It is not necessary for you to cut your hair, but you should wear it in a neat, clean, and groomed style, off your face. Men should shave and trim their mustache. Beards are probably best grown after you get the job.
Do these guidelines apply to all organizations, or just the corporate world? What if I’m interviewing for a job with a less formal environment?
Every industry has its own requirements, and knowing what to wear on the day of the interview is vitally important. Always think about the impression you want to make and what clothes will help make that impression. If you are interviewing for a job in a less formal environment, then it may be acceptable for men to wear slacks, a sports coat and a shirt and tie. Women can wear a simple dress or matching skirt/slacks and blouse.
How to Conduct Yourself
How can I make the most of my time at business functions?
  • Both men and women should stand when meeting someone or being introduced
  • Make good eye contact, have a friendly smile and a good, firm handshake
  • If you are at a large gathering and you do not know anyone, take the initiative to introduce yourself by using your first and last name and providing some brief information about yourself
  • Read body language and be aware of infringing on others
  • Ten minutes is about the right amount of time to stay with a group before moving on
  • If I am invited to dine during the interviewing process, what food should I order?
  • Do not order the most expensive or least expensive food
  • Avoid messy or unfamiliar food and those with drippy sauces or bones
  • Do not order alcoholic beverages
  • Order only the basic salad, main course and beverage or food similar to your host
  • Do not change your order or send food back unless there is a major problem, then handle it discreetly
What should I do if my napkin slides off my lap or I drop a piece of flatware?
Once you are seated, the napkin goes on your lap. Should you leave for any reason during the meal, place it loosely folded on your chair. If you should drop your napkin or a piece of flatware on the floor, ask for a replacement. Do not wipe the flatware with your napkin.
Many times, there are several utensils at a place setting. Where do I start?
  • Your bread plate is to your left and your water glass is to your right
  • When using flatware, start from the outside and work your way in
  • Once you use your knife, never place it back on the table. Place it diagonally to the right of your plate (unless you are left-handed) or across the top of your plate.
  • Never talk with food in your mouth
  • Community foods, such as bread and butter, should be offered first to the person seated at your left, then passed to the right after helping yourself
  • Food is always passed to your right
What do I do at the end of the meal?
  • If the check is placed in front of you while interviewing, ignore it. Your host will ask for it when ready.
  • Never offer to share payment, especially since you are the invited guest
  • Women, after your meal, do not apply make-up at the table or leave lipstick smudges on the glass or coffee cup. Blot before eating.
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Interview Guide

Researching Yourself
  • Think back on your previous experiences (work, academic, extracurricular) to determine the skills and abilities used in each.
  • Develop a list of your five to seven strongest skills for a particular position. Also, review the work-related values inventory, selecting the nine top values as factors to help you find the right organizational fit.
  • Work with a counselor to explore your skills, interests, personality style, and values as they relate to your career choice.
Researching the Position/Field
When a job description is available, list the key skills being sought so that you can match your skills/strengths with the needs being listed. It is helpful to develop an example from your experiences to demonstrate each skill.
Mock or Practice Interviews
Practice makes perfect! Review the commonly asked interviewing questions and prepare answers in advance. You don’t want to appear rehearsed, but you do want to sound prepared. The more practice you have answering typical questions, the better able you are to convey your ideas in a clear, concise manner.
  • Attend one of the many Interviewing Workshops conducted each quarter .
  • Have a friend play the part of the interviewer to enable you to practice your responses; ask for constructive criticism.
  • Talk with a counselor about how to present yourself most favorably in an interview.
Preparing for Questions
  1. Whenever possible, answer questions using specific examples to support your response. Think of the acronym STAR (situation or task, action, and result), a simple three-step process that will enable you to focus on specific experiences to support your responses:
    • Situation or Task—describe a task or project for which you had responsibility
    • Action—talk about the approach you took to deal with the situation
    • Result—discuss the outcome of your action, making sure to mention accomplishments or improvements resulting from your action
  2. Emphasize the most relevant and impressive aspects of your background and qualifications (including paid and volunteer work).
  3. Stress that the skills you have developed in the past are transferable to the employer’s organization.
  4. Speak in positive terms about previous experiences and employers.
  5. Don’t be afraid to talk about accomplishments and skills (assume that what you don’t tell an interviewer, she/he won’t know). Also, don’t assume they have read your resume in depth.
  6. If possible, include an example (either extracurricular or in a work situation) of your ability to work as a part of a team.
Things to watch out for during an Interview
The First Impression
  1. Introduction and greeting
  2. Small talk (brief, informal conversation on a topic of mutual interest—keep comments short)
  3. The employer is looking for a firm handshake, eye contact, appearance and dress appropriate to the organization, ease in social situations, good manners and poise.
  1. Go over the positive and negative points of each interview and modify your responses
  2. Learn from your mistakes and build on your strengths
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Sample Interview Questions

Skills and Personal Qualities
  • What skills or personal qualities do you possess that will help make you successful in today’s job market?
  • Tell me about yourself (ask what type of information the employer is looking for, skills? personal background?).
  • What special skills do you possess that would make you stand out from other candidates?
  • Describe a frustrating or challenging experience you’ve encountered and tell me how you dealt with it.
  • Discuss some of your past leadership/teamwork roles and your accomplishments in them.
  • Why should our organization hire you?
  • Who was the most difficult person you have ever dealt with, and how did you handle the situation?
  • Can you think of a specific situation that reflects your ability to show initiative? Describe it.
  • What is your greatest weakness, what have you done to try to overcome it?
Career Goals and Objectives
  • What are your long range career goals and how are you preparing to achieve them?
  • Why are you interested in this industry/occupation?
  • Why do you want to work for our organization?
  • What do you see yourself doing in three to five years?
Extracurricular Activities and College Experiences
  • Please describe your most rewarding college experience.
  • If you could relive your college experience, what would you do differently?
Academic Programs
  • What factors influenced your choice of a major?
  • What were your favorite and least favorite courses?
  • What is your grade point average and how do you feel about this?
  • Are you satisfied with your academic accomplishments?
  • What courses gave you the most difficulty?
  • How has your coursework prepared you for this position?
Work Experiences
  • What did you enjoy most about your most recent job experience?
  • Please elaborate on your most relevant work experience.
  • What do you see as your major strengths as they apply to this position?
  • What else would you like us to know about you?
  • Of what accomplishment are you most proud?
Knowledge of Organization/Industry
  • Why did you select our organization with which to interview?
  • What attracts you to this industry?
  • What do you know about our organization?
  • Why do you think you’d like working for our organization?
Salary and Benefits
  • When comparing one company offer to another, what factors will be important to you besides starting salary?
  • What salary range are you expecting? (If possible, you may want to state that you are more interested in the content of the position at this point and would be happy to discuss salary when an offer is presented)
Unusual Questions
These questions seldom have right or wrong answers. Even though the questions may not seem to be job-related, employers may try to determine your confidence and creativity through your answers.
  • If you could be any fruit which would you choose and why?
  • Think about your favorite product. Now think up five better names for it.
  • Tell me a story.
  • How would the world be different if you had never been born?
If you had to choose to be one of these three life forms; a lemming, a sloth, or an earthworm, which would you be and why?
Questions to Ask Employers
It is important to have prepared questions to ask of each employer; these questions will indicate your interest in the position and organization. Additional questions may occur to you during the course of the interview.
About the Organization
  • What is it about this organization that attracted you in the first place and has kept you there?
  • How would you describe your organization’s style of management?
  • How will industry trends affect this organization within the next 3-5 years?
  • How does the organization define a successful individual?
  • What is the method of feedback/evaluation used by this organization?
  • What do you see as your organization’s strengths and weaknesses?
About the Position
  • Can you describe recent projects on which a person in my position has worked?
  • What is the common career path for people entering the organization in this position?
  • How are people trained or brought up to speed with regard to their responsibilities?
  • What type of person tends to be successful in this position? What type of person are you looking for?
  • How and when is performance evaluated?
Inappropriate Questions
Inappropriate questions include those that ask what the organization will be doing for you if you’re hired; i.e., What salary can I expect? How much vacation time will I accrue? Are you willing to pay for graduate school?, etc. You can find the answers to these questions later, if employment is offered.
Send A Thank-You Letter
The most important aspect of a thank you is to send it promptly within three to four days of the interview. If you do not have access to a computer, then hand write your thank you on a note card. It is also possible to send it via email if the recipient has offered her or his email address. The more time that elapses, the less enthusiastic you will be about writing it, and the less impact your letter will have on its reader.
When you have interviewed with a number of individuals in one day, as you might in a site interview, address the thank you to the person who seemed to coordinate the day. You can make mention of the others with whom you spoke and ask the coordinator to convey your thanks to them as well. The letter provides an opportunity to continue building the rapport that you began during your initial meeting.
The letter is a vehicle for:
  • acknowledging the individual’s participation in your interview visit
  • thanking them for insights shared
  • highlighting a specific aspect of the organization which you admire
Types Of Interviews
Screening Interviews
These are usually shorter interviews used for the purpose of conducting a brief evaluation of a candidate. Employers are usually looking for reasons to screen an applicant out. On-campus interviews, typically 30 minutes in length, are screening interviews. Job offers typically do not come as a result of this interaction.
One-on-One Interviews
These interviews are quite common and involve the candidate being questioned by one person.
Phone Interviews
Upon receipt of a candidate’s application materials some organizations will call to conduct a brief phone interview. It is important to remain composed if you get such a call. If the timing of the call is inconvenient, let the employer know. Ask if you can call them back at a more convenient time. Also, while conducting a phone interview, arrange to have a copy of your resume and cover letter in front of you to use for reference.
Panel/Committee Interviews
This scenario involves a panel of interviewers each with questions to ask. These interviews are common for government, academic and some corporate positions. It is important to establish eye contact with each member of the committee early in the interview.
Case Study Interviews
Some organizations, especially management consulting firms and companies recruiting for entry-level training programs, rely on case study or situational questions to evaluate a candidate’s analytical skills.
Second Round or Site Interviews
Often, the interviewing process entails several rounds of interviews. If you are considered a serious candidate, after the first interview you may be contacted for a second on-site interview with other members of the organization. If travel arrangements are involved, usually the company will pay for your expenses and make the necessary travel and lodging arrangements. Site interviews usually consist of a series of interviews with several individuals including your potential supervisor, co-workers, and higher-ranking staff members. These interviews can range from very casual to very technical. You may spend a half or whole day interviewing, which may also involve a luncheon, dinner meeting, or social activity.
Stress Interviews
Although many interviews can be nerve-racking, some are designed to cause the applicant stress. The interviewer may ask confrontational or particularly difficult questions. It is important to remain calm and think carefully about your answers. Don’t be afraid to take time to think through your answers and don’t get tricked into losing your temper. The purpose of these types of interviews is to evaluate your behavior and maturity in difficult situations. Stress questions are most commonly used for those positions in which your reaction to stress is critical.
Helpful Hints
  • Arrive early. Ten to fifteen minutes can provide you with a cushion should some unforeseen problem occur.
  • Bring along extra copies of your resume. If the interviewer has misplaced your information this will assist them and add to your image as a prepared person.
  • Maintain eye contact. Unwillingness to look someone in the eye is often taken as evasiveness.
  • Ask for clarification. If you’re confused by a question, ask the interviewer to restate it. This shows poise on your part and allows you to answer questions appropriately.
  • Be yourself. Interviewers respond well to those candidates they feel are being sincere.
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Top Ten Interview Blunders

What shouldn't you do when interviewing? Here is a selection of blunders, mistakes and errors a candidate for employment can make. Spend time preparing to interview so these don't happen to you!
1. Don't Prepare
Not being able to answer the question "What do you know about this company?" might just end your quest for employment, at least with this employer. Background information including company history, locations, divisions, and a mission statement are available in an "About Us" section on most company web sites. Review it ahead of time, then print it out and read it over just before your interview to refresh your memory.
2. Dress Inappropriately
Dressing inappropriately can work both ways. You will certainly want to wear a suit if you are interviewing for professional position. When interviewing for a summer job at your local theme park or as a lifeguard, for example, dress accordingly in neat and casual attire. If you aren't sure what to wear, visit the organization and watch employees coming in and out of the office to see what they are wearing.
3. Poor Communication Skills
It's important to communicate well with everyone you meet in your search for employment. It is, however, most important to positively connect with the person who might hire you. Shake hands, make eye contact, exude confidence, engage the person you are speaking with, and you will let the interviewer know that you are an excellent candidate for this position - before you even answer an interview question.
4. Too Much Communication
Believe it or not, a recent candidate for employment, who, by the way, didn't get the job, didn't hesitate to answer his cell phone when it rang during an interview. Leave the phone behind or at least turn it off before you enter the building. Same goes for coffee, food and anything else other than you, your resume, your job application, and your list of references. They don't belong at an interview.
5. Talk Too Much
There is nothing much worse than interviewing someone who goes on and on and on... The interviewer really doesn't need to know your whole life story. Keep your answers succinct, to-the-point and focused and don't ramble - simply answer the question.
6. Don't Talk Enough
It's really hard to communicate with someone who answers a question with a word or two. I remember a couple of interviews where I felt like I was pulling teeth to get any answers from the candidate. It wasn't pleasant. So, even though you shouldn't talk too much, you do want to be responsive and fully answer the question as best you can.
7. Fuzzy Facts
Even if you have submitted a resume when you applied for the job, you may also be asked to fill out a job application. Make sure you know the information you will need to complete an application including dates of prior employment, graduation dates, and employer contact information.
8. Give the Wrong Answer
Make sure you listen to the question and take a moment to gather your thoughts before you respond. Like the following candidate, you'll knock yourself out of contention if you give the wrong answer.
The interviewer had completely described a sales and marketing position to the candidate. She emphasized that cold calling and prospecting were the most important skills and experiences needed for the position. The candidate responded to the question about what she did or didn't like to do in sales, with these words: "I hate to do cold calling and prospecting, and I'm not good at it." That response ensured that she wouldn't get the job!
9. Badmouthing Past Employers
Your last boss was an idiot? Everyone in the company was a jerk? You hated your job and couldn't wait to leave? Even if it's true don't say so. I cringed when I heard someone ranting and raving about the last company she worked for. That company happened to be our largest customer and, of course, I wasn't going to hire someone who felt that way about the company and everyone who worked there.
It's sometimes a smaller world than you think and you don't know who your interviewer might know, including that boss who is an idiot... You also don't want the interviewer to think that you might speak that way about his or her company if you leave on terms that aren't the best.
10. Forget to Follow Up
Afraid you didn't make the best impression? Are you sure that you aced the interviewed? Either way, be sure to follow up with a thank you note reiterating your interest in the position and the company.
Finally, even if you do flub the interview, don't take it to heart. If it happens, look at it like it just wasn't meant to be, learn from your mistakes and move on to the next opportunity.
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