Matters to a Degree

As you begin job searching, it never hurts to receive a refresher about the interview behaviors that can help or possibly hurt your chances of landing the job you desire.

Having been on both ends of the interview table myself, I've found that in the current job market you must stand out among the other candidates as the person who is ideally suited to the position. This requires thorough preparation and an impressive delivery.


  • Go above and beyond from the start Reading a job description carefully is not always enough to prepare for your interview. In fact, some descriptions used for recruitment are only abstracts of larger versions. Ask if there is a more detailed job description that you can read. As you study it, make note of terms, offices or activities that you can research using the institution's Web site and other materials. You will not be expected to be an expert about the job or institution, but you can impress interviewers if you have done some homework. Knowing little about the place that you want to work or what will be expected shows that you're not that committed to the position, and serves as an early sample of your work behavior.

  • Write clearly, well and error free. From your cover letter to your curriculum vitae to e-mail correspondence, think of everything you submit as a work sample. Employers can interpret a too-informal cover letter or too-casual e-mails as a sign that you're less serious than others or, even worse, disrespectful. Likewise, refer to people by their titles, such as Dr., and use Mr. or Ms. for those without doctorate degrees, even if you are on a first name basis with some.

Your cover letter should highlight experiences that match job duties and requirements, but it should not restate your vitae word for word or exceed two pages. Don't make the interviewer work to find the connections between the job and your skills in your materials. It's your job to make those links explicit.

  • Know the market. If a job has a fixed salary, such as government positions, there will be little or no room for salary negotiation. However, the salaries for many jobs are flexible and can be adjusted based upon your experience and if the institution really wants to hire you. If you are asked to provide your salary requirements in your cover letter or during the interview, do so, but present a range based on data you obtain through Web searches, by asking human resources for the position's salary range, and inquiring among other professionals in comparable jobs about the entry-level salary range you can expect for a similar position (see and for more about negotiating salary). Don't begin a dialogue about salary specifics before you've interviewed, or you might be viewed as trying to negotiate your salary before you've even been offered the position, which is a turn-off to employers.


Aside from the obvious--such as arriving on time, dressing professionally, giving firm handshakes, being considerate to all staff and practicing your responses-be sure that you come prepared for the interview with a list of questions about the job, the people with whom you'll be working and responsible to, and any work with budgets and outside entities. It's permissible to ask in advance about whom you'll be interviewing with so that you can learn about their positions and work, and ask relevant thoughtful questions. Most interviewers are pleased and feel complemented if you know a little about their professional passions.

Even if the tone of the interview seems casual, be assured that it's still an evaluative process. The interviewer is likely assessing how you will fit in with other employees, what type of supervisor you'll be, if you can maintain professional boundaries, and if you're likeable, easy to get along with and someone with whom they want to spend their workdays!

Behavioral interviewing is a current trend, so be prepared to describe through vignettes how you might handle work assignments, conflicts or priority-setting.

Be gracious and follow-up. Thank people for their time at the end of your interview and with a subsequent e-mail or letter. You can reiterate your interest in the position, ask questions and provide another example of your outstanding character and work behavior.