Center for Career Success

Initial impressions are seldom changed during the course of an interview. Therefore, be certain that everything that occurs in those first five minutes conveys the fact that you are a professional. This includes arriving 15 minutes before the scheduled interview time, but no earlier. Start with a firm handshake, smile, and make good eye contact.

It is better to be more formally dressed than underdressed. In most cases, a business suit is best. Refer to our Dress for Success handbook for more tips on what to wear.

Bring several copies of your resume (to give to others with whom you may interview). You might also bring a separate, typed list of at least three professional references. Each of your references should have a professional relationship with you. Consider bringing along any supporting materials you might have, including letters of recommendation, certifications, transcripts, or published papers or projects.

Keep your materials in a professional folder or padfolio, and bring a pen as well as paper to jot down notes.

Do not overstate your qualifications, academic performance, background, length of employment, etc. The most important things are to be yourself, be confident in your educational preparation and experience, and have your career goals clearly defined.

Every person you meet during the course of the day is a potential evaluator. This includes the parking attendant, security guard, administrative assistant, server at lunch; be aware of your verbal and nonverbal communications.

Take some time to consider how your body language might impact your interview. Open versus closed body language can make a huge difference when you first meet someone. Watch this Ted Talk for more tips, or come in for a mock interview.

Make an effort to talk more deliberately and articulately than usual. Don’t use the words “I think,” “I guess,” or “I feel,” which sound indecisive. Avoid phrases like “pretty good” or “fairly well.” Avoid constant use of filler words like “you know,” “right,” “like,” etc. Use positive words to describe your skills. Maintain reasonable eye contact and be aware of negative body language such as crossing your arms or slouching.

If there is a chance that a potentially detrimental issue could arise, such as a below average performance appraisal from a supervisor or poor academic grades one semester, you should have an answer prepared that puts the issue in a positive light. Never apologize for any shortcomings and avoid any comment that can be construed negatively. For example, you might explain that you had an unusually heavy study load that semester, that the experience helped you to improve your study skills, and that you subsequently pulled up your grade point average the following semester and have maintained good grades ever since. The same goes for discussing former employers; keep it positive, and never say negative things about a previous boss or position, no matter how bad the experience was.

During the course of your interview, you may be asked a question that is considered improper by federal, state, or local laws. In the majority of cases, the employer will ask out of genuine curiosity or interest, as opposed to using your answer to discriminate against you. However, these types of questions are not relevant to your ability to perform the functions of the job, and you should not feel compelled to answer these questions. Some improper topics are listed below:

Age: As long as you meet minimum age requirements, this is irrelevant.

Marital Status/Sexual Orientation: Questions concerning marital status, sexual orientation, number of children, and family planning should not be asked.

Religion: Inquiries into religious denomination are unacceptable.

Financial Status: An applicant’s credit history, charge/bank accounts, etc., are private information in most instances.

Height/Weight: Unless this is a genuine occupational qualification, no inquiries should be made in this area.

Citizenship/Nationality: While it is legal to ask if an applicant is authorized to work in the United States, it is improper to inquire about an applicant’s citizenship.

Disability: Employers may inquire about an applicant’s ability to perform job functions, with or without accommodation, but may not ask directly if an applicant has a disability.

Arrest: “Have you ever been convicted of...?” is a legal question (if the crime named can be reasonably related to the performance of the job in question) versus “Have you ever been arrested?” which is an improper question.

If you are asked a tough question, the optimal way to respond includes taking a moment to figure out the intent behind the question and responding to that intent.


Interviewer: “This position requires overnight shifts. Do you have children?”

Interviewee: “I can and will be able to fulfill the travel and work schedule that this position requires.”

Interviewer: “Where do you live? Isn’t that town far away?”

Interviewee: “I live close enough to work to be able to make it in on time for the scheduled hours.”

  • Arrive late or appear rushed or disorganized.
  • Arrive too early (arrive 15 minutes before your scheduled time).
  • Apologize for your background or lack of experience.
  • Criticize your past employers or co-workers.
  • Wear unusual clothes or heavy cologne.
  • Elaborate on unnecessary details to fill an awkward silence.
  • Forget to ask your own questions.
  • Seem overeager and desperate.
  • Ask about salary and job benefits before you have a solid job offer.
  • Ask questions to which you know the answers.
  • Wing it.

Be prepared to discuss the topic of salary intelligently. Research the field and find out what the average salary is for your chosen major (the Center for Career Success has salary surveys that provide the average starting salary for each major). Understand that salary may vary according to geographic region, size of organization, experience, and education. If you are asked what you are expecting to earn, give a salary range (e.g., “mid thirties” or “$35,000-$37,000”) rather than quoting a specific figure, and always add that you are flexible. Do not discuss salary if the employer does not raise the topic. For more information, please see the Evaluating Offers section of our website, or make an appointment with a career counselor.