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Interview Tips

Where to search for job opportunities

  • Public and private employment agencies
  • Print or on-line classified ads
  • Direct calling
  • Networking
  • Company personnel offices
  • Counselors
  • Cooperative education and work experience programs
  • Current and former employers
  • National internet sites (e.g.,,
  • Virginia Career View
  • Directories
  • Family and friends

Conducting a job search

  • Look for correlating skills and knowledge with job requirements
  • Explore available jobs using a variety of resources
  • Select a target job

Contacting the company directly (if application) and/or creating a letter of application

Make sure that your letter of application:

  • is addressed to the individual most likely making hiring decisions
  • uses appropriate business letter format
  • has three or four short paragraphs to emphasize pertinent points in résumé
  • indicates that you know something about the company
  • indicates whether your job search is confidential and/or why you are looking for a job

Completing a job application

  • Be sure to check for accuracy, neatness, and completeness

Submitting an accompanying résumé, if applicable

People you may be able to contact:

  • Employees or past employees
  • Customers
  • Company representatives at career fairs

Visit the employer's web site

Go to these pages in their site to learn important information:

  • "About us" section Information about products and/or services
  • Customer policies
  • Human resources

Search the Internet for:

  • Articles about the company
  • Blogs or other comments about the company

Write or call the company to request information

Items you can request include:

  • Brochures
  • Catalogs
  • Recruitment packet
  • Job announcements

Important information to gather about the company

  • Size and structure of the organization
  • Headquarters and branch locations
  • Products/Services
  • Major executives in the firm and their backgrounds
  • Management philosophy and style
  • Financial health of organization
  • Trends and issues in the industry
  • Relationship of the organization to its competition


  • The job of the cover letter is to get your resume read


  • Refer to the job being applied for
  • Indicate how you learned of the job
  • Target your letter specifically to the individual employer
  • Present elements of your background that qualify you for the position and give examples
  • Ensure that the letter reflects your personality, motivation, and enthusiasm
  • Provide or refer to any information requested in a job advertisement that might not be covered in your resume (e.g., availability date, or reference to an attached writing sample)
  • Indicate what you will do to follow up with the employer


  • Heading and greeting: Include the date, your name and your contact information. Address the letter to a specific name and/or title whenever possible.
  • Opening and introduction: Explain who you are and your reason for writing, including how you found out about the position.
  • Body: Sell yourself. Reveal why you are a perfect and unique match for the position. Explain why you have chosen the employer.
  • Assertive closing: Politely take initiative toward further action and next contact.



    To present your qualifications to the employer in such a way that earns you an interview


  • Contact information (e.g., applicant's phone numbers and e-mail address
  • Educational background
  • Key words relevant to position being sought
  • Work history
  • Skills
  • Honors and awards
  • Membership in club and/or community organizations and leadership positions held
  • Community service.


  • A basic resume presents job qualifications for applicants who have had little or no paid experience in the workplace
  • A chronological resume presents the applicant's employment experience in order from the most to the least recent. It is useful to show career progression and/or longevity within a company or field of employment. It also highlights the number and variety of companies in which an applicant has worked.
  • A functional resume highlights relevant employment skills that the employee has developed over time through a variety of education and employment experiences.
  • Creating the résumé includes modifying the information on a regular basis to ensure that it is current and shows the most recent activity and recently acquired skills and qualifications. The electronic application form should include complete, accurate, and effectively organized information. It should follow additional criteria specifically related to electronic transmittal of such information (e.g., attention to security concerns, inclusion of keywords to enhance interest in the application, use of scanner-friendly format).

Click here to see a list of e-books available through the VCCS and all Virginia public libraries.


  • Arrive early
  • Treat all people you encounter with courtesy and respect
  • Come to the interview alone without iPhones or other visible electronic equipment
  • Turn your cell phone off. (Better yet, leave it in the car)
  • Avoid eating, chewing gum, or smoking in the interview area
  • Shake hands firmly
  • Sit down only after the employer has indicated that you do so
  • Know the names of the persons conducting the interview, and refer to them by name
  • Sit up straight
  • Take time to collect your thoughts before answering the questions clearly, concisely, and honestly. Avoid interrupting the employer
  • Maintain eye contact with the interviewer
  • Stay focused on a professional interview. Avoid discussing your personal, domestic, or financial problems or criticize former employers
  • Be positive and enthusiastic; show interest
  • Thank the interviewers before leaving. Shake hands firmly


    A two-piece matched suit is always the best and safest choice. Don't combine a suit jacket with pants that don't match.

But what if the job is in a non-suit-wearing work environment?

    Even if you would or could wear jeans on the job, or the work environment is outdoors and very non-suit, wearing a suit to the interview shows you take the interview seriously as a professional meeting. Dressing well is a compliment to the person(s) with whom you meet. If you think the industry in which you're interviewing would frown on a suit, or the interview will involve going to a work site where a suit would be inappropriate, look for advice through professional organizations, your professors who have been employed in that industry, and/or by asking the employer directly and politely.

Conservative colors / fabric

    Navy and dark gray are safe and are the most conservative for men. Black for men was once considered severe or overly formal, and may still be considered so in very conservative industries, although it is commonly worn by many. Other color trends may come and go; avoid the extremes. Choose a solid or very subtle weave pattern or plaid (the kind that look solid across a room). Wool, wool blends, or very high quality blends with natural fiber, are the only acceptable fabrics for a conservative men's suit.

Cost / quality

    You are not expected to be able to afford the same clothing as a corporate CEO. Do invest in quality that will look appropriate during your first two or three years on the job. One good quality suit is sufficient for a job search if that is all your budget allows. You can vary your shirt and tie.


    Tie styles come and go. Select good quality silk ties. Avoid fashion extremes, like character ties, in interviews. Notice what men in your industry wear on the job, at career fairs, at information sessions, when they meet with clients.


    Long-sleeved shirts, even in summer. Choose white or light blue solid, or conservative stripes.


    Dark socks, mid-calf length so no skin is visible when you sit down.


    Leather, lace-up or slip-on business shoes, preferably black or cordovan. Invest in a good pair; even if you don't wear them daily on the job, you'll need them for other occasions and you should expect to get lots of years out of good shoes.


    Black or cordovan leather, to match your shoes.

Facial hair

    If worn, should be well-groomed. Observe men in your industry if you are unsure what's appropriate or are considering changing your look.


    Wear a conservative watch. If you choose to wear other jewelry, be conservative. Removing earrings is safest. For conservative industries, don't wear earrings. Observe other men in your industry to see what is acceptable.


    Everything should be clean and well pressed (ironed). Suits typically have tacking stitches to hold vents — on the jacket back and on sleeves — in place before the garment is purchased. Cut them off if your retailer / tailor doesn't. And that tag stitched on the outside of your sleeve is not meant to stay there like a Tommy Hilfiger label — cut it off! Carefully inspect clothes dangling threads, etc.

Hint: Don't confuse club attire with business attire. If you would wear it to a club, you probably shouldn't wear it in a business environment.


    Wear a two-piece matched suit.

Suit - pants/skirts

    Tailored pants suits are appropriate for women. Pants suits can be an excellent choice for site visits, particularly if the visit involves getting in and out of vehicles and/or the site is (or includes) a manufacturing plant or industrial facility. If you wear pants, they should be creased and tailored, not tight or flowing. If you are pursuing a conservative industry and are in doubt, observe well dressed women in your industry on the job, at career fairs, at information sessions, etc.

But what if the job is in a non-suit-wearing work environment?

    Even if you would or could wear jeans on the job, or the work environment is outdoors and very non-suit, wearing a suit to the interview shows you take the interview seriously as a professional meeting. Dressing well is a compliment to the person(s) with whom you meet. If you think the industry in which you're interviewing would frown on a suit, or the interview will involve going to a work site where a suit would be inappropriate, look for advice through professional organizations, your professors who have been employed in that industry, and/or by asking the employer directly and politely.

Skirt lengths

    Much of what you see on television shows that masquerades for professional attire is actually inappropriate for a work environment. Your skirt should cover your thighs when you are seated. Showing a lot of thigh makes you look naive at best, foolish at worst. A skirt that ends at the knee when you're standing looks chic and professional. Longer skirts are professional too; just make sure they are narrow enough not to be billowing, but not so narrow that you can't climb stairs comfortably. Don't purchase a skirt or decide on a hem length until you sit in the skirt facing a mirror. That's what your interviewer will see. Ask yourself whether it will be distracting or reinforce your image as a person who looks appropriate for a business environment or gathering. High slits in skirts are not appropriate. A small back, center slit in a knee-length skirt is appropriate. On a calf length skirt, a slit to the knee to facilitate walking and stair climbing is appropriate.

Color / fabric

    Navy, dark gray, brown and black are safe. Other color trends may come and go; avoid the extremes. Women generally have more options with suit color than men. For example, while a women could look conservative in a slate blue or light gray suit, these colors would be inappropriate for men. Choose a solid or very subtle weave pattern or plaid (the kind that look solid across a room). Wool, wool blends, and high quality blends and synthetics are appropriate for women's suiting.

Shirt / sweaters

    Underneath the suit jacket, wear a tailored blouse in a color or small print that coordinates nicely with your suit. A fine gauge, good quality knit shell is also appropriate underneath your suit jacket. Don't show cleavage.

Jewerly /accessories

    Wear a conservative watch. Jewelry and scarf styles come and go. Keep your choices simple and leaning toward conservative. Avoid extremes of style and color. If your industry is creative, you may have more flexibility than someone pursuing a conservative industry.


    Keep makeup conservative. A little is usually better than none for a polished look. Nails should be clean and well groomed. Avoid extremes of nail length and polish color, especially in conservative industries.


    Should be leather or fabric / micro fiber. Shoe styles and heel heights come and go. Choose closed-toe pumps. Regardless of what is in style, avoid extremes; no stilettos or chunky platforms. Make certain you can walk comfortably in your shoes; hobbling in uncomfortable shoes does not convey a professional appearance.


    Should be plainly styled (no patterns), sheer (not opaque), and in neutral colors complementing your suit. Avoid high contrast between your suit and hosiery color.

Purse / bag

    If you carry a purse, keep it small and simple, especially if you also carry a briefcase. Purse color should coordinate with your shoes. You may choose to carry a small briefcase or business-like tote bag in place of a purse. Leather is the best choice for briefcases; micro fiber or fine wovens are also acceptable.


  • Do dress appropriately for the industry; err on the side of being conservative to show you take the interview seriously. Your personal grooming and cleanliness should be impeccable.
  • Do know the exact time and location of your interview; know how long it takes to get there, park, find a rest room to freshen up, etc.
  • Do arrive early; 10 minutes prior to the interview start time.
  • Do treat other people you encounter with courtesy and respect. Their opinions of you might be solicited during hiring decisions.
  • Do offer a firm handshake, make eye contact, and have a friendly expression when you are greeted by your interviewer.
  • Do listen to be sure you understand your interviewer's name and the correct pronunciation.
  • Do even when your interviewer gives you a first and last name, address your interviewer by title (Ms., Mr., Dr.) and last name, until invited to do otherwise.
  • Do maintain good eye contact during the interview.
  • Do sit still in your seat; avoid fidgeting and slouching.
  • Do respond to questions and back up your statements about yourself with specific examples whenever possible.
  • Do ask for clarification if you don't understand a question.
  • Do be thorough in your responses, while being concise in your wording.
  • Do be honest and be yourself. Dishonesty gets discovered and is grounds for withdrawing job offers and for firing. You want a good match between yourself and your employer. If you get hired by acting like someone other than yourself, you and your employer will both be unhappy.
  • Do treat the interview seriously and as though you are truly interested in the employer and the opportunity presented.
  • Do exhibit a positive attitude. The interviewer is evaluating you as a potential co-worker. Behave like someone you would want to work with.
  • Do have intelligent questions prepared to ask the interviewer. Having done your research about the employer in advance, ask questions which you did not find answered in your research.
  • Do evaluate the interviewer and the organization s/he represents. An interview is a two-way street. Conduct yourself cordially and respectfully, while thinking critically about the way you are treated and the values and priorities of the organization.
  • Do expect to be treated appropriately. If you believe you were treated inappropriately or asked questions that were inappropriate or made you uncomfortable, discuss this with a Career Services advisor or the director.
  • Do make sure you understand the employer's next step in the hiring process; know when and from whom you should expect to hear next. Know what action you are expected to take next, if any.
  • Do when the interviewer concludes the interview, offer a firm handshake and make eye contact. Depart gracefully.
  • Do after the interview, make notes right away so you don't forget critical details. Write a thank-you letter to your interviewer promptly.


  • Don't make excuses. Take responsibility for your decisions and your actions.
  • Don't make negative comments about previous employers or professors (or others).
  • Don't falsify application materials or answers to interview questions.
  • Don't treat the interview casually, as if you are just shopping around or doing the interview for practice. This is an insult to the interviewer and to the organization.
  • Don't give the impression that you are only interested in an organization because of its geographic location.
  • Don't give the impression you are only interested in salary; don't ask about salary and benefits issues until the subject is brought up by your interviewer.
  • Don't act as though you would take any job or are desperate for employment.
  • Don't make the interviewer guess what type of work you are interested in; it is not the interviewer's job to act as a career advisor to you.
  • Don't be unprepared for typical interview questions. You may not be asked all of them in every interview, but being unprepared looks foolish.
  • A job search can be hard work and involve frustrations; don't exhibit frustrations or a negative attitude in an interview.
  • Don't go to extremes with your posture; don't slouch, and don't sit rigidly on the edge of your chair.
  • Don't assume that a female interviewer is "Mrs." or "Miss." Address her as "Ms." unless told otherwise. Her marital status is irrelevant to the purpose of the interview.
  • Don't chew gum or smell like smoke.
  • Don't allow your cell phone to sound during the interview. (If it does, apologize quickly and ignore it.)
  • Don't take a cell phone call.
  • Don't take your parents, your pet (an assistance animal is not a pet in this circumstance), spouse, fiancé, friends or enemies to an interview. If you are not grown up and independent enough to attend an interview alone, you're insufficiently grown up and independent for a job. (They can certainly visit your new city, at their own expense, but cannot attend your interview.)


  • Always prepare questions to ask. Having no questions prepared sends the message that you have no independent thought process.
  • Some of your questions may be answered during the course of the interview, before you are offered the opportunity to ask. If so, you can simply state something to the effect that you were interested in knowing about ..., but that was addressed during the interview. You could ask for additional clarification if applicable.
  • Do not ask questions that are clearly answered on the employer's web site and/or in any literature provided by the employer to you in advance. This would simply reveal that you did not prepare for the interview, and you are wasting the employer's time by asking these questions.
  • Never ask about salary and benefits issues until those subjects are raised by the employer.
  • Don't be afraid to ask a question to which you already know the answer.

Sample questions


Following an interview, promptly (within 2 business days) write the interviewer a letter expressing appreciation for the interview.


The purpose of an interview thank you letter is to:

  • Show appreciation for the employer's interest in you. Reiterate your interest in the position and in the organization.
  • Review or remind the employer about your qualifications for the position. If you thought of something you forgot to mention in the interview, mention it in your follow-up / thank-you letter.
  • Demonstrate that you have good manners and know to write a thank-you letter.
  • Follow up with any information the employer may have asked you to provide after the interview.

Hard copy, handwritten or email

  • Thank-you letters can be hard copy typed, handwritten or e-mailed.
  • Hard copy are most formal and are appropriate after an interview.
  • Handwritten are more personal, and can be appropriate for brief notes to a variety of individuals you may have met during on on-site interview.
  • E-mail is appropriate when that has been your means of contact with the person you want to thank, or if your contact has expressed a preference for e-mail.


The search doesn't end with an offer of employment. The offer must be reviewed. It may require research and several rounds of negotiation. You may also wish to delay accepting while you keep other job prospects progressing.Take all things into consideration before accepting or declining a salary offer. Factor in health insurance benefits, company mobility, commute time and year end bonuses.

  • Never give an ultimatum, the employer will simply move on to the next candidate
  • Do not start bidding

Even in tough times, most companies expect you to negotiate. They won't show their eagerness to negotiate. After all, they are hoping that you will accept their first offer. You need to watch for subtle signals that hiring managers are open to negotiation. For example, many managers may say "why don't you look over the offer and call me if you have any questions". This is an invitation to negotiate. It is acceptable to ask the manager whether parts of the contract are negotiable. They may not give a resounding "yes" but will ask you what you had in mind (another invitation) or state what isn't negotiable "we don't negotiate salary". Click here for helpful videos about negotiating a job offer.

Especially in hard times, negotiating non-salary compensation is a great way to increase the value of a compensation package. Some items that employers may be particularly amenable to negotiating in tough times include:

  • Vacation, sick days, personal days
  • Maternity / family leave
  • Flex-time
  • Professional training
  • Job sharing
  • Start date
  • Frequent flier miles
  • Stock options
  • Performance bonuses
  • Accelerated review time with potential salary increase
  • Job duties

The most important thing you can do prior to negotiating any part of your offered compensation package is research. What you earned in your last job may no longer be relevant during a recession. Visit to see how your offer compares with others in similar industries / positions. Call competitor companies and ask about their salary structures and ranges. Talk to friends and friends of friends. Try to get a sense of how many people were trying for the position you are being offered. Uncover what other recent offers have been made in similar industries / positions. Knowing what you should realistically aim for is the most important starting point of any negotiation.

  • Step 1: Know what you are worth. Research salary levels in your industry. Find out what other people are making that hold this type of job.

  • Step 2: Show that your skills are an asset to the company. If you hold unique abilities that will benefit the company, they'll be willing to pay more since you are guaranteed to be an asset.

  • Step 3: Figure out what salary range you are comfortable with. You can attempt to negotiate more, but you should have an idea on what you are prepared to settle on.

  • Step 4: Let the employer know that you are flexible. If they ask for a specific salary amount, let them know that you can negotiate that rate.

  • Step 5: Do not accept a salary offer right away. You should take time to consider the offer before giving the employer your final decision.

  • Step 6: Attempt to negotiate some part of the salary package. If an employer refuses to offer a higher salary, you can instead request additional vacation days or a better benefits package.

Procedure for resigning from a job should include:

  • giving a minimum of two weeks' notice, according to industry standards, so there is ample time to find a replacement
  • verbally informing appropriate employer representative (e.g., supervisor, human resources representative) of intention to resign
  • identifying the appropriate timing for the letter of resignation
  • submitting a letter of resignation
  • composing and delivering a letter of resignation
  • offering to train the new employee replacement