Need More Help?
- Check out the information on this page
- Attend an interviewing workshop. See the Career Center Calendar of Workshops and Events for dates and times.
- Practice your interview skills with InterviewStream. Login to your JobCat account and look for the InterviewStream logo to get started.
- Schedule an appointment with an advisor online or call the Career Center at 898-5253.
- Watch our how-to video Inside the Mind of the Interviewer.
- Come by during our drop-in hours in SSC 270 from 1-4 p.m. daily (when school is in session) for a short appointment.
Interviewing is one of the most exciting components of a job search process, and for most of us it creates a bit of anxiety as well. You are not alone when facing an interview. The Career Center is here to help you!
General Interviewing Guidelines
- The more you interview, the more job offers you will have (apply for a lot of jobs and go to a lot of interviews!)
- Conduct thorough research about the organization and the job; see Research section on this page
- Dress appropriately. The dress code varies depending upon the job; see Interviewing Attire
- Show up on time (actually about 10 minutes before your interview).
- Make a good first impression; smile, be polite to everyone you meet, practice your handshake
- Make sure your answers to the interview questions relate to what the company is looking for
- Ask questions at the conclusion of the interview; see Sample Interview Questions
- Above all else, have a positive attitude.
- Write a Thank you E-mail and/or Letter promptly after the interview
Sample Interview Questions
Please visit our page on sample interview questions to know what to prepare for and what employers are not allowed to ask.
Behavioral Interviewing is a common interviewing technique in which employers will ask you to provide an example of a past behavior. The premise is that the best way for employers to predict future on-the-job behavior is to review past behavior in similar situations. Thus the questions often start out with "Tell me about a time when..." or "Give me an example of a time you...."
We recommend using the STAR method as a technique to answer behavioral interview questions in an organized manner. STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, Result:
- Situation: Set the stage by briefly describing the situation in which you were faced.
- Task: What did you need to accomplish as a result of the situation?
- Action: Specifically, what action did you take?
- Result: Explain the outcome of your actions (make sure it is a positive outcome!)
For example behavioral interviewing questions and answers, see Sample Interview Questions.
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One of the most frequent comments we hear from employers is that students did not know anything, or very little, about their organization during the interview. Researching the organization and the job is key.
Things you should know
- Type of organization (profit or not-for-profit)
- Products or services provided
- Qualities the organization looks for in an employee
- Size of the organization and location(s)
- Basic job description
- Required qualifications
Sources of Information
- Organization's Web site
- News stories (usually listed on the organization’s Web site)
- On-campus information sessions; information session listings can be found on your Wildcat Recruiting account by going to the events tab and clicking on Information Sessions.
- Former or current employees
- Chamber of commerce of the city where you want to live (a chamber of commerce is a local organization of businesses whose goal is to create a strong local economy; chambers will have lists of members and lists of top employers, etc.)
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For tips on interviewing attire, please visit the Cal Poly Web page "Attire for Hire"
Usually the employer's objective with a phone interview is to obtain enough information about you to decide if he or she wants to invest the resources necessary to conduct an in-person interview. Your primary objective is to gain enough information to determine if it is a job you want (and likewise if you want to expend the resources necessary to travel to an in-person interview). Most of our General Interviewing Guidelines apply to a telephone interview. Here are some additional hints:
- Before the interview, jot down a few notes regarding your strengths and why you are fit for the job. Do not plan on reading a script, but have a few hints handy to jog your memory.
- If the interview is pre-scheduled, make sure you are ready to talk in a quiet place when you get the call.
- If you're interviewing at home, advise your roommates regarding the importance of the call, so they can act appropriately in your presence.
- Have a pen and notepad ready for note-taking.
- Have a few questions written down to ask the interviewer at the close of the interview. For suggestions go to Sample Interview Questions
- If you need to ask about salary, ask it as the last question and phrase it something like this, Example: I'm very excited about your position am interested in an in-person interview. I typically would not ask about salary during the first interview, but since I would need to miss school to come to the interview, may I ask the salary range you are offering, so I know if it is in the market of what I am seeking?"
- Have your calendar readily available to schedule the in-person interview.
- Thank the interviewer at the close of the call.
- Get the contact information of the interviewer and send him/her a thank you e-mail/note as you would after an in-person interview.
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Sometimes employers conduct panel interviews with more than one interviewer talking to a single job candidate. Panel interviews are common for government jobs and less common in private industry. All the General Interviewing Guidelines apply to panel interviews. Here are some additional hints:
- When a recruiter calls you to schedule an interview, ask a little bit about the day and if you will be interviewing with multiple people.
- It is acceptable to ask the names and titles/roles of the individuals on the panel.
- When you enter a panel interview, shake the hands of individuals who are seated closest to your chair. If the conference table is filled with people, do not feel you need to shake everyone's hand, but take the others' lead. If a person stands upon introduction then that is your cue to shake his/her hand.
- In a panel situation, usually the interviewers will take turns asking questions. When answering, a good technique would be to initially make eye contact with the person who asks the question and then address the whole group as your answer progresses.
- If possible, send thank you notes to all panel members. If you need correct name spellings and contact information for the individual panel members, you can ask the receptionist upon leaving the building. If it is not possible to get contact info for all interviewers, then send a thank you to your main contact and ask that he/she forward it to the other panel members.
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Occasionally one recruiter will interview a small group of students at one time. This is a means to do some initial screening efficiently and also to see how job candidates act in a group setting. The challenge in a group interview is to adequately communicate some of your strengths while demonstrating effective group communication skills. In addition to the General Interviewing Guidelines some points to keep in mind during the group interview are:
- You are being evaluated from the very beginning of the experience. Be polite to the other interviewees; smile, make eye contact, shake hands.
- Before the interview, identify the main points or strengths you want to emphasize so you can stay focused on these few points during the interview.
- Listen to the other candidates.
- Do not monopolize the conversation, interrupt other candidates, or come across argumentative or overly aggressive.
- If another candidate makes a good statement, don't be afraid to add to that information, but don't simply restate what he or she said in different terms.
- Acknowledge a good comment from another job candidate.
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Interview over a Meal
Many times an interviewer will ask to meet you over breakfast, lunch, or dinner. In this situation, you should keep dining etiquette in mind in addition to following our General Interviewing Guidelines. Go to this link for specific Dining Etiquette.
An informational interview is almost always instigated by the job candidate with the purpose of gaining valuable information about a particular occupation, company, or industry. The job-seeker drives the pace of the informational interview and typically asks questions that help him/her makes decisions about a career path. Informational interviews are a great way to network and sometimes they do ultimately lead to an official job interview.
How do you ask for an informational interview?
It might go something like this example:
Hi John, my name is Suzie Jones, I'm a sophomore at Chico State and I am thinking about a career as a biologist. I got your name from my aunt, Carol Jones, and she mentioned you might be able to help me research the profession. Would you have 15-20 minutes available to talk with me about your job?
A professional will almost always say "Yes!" to this proposition. Everyone wants to help college students make choices about their future.
It is important to be respectful of the employer's time and it is usually best to ask for 15-20 minutes and then stick to it; at the end of which the job seeker can acknowledge the time frame approaching and offer to close the interview. Very often once the interview has started the interviewer will invite the job seeker to stay for a longer period.
Here are some good ideas for informational interviewing questions:
- How did you get started in the profession?
- What were some of your previous jobs?
- Where did you go to college? What was your major?
- What do you like best about your job (industry/company)?
- What are your biggest challenges on the job?
- What is the future outlook for this occupation?
- If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
- What's a typical day on the job?
- What can I do now to be competitive in your field upon graduation?
- What would the salary range be for a person starting out in your occupation?
- What are the potential earnings in this field?
- Do you have suggestions for where I might get more information about your field?
- Can you think of anyone else I should talk to? (This one is critical for expanding your network!)
- Do you know of any current job (or internship) openings?
- Would it be O.K. if I keep in touch with you in case I have further questions, or need guidance about the job market down the road?
Remember to always write a thank you note/e-mail after an informational interview. Also remember that the primary reason for an informational interview is to gain valuable information to help you in your career decision making. The contacts you make during an informational interview will likely be valuable networking partners down the road. For more information on networking, go to our Networking page
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There are many negotiation techniques that will work well when negotiating a job offer. Go to our Salary Negotiation page for more information We also recommend visiting the Career Center to talk about the particulars of your offer and the salary you are seeking as each situation is unique. An advisor is always available at the Career Center in SSC 270 during our drop in hours of 1-4 p.m. daily (when school is in session) or you can schedule an appointment by calling 898-5253.
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Offer Letters and Asking for Extensions
The Offer Letter
An "offer letter" is a standardized employment letter provided by employers to job candidates they want to hire. We recommend that you do not accept any career-level job unless you receive an offer letter (usually sent via email). Typically, at a minimum, the offer letter includes:
- Deadline to respond
- Job title
- Expected start date
- Starting salary
Can I Ask for an Extension?
Absolutely! It is not uncommon for job applicants to ask for an extension on a job offer while waiting for other offers to materialize. The challenge arises when you receive an offer for a job you deem acceptable and the deadline to respond is near, but you are hoping for an offer from your "number one" organization. The process of asking for an extension should not be taken lightly, as ultimately you may want/need to accept the existing offer, and you would not want to offend your future employer. If you would like help navigating the process, please stop by our drop-in advising period, or schedule an appointment with an advisor by calling 530-898-5253. We are happy to help!
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