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The University Magazine

FYI: Nail the interview, get the job

Top tips from human resources experts

Katherine Carcaci '08

Mary Turcotte '08

Whether you’re beginning your career or seeking to make a change after many years in the workforce, the process of landing the position you want can be challenging.

And never more so than now, with national unemployment hovering close to 10 percent.

“These are desperate times for some people,” says Katherine Carcaci ’95 (applied arts and sciences), manager of staff recruiting, Human Resources Department, RIT. “The reality is that there is a lot of competition for every job.” Carcaci says it is not unusual for RIT to receive 50 to 100 resumes within 24 hours of posting a position online.

“Personally, I feel that looking for a position and selling yourself are the most difficult jobs in the world,” says Mary Turcotte ’08 (M.S., human resource development), human resources director, L-3 Global Communications Solutions, Victor, N.Y.

It’s important to make the most of every opportunity, says Kate Burns ’07 (M.S., human resource development), human resources manager, RIT Inn & Conference Center. “Do your research. Learn about the company and really understand the job you are applying for – and why you’re the best candidate.”

Preparation is the key to success in the job market. Burns, Carcaci and Turcotte shared some thoughts and advice about the process to help job candidates maximize their opportunities.

Cover letters

“Do take the time to write a decent cover letter specific to the job you’re applying for,” says Carcaci. “This is the opportunity to talk about how your skills fit the job. A well-written cover letter can catch the attention of the manager.”

“But arrogance can be a turn-off,” says Turcotte. “Be careful about sounding like you know it all – in your cover letter and at the interview.”

Be sure your spelling and grammar are perfect. Show your letter and resume to others – especially people outside your immediate circle – to get input.

Keep it short: two pages or less, says Carcaci. Don’t try to squeeze more in by using a smaller size type font!


Choose a format that is easy to read. Be concise. Remember that the person reviewing applications will probably scan the resume quickly.

List information in reverse chronological order, with the most recent and most pertinent items first. If you’re a recent graduate, emphasize your education. If you’ve been out in the workforce for some time, emphasize your experience and accomplishments. Leave out very early or unrelated experience.

Use discretion when considering flashy colors, unorthodox presentation and gimmicks. Such treatments can make your resume stand out, but can also backfire.

Burns notes that some organizations use their own application form. If so, it should be filled out completely, even if the same information is on your resume.

Be absolutely truthful! “At my company, we perform post-offer background checks,” says Turcotte. “If we discover discrepancies, the employment offer could be rescinded.”

Kate Burns, left, human resources manager at the RIT Inn & Conference Center, chats with Irena Deretic ’09 (M.S., human resources development). Deretic, a graduate of RIT’s American College of Management and Technology in Croatia, is working as an intern at the inn – an excellent way to gain experience.

Phone interviews

Carcaci says that many organizations, including RIT, now use phone interviews as a screening tool. Many candidates are eliminated at this point.

“They can be very difficult for some people,” she says. “It’s a good idea to practice.”

When the interview is scheduled, find out who will be calling, and if it will be one-on-one or a conference call with several people asking questions.

Avoid using a cell phone. Audio quality may be poor, and you don’t want to risk losing the signal or having the battery go dead.

Plan to be in a quiet place with no distractions such as children, TV or pets.

Answer each question directly and thoroughly but don’t ramble. Emphasize your skills and how they fit the job.

Dress for success

What should you wear to the personal interview? Professional business attire is the appropriate choice – even if you know that workers dress more casually on the job.

“You want the employer to see you down the road, see your potential,” says Burns. “Dress for the job you’d like to have in the future.”

A carefully groomed appearance – clothes, haircut, manicure – helps you make a good first impression and demonstrate that you are respectful and serious about the interview. Even students attending a job fair on campus should consider this, Carcaci says.

How you look also can make a difference in the way you feel, says Turcotte. If you know you look great, you’ll feel more confident.

At the interview

This is a critical point in the hiring process – for the employer and the candidate.

When the interview is scheduled, ask if it will be one-on-one or a group interview. Find out what to expect so you can allow plenty of time if someone is running late or if a tour of the facility is offered. You don’t want to be in a rush to leave.

Before the interview, prepare yourself by visiting the organization’s Web site. Google the manager, read up on the company and the job. Find out as much as you can about the organization and the culture.

Think about your skills and strengths and be ready to talk about them and how they fit the position. A review of past performance evaluations can refresh your memory on accomplishments.

Be able to explain why you are interested in a particular position and how you will fit in. “That makes people stand out,” says Burns.

On the day of the interview, allow time for traffic, parking and finding the interview location. “Arrive early,” advises Carcaci. “Give yourself a buffer.”

Turn off your cell phone.

Bring any materials related to the job you’re applying for, including copies of your cover letter and resume. You should be ready to provide references at this point, with full contact information.

As for the conversation, be ready for anything. “Questions vary as widely as the stars in the sky,” says Turcotte.

Candidates should expect “behavior-based questions” that demonstrate not just what you’ve done, but also about how you did it. You might be asked how you handled a challenge, how you accomplished a goal.

“I might ask ‘Tell me about a time when you had to sell something,’ ” Turcotte says.

Take your time to answer thoughtfully. If you need a moment to think, that’s OK. Keep in mind that your answer will show the employer how you think.

For some reason, many candidates draw blank when it’s time for them to ask questions. You should be prepared to ask questions about the job, the organization, the work environment. And it’s OK to ask about salary and benefits.

“Just don’t make that the first question,” says Burns.

After the interview

Follow up with a thank-you note very shortly after the interview. Make it personal and mention specific, positive things about the visit that will help the interviewer remember you and see you as the outstanding candidate.

Career changes

A person who has lost his or her job may consider looking for employment outside of his or her usual field. Meanwhile, employers likely have many candidates with specific experience and education.

Would a smart manager even consider hiring someone from a different field?

It’s possible, says Burns.

“If someone is changing fields or professions – and they are willing to start at entry level – they should say that they fully expect to be paid the going rate for the entry-level position,” says Burns.

The candidate faces the difficult job of convincing the employer that they’re not just settling for any job and will leave as soon as something better comes along. That will be even more difficult if someone applies for a lower-level job in the same industry.

“My advice to someone in this situation is to be upfront with the employer by anticipating the employer will have seen these kind of red flags and address them in the interview or even in a cover letter,” says Burns.

Career assistance

RIT alumni can access the Office of Cooperative Education and Career Services for free services including one-on-one career counseling, group sessions, online job postings, career fairs, on-campus interviews with employers, resume forwarding, databases of alumni career volunteers and other resources. Visit or call 585-475-2301.

Kathy Lindsley