The Job Interview: Body Language

Savvy job seekers know that, in order to be prepared for job interviews, they need to formulate and practice answers to common interview questions. Yet even the most polished answers will get you nowhere if your body language is problematic. Studies estimate that about 65% of all communication is nonverbal – which means that hiring managers are evaluating you on much more than the content of your answers. Make sure that your body is projecting the same message as your words with these tips.

A tall confident posture

Do not slouch. A slumped-over posture sends one of two messages; it says either “I’m scared” or “I’m bored.” These are not ideas you want to evoke during your interview! Your stance should project confidence and enthusiasm. Stand and sit tall, with your chest out, shoulders back, and head held high. Pretend that there is a broomstick taped to your spine. (Some people also find it helpful to make sure that their backs never touch the backs of their chairs.) For most people, this will not come naturally or feel comfortable at first, so practice it until you become used to it.

Practicing good posture will not only make you look more confident, but it will also actually make you feel more confident. Holding a tall powerful stance for as little as two minutes can cause a spike in your body’s testosterone level and a drop in your body’s cortisol (the stress hormone) level. Check out Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on power poses for more information on this phenomenon.

A pleasant facial expression

One of your major goals in the interview should be to make the interviewers like you. After all, they will have to work daily with whomever they hire — so why would they hire someone unlikeable? One of the easiest ways to be seen as friendly and approachable is to have a pleasant facial expression. Smile a lot. Look enthusiastic and happy to be there. Keep a friendly light in your eyes at all times. This is harder than it sounds — after all, an interview is a high-pressure environment in which you’ll be concentrating intensely. In these circumstances, people tend to frown or scowl. Be aware of this issue, and practice with a mirror if you’re having trouble maintaining that pleasant face.

Steady eye contact

The eyes are the windows to your soul — and if your interviewers can’t see yours, they’re not going to feel any connection to you. Even more troubling is the fact that by avoiding eye contact, you come across as not confident or even untrustworthy. No one will believe what you have to say if you can’t meet their eyes while saying it. From your perspective, maintaining good eye contact may seem difficult and uncomfortable because you may feel shy bragging about yourself to strangers. Overcome this tendency by practicing with a friend or with a mirror. Make sure that you can maintain good eye contact both while listening (to show that you’re paying attention) and while speaking (to project confidence). Additionally, if you are interviewed by multiple people, try to divide your eye contact evenly between them.

However, this can be carried too far. If you stare down your interviewers while barely blinking, you will come across as intimidating or creepy. Find a good balance.

Clear vocal tone and enunciation

It sounds simple, but many people forget that your answers don’t count for anything if the interviewers can’t hear or understand you. Make sure that you speak loudly, precisely, and slowly enough to be clearly understood. Do not allow your nerves to make you whisper, mumble, or yammer.

Proper placement of arms and legs

When you sit, your feet should either be placed firmly on the ground in front of you or crossed at the ankle (not the knee). Anything else looks too casual. Make sure that your arms show an open stance — not crossed or closing off your body in a way that would indicate hostility, boredom, or fear. Your hands may be placed in your lap, on the armrests of your chair, or on the table in front of you.

A good handshake

Don’t let yourself go to either extreme in terms of pressure — a “limp fish” handshake looks unconfident, but an “arm wrestler” handshake is too aggressive. If possible, try to make sure that your hands are not clammy, sweaty, sticky, or freezing.

No fidgeting

You can use your hands to gesture and emphasize (within reason — don’t look like a choir conductor). However, you should endeavor not to make any mindless, purposeless movements. No jiggling of your leg, tapping your pen, swinging in your chair, etc. In addition to making you look nervous, these types of movements are very distracting and can be annoying to others. If you tend to fidget, plan accordingly and remove temptation as much as possible. Keep your hair pulled back so you can’t twirl it. Paint your nails so you won’t bite them. Don’t wear jewelry, bring a click pen, or have gum in your mouth for the interview. And practice sitting absolutely still for several minutes at a time.

Further Review

Below are some of the relevant items from the library’s collection that are available for check out. You can check availability and place a hold via the East Baton Rouge Parish Library’s online catalog.

  • Body Language for Dummies by Elizabeth Kuhnke
  • Understanding Body Language: How to Decode Nonverbal Communication by Scott Rouse
  • Digital Body Language: Build Trust & Connection No Matter the Distance by Erica Dhawan
  • The Body Language Handbook: Read Everyone’s Hidden Thoughts & Intentions by Gregory Hartley

Written by Lynnette Lee.

Note: This article was originally posted in April 2017, and has been re-posted with updates to reach a new audience.

The Job Interview: “Tell Me About a Conflict with a Coworker.”

This job interview question is tricky for two reasons: 1) it asks for a specific story from your past work history, and 2) it asks you to talk about a negative or unpleasant situation. Here are some tips for avoiding the most common mistakes and crafting a good answer:

mistake #1

“I can’t say I’ve ever really had a conflict with a coworker. I get along well with everyone.”

How this hurts you: This might seem at first like a great answer – you get along well with people, that’s awesome! But you dodged the question. Employers ask this question because they want to know how you’ll handle conflict in the workplace when it eventually does come up. . . which it almost certainly will. Even if it’s only a minor disagreement or misunderstanding, conflict of some sort is inevitable. And employers want reassurance that you will handle such things professionally. This answer does not provide that reassurance.

mistake #2

“At my last job, I had one coworker who absolutely hated me. I don’t know what her problem was; I think I’m a pretty nice person, but apparently she didn’t, because she decided that I was her enemy. She kept trying to undermine me and get me into trouble. If I was 3 minutes late clocking in, she couldn’t wait to go tell the boss. Never mind that she spent 45 minutes a day on personal phone calls, she decided that I needed to be reported for checking my personal email at work once. I genuinely don’t understand what her problem was; I never did anything to her.”

How this hurts you: Yikes, how could this NOT hurt? This answer breaks the unwritten rule of the job interview: Never say anything negative about a current or previous boss, coworker, organization, etc. This answer is full of negativity, and it reflects poorly not only on the coworker, but on you too. Anger and bitterness are unprofessional, and blaming everything on other people instead of taking responsibility yourself indicates a lack of maturity.

mistake #3

“I had a conflict where I wasn’t getting along well with a coworker, so I went to my boss and asked for him to intervene. My boss talked to each of us separately to get our individual sides, and then talked to both of us together. He laid out a new set of rules for us and separated our duties so that we wouldn’t need to work so closely together anymore. I didn’t see the coworker much after that, and things went much more smoothly.”

How this hurts you: While there is some excellent conflict-resolution work being done in this story. . .none of it is being done by you. It’s all being done by your boss. This story paints a picture of an employee who doesn’t have the ability to resolve conflict themselves, and who will go running to the boss to solve everything, creating more work for the boss.

so how do you answer this question?

Tell a story that showcases your conflict resolution skills: a story in which you took the initiative to talk things over with the other person, reach a compromise, smooth over any misunderstanding, and resolve the conflict. Use the STAR formula to keep your story organized and well-structured. Avoid negativity, badmouthing, and judgmental terms. Take responsibility for your own role in contributing to the conflict. Above all, remember to frame the conflict not as “me vs. the coworker,” but as “me and the coworker together vs. the problem.”

winning example

“At my last job, there was a coworker that I didn’t quite see eye-to-eye with. It wasn’t really anyone’s fault; it was simply a case of different personalities. We tried to work around it, but at some point, we realized that it was causing tension. So, I pulled her aside and broached the idea that this was something we needed to work on. It was a very awkward conversation at first. But she did open up eventually about certain things that I was doing that annoyed her, and I had had no idea! So, once I started changing those things, and once I was able to understand where she was coming from, we had a much better relationship after that. I wouldn’t say we ever became best friends, but we became good colleagues.”


If you need any help preparing for a job interview, you may call 225-231-3733 to schedule a practice interview with one of our career specialists.

Written by Lynnette Lee

The Job Interview: How to Dress for an Interview

With all of the complex work you’ve put in to succeed at your job search, it would be a shame for you to mess up your chances due to something as simple as clothing. But a lot of job seekers do just that; one of the main reasons employers cite for not hiring someone is that the candidate was inappropriately dressed for the interview.

Here are some tips to help you dress for success.

General Guidelines

You should dress pretty formally and conservatively: nothing casual, gaudy, or provocative. The advice of some experts is to dress as you would for a funeral or a meeting with the president. Note that the level of formality required may change depending on the kind of job you’re applying for. For example, an office executive would wear a three-piece suit and dress shoes, but a construction worker might wear a polo shirt with khakis and work boots.


Visible tattoos and/or piercings. Cover them up or take them out. Earrings are acceptable, but if you have multiple piercings in your ears, less is definitely more.

Flashy or clunky jewelry. Be very minimalistic with accessories. This is especially true for men, who should wear only a watch.

Hats, sunglasses, or hoodies. The employer wants to see your face.

Lots of colorful makeup. This is not a nightclub. A little makeup can make you look vibrant and energetic, but too much will make you look unprofessional.

Clothing that doesn’t fit well. Your outfit should skim your body — neither hugging it too tight nor too saggy.

Clothing that is dirty, wrinkled, or torn. You want to look like you care about getting the details right.

Clothing which is too revealing. Short skirts and plunging necklines are inappropriate for the job interview.

Jeans, t-shirts, sweatpants, pajamas, gym clothes, sneakers, flip-flops, etc. Comfortable clothing which you would wear to lounge around the house has no business in a professional setting.

Elaborate and distracting hairstyles, bedhead, or hair in your face. Ideally, you want your hair to be pulled back from your face, and you want it to look groomed and manageable.

Scraggly facial hair. If you have a beard or mustache, keep it trimmed and groomed.

Long and/or colorful nails. Keep it conservative – you don’t want your electric blue nail polish to distract the interviewer. Long fingernails are frowned upon if you’re interviewing for a job where you’ll need to use your hands — such as preparing food, shelving merchandise, using a computer, etc.

Perfume, cologne, or aftershave. Some people are allergic to fragrances, and you don’t want to set off the interviewer’s allergies.

Body odor or bad breath. Just . . . eww.


Be clean, neat, and well-groomed. Shower, wash your hair, and brush your teeth. Wear deodorant (but avoid strongly scented ones). Comb your hair, style it simply, and keep it out of your face. Clean and file your fingernails. Gentlemen, groom your facial hair. Ladies, wear a bit of makeup in neutral colors.

Prepare your outfit carefully. Try on your outfit several days before the interview. Make sure it fits you well. If necessary, have the outfit altered or mended. Clean and iron your outfit the day before the interview.

Choose appropriate shoes and clean them. Dress shoes are always a good choice, but work boots are also acceptable for positions which involve manual labor (construction, warehousing, etc.). We recommend closed-toed shoes — not sandals — with little or no heel. Flip-flops, sneakers, clunky combat boots, and giant platform heels are strictly forbidden.

Dress conservatively. Stick to mostly dark or neutral clothing, with perhaps a small splash of color. Make sure your accessories, hair, makeup, nails, etc., are not gaudy or flashy. Wear nothing revealing or provocative. Cover tattoos and remove piercings other than earrings.

Dress formally, allowing variations depending on the position. A three-piece suit is always an excellent choice — and is indeed the only choice for someone applying for an upper-level executive position. However, for positions which are slightly less advanced, there are several other good options. A man applying to be the head bank teller might wear a dress shirt and slacks without a jacket or tie. A woman applying to be an office manager might wear a blouse and skirt with or without a jacket. For some entry-level positions, and for some blue-collar positions, even less formality may be acceptable. A teenager applying for her first job at a grocery store might wear a polo shirt and khakis, as might a machine operator applying at an industrial plant. If you’re not sure what to wear, try to err on the side of being more formal than is necessary.

Additional Reading

Written by Lynnette Lee.

Note: This article was originally posted in April 2017, and has been re-posted with updates to reach a new audience.

The Job Interview: Why Do You Want to Work for Us?

When we think of job interview questions, we typically think of things like “What are your strengths?”, “Tell us about your greatest accomplishment”, “What computer skills do you have”, “How would you calm an angry customer”, etc. All these questions have one thing in common – they focus on why the employer should want to hire you. So in your interview prep, you practice discussing your skills and experience and what you have to offer. But at least one interview question has a completely different focus; “Why do you want to work for this employer?” And if you haven’t done any prep work from this flipped perspective, this question may catch you off guard. Here are some common mistakes, along with a better option.

mistake #1

“Well, to be honest, I’m not super happy with where I am, and I’m looking for something better.”

How this hurts you: Firstly, it breaks the #1 unwritten rule of interviewing: Never go negative. Saying that you’re not happy where you are could be construed as you bad-mouthing the company you currently work for, which makes you look unprofessional and bitter. Secondly, this answer says nothing at all about the new company. You don’t seem to be enthusiastically running towards the new job; you seem to be merely running away from the old one. That’s going to make the employer think that you will be a lackluster employee.

mistake #2

“I’m really excited about working for your company because you offer the best healthcare benefits in the business, and you pay significantly more than my current job. Plus, you’re so close to my house, I could walk to work. Finally, I was excited by the possibility of working from home a few days a week.”

How this hurts you: Of course things like pay and benefits are super important to you, but the interview is not an appropriate time for you to bring this up. Answering in this way makes it seem like you only care about the money and perks, not about actually doing a good job or fitting in at the company. Employers ask this question because they want to gauge how committed you will be to the job and company. They prefer to hire people who are chasing a passion, not people who are chasing a paycheck. If you really only care about the money, then what’s to stop you from leaving them in 3 months to get more money elsewhere?

so how do you answer this question?

In a word: research. before you interview, look up the company online. Read through the company website in detail, but don’t stop there. Check social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. – for the company profile, posts, reviews, mentions, etc. You can also check the LinkedIn profiles of people who work for the company for more information. Use the EBRPL database Data Axle to get demographic information on the history and structure of the company. For large companies, read reviews on Glassdoor to get an insider perspective on working for this company. For local businesses, look for articles from local magazines and newspapers. In general, you’re looking for something specific and complimentary which you can say about the company.

winning examples

“I was intrigued by this job opportunity because it matches my exact skillset, so I did some more research into your company. I saw that your Facebook page has hundreds of positive reviews from happy customers who say that you treat them like people, not just account numbers. I like the idea of being part of such a customer-focused workplace.”

“I’m excited about this job because working in healthcare is my calling; I truly want to help people. And when I looked up your organization, I saw that you have state-of-the-art medical technology which no other hospital in the state has. I believe you are on the forefront of medicine, and I want us to save lives together.”

“I could be an excellent office manager at any company, but I’m specifically interested in your organization because of its community outreach and charity programs. Giving back to the community is important to me, and your HeartReach program shows that you share those values.”

“I read the Better Baton Rouge Business Report’s article on your company, and I was really impressed by the meteoric growth in your customer base and brand awareness over the past 5 years. This company is clearly headed for success, and I want to be a part of that success.”


If you need any help preparing for a job interview, you may call 225-231-3733 to schedule a practice interview with one of our career specialists.

Written by Lynnette Lee

The Job Interview: “Tell Me About Yourself.”

We can virtually guarantee that the first question you will be asked in a job interview will be some variation of “Tell me about yourself.”  If handled skillfully, this can provide an opportunity for you to lead the conversation and make a great first impression. However, since this question is so open-ended, many people find themselves drawing a blank when trying to answer it. Here are some tips for polishing your answer:

mistake #1

“Ok, yeah, sure! Well, my name is Lynnette, I’m 36 years old, and I’m married to a wonderful man named Caleb. We don’t have any kids yet, and we don’t have any pets because we’re allergic. So it’s just the two of us, and we have a great time together. We spend most of our time playing videogames together, or watching sci-fi, or talking about what books we’re reading. Except on Tuesdays, when I go to my crafting group to work on my cross-stitch. I just completed a great project, wanna see it?”

How this hurts you: This answer focuses on personal things, which the employer is probably not interested in learning about you. This is an understandable mistake – after all, if you met someone at a party and were asked “Tell me about yourself,” you would probably include details like your family life, hobbies, and interests. But a job interview is not a social setting; it’s a professional one. Therefore, your answer should focus on who you are as a professional only. Your hobbies and interests should not be mentioned unless they are directly relevant to the job. And there are certain facts about yourself – such as your age, marital status, religion, number of children, etc. – which you should NEVER mention in a job interview. These details could open you up to discrimination, which is why it’s illegal for the employer to ask.

mistake #2

“Okay, well. . .my name is Lynnette. . .but I guess you already know that. . .. well, honestly, I’m not really sure what to say, I mean, everything was already in the application, and you’ve got my resume in front of you, so there’s not much for me to add.”

How this hurts you: If you know that you’re not supposed to talk about your personal life, you may struggle to know what you can say, and something like the answer above may slip out of your mouth. But this sounds both unenthusiastic and uncooperative. And if it were true – if hiring managers really could make a decision based on your resume alone – then why would they bother asking you to interview? (That is, assuming that the person interviewing you actually read your resume, which is not guaranteed.) They called you in for a reason. They want to hear you discuss, in your own words, how your background and skills have prepared you to excel in this job, why you’re interested in the job, and why they should hire you.

so how do you answer this question?

Well before the interview, you need to brainstorm to figure out your main talking points. You don’t want to simply regurgitate everything that’s on your resume, but do give a good idea of what your area of expertise is and what you have to offer. (An ideal answer to this question is probably an expanded version of your elevator pitch.) How exactly you answer this question will vary depending on your individual situation and the type of job you’re applying for. Some of the most common aspects to consider including are:

  • An opening statement that catches their attention and sums up, in a few words, who you are as a professional.
  • A brief overview of your work history, including where you currently work, how long you’ve been there, and what sorts of work you do there. That may be enough, or you may decide to mention some of your past jobs to showcase more experience. For every job you talk about, focus on the tasks you do and skills you use which most directly translate to the new job you’re applying for.
  • Degrees and certifications you’ve earned, only if they’re relevant.
  • An explanation of how your skills, education, experience, personal traits, etc., match the job requirements and would be of benefit to the new employer.
  • A statement about why you’re interested in the job and excited for this opportunity.

If you’ve done it right, this question will set the tone for the entire interview. In answer to later questions, you will probably find yourself referring back to, and elaborating on, things you mentioned in your opening statement.

winning example

“As you can see from my resume, most of my career has been in customer service, beginning with my position at JC Penney, where I won an award for customer service. I’m currently at Chase Bank, for five years now, where I began as a teller and was then promoted to the loan department. Most of the work I do involves assisting customers face-to-face, organizing paperwork for loan officers, and processing documents electronically. That’s why I was so interested when I saw your administrative assistant position, because I think it’s a great fit for my skills with computer applications, organization, and customer service. I also recently received an associate degree in Office Administration, and I’m excited for the opportunity to put these skills to use.”

If you need any help preparing for a job interview, you may call 225-231-3733 to schedule a practice interview with one of our career specialists.

Written by Lynnette Lee

The Job Interview: What’s Your Greatest Weakness?

“What’s your greatest weakness” is one of the most common interview questions in existence – and one of the most despised. This question often feels like a trap – there are so many ways to answer it poorly. Let’s look at the most common mistakes people make with this question.

Mistake #1

“I don’t really have any weaknesses. I’m basically an all-around solid employee.”

How this hurts you: This seems like a great answer at first – you’re perfect! There’s no downside to hiring you! In practice, though, it makes you seem arrogant, devoid of self-awareness, and resistant to constructive criticism.

Mistake #2

“My biggest weakness is that I can be a little lazy sometimes. So, if I don’t have a boss breathing down my neck, I might just goof off for several hours.”

How this hurts you: Some people feel that honesty is always the best policy, but as you can see from this answer, that’s not the case in job interviews. You should not be unflinchingly honest with your flaws – you’re supposed to be selling your best self.

Mistake #3

“My greatest weakness is perfectionism. I’m devoted single-mindedly to doing the best job I can. Sometimes I work myself a little too hard, but it’s only because I care so darn much.”

How this hurts you: This answer tries to disguise a strength as a weakness. This approach fails on three levels. First, it fails because it is the stock answer which they’ve heard a million times. Second, it fails because it doesn’t actually answer the question – hard work is not a weakness, and they won’t be fooled. Third, it fails because it smacks of insincerity.

Mistake #4

“My greatest weakness is that I tend to procrastinate on complex tasks. I always get my work completed by the deadline, but sometimes it takes longer than it needs to.”

How this hurts you: This one comes so close to getting it right – you’ve identified a genuine weakness, but one that’s not debilitating, and you’ve avoided coming across as conceited or dishonest. Yet it still might hurt you, because the hiring manager might worry about how much this weakness will affect your job performance.

So How Do You Answer This Question?

It almost seems like there is no good way to answer this question – but rest assured, there is! Anytime an interview question stumps you, it can be helpful to think about things from the hiring manager’s perspective. This can help you figure out what kind of answer they might be looking for.

Why do they ask this question? Because no one is perfect, and improving your weaknesses is a crucial part of becoming a great employee. Hiring managers ask this question because, on a surface level, they want to know if you have any major flaws which would make you a liability for the company. Beyond that, they want to make sure that you are humble and self-aware enough to identify your shortcomings. But even that isn’t enough – what good is it to know that you’re bad at something, if you make no effort to improve?

Winning Strategy

Pretend that instead of asking you, “What’s your greatest weakness?”, they asked, “Tell me about how you overcame your greatest weakness.” Identify a weakness that you’ve struggled with in the past, but focus most of your answer on the efforts you’ve made to overcome this weakness, and the improved result. Use the STAR formula to structure your answer.

Winning Example

“My greatest weakness is a natural tendency to procrastinate on complex tasks. I’ve always gotten my work done by the deadline, but sometimes it’s taken longer than it had to. Last year, I realized how much my inefficiency bothered me, so I took a time management webinar, and afterwards I went to the library and checked out three books on procrastination. I learned lots of helpful tips and strategies, including a new way of writing to-do lists so that I don’t get overwhelmed by large projects. Since I implemented these strategies, my project completion rate has gotten much better.”

One last hidden trap

Choose your weakness carefully. Do not pick a weakness that is crucial to the job duties at hand. For example, if you’re applying for a position as an accountant, don’t say, “My greatest weakness is that I used to be really uncomfortable with numbers.” No matter how great a story you can spin about overcoming your discomfort with numbers, they will not hire you as an accountant.

For more assistance with the job interview, please check out out YouTube playlist.

Written by Lynnette Lee

Note: This article was originally posted in December 2016, and has been re-posted with updates to reach a new audience.

The Job Interview: Shine with the STAR Formula

People waiting for an interview

What is it, and why is it important?

The STAR formula is a method of structuring your answer to certain interview questions, in order to make sure that your answer is organized and properly showcases your achievements. Without this structure, your answer may be rambling, unfocused, or underwhelming. The STAR formula has become a very popular trend in interviewing. We had one client recently who was told, specifically, that she did not get a job because her interview answers did not make use of the STAR method.

When would I use it?

You should use the STAR formula to answer behavioral questions – that is, questions which ask for specific stories and examples from your past work experience. These questions include:

  • Tell us about a time you faced a tough problem at work.
  • Give me an example of a time when you handled an angry customer.
  • Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a co-worker.
  • Give me an example of a time when you met an impossible deadline.
  • Tell us about your greatest professional accomplishment.

What does it stand for?

Situation: Give us the background information. Lay out the situation so that we’ll understand what was going on. Your English teacher would call this the exposition.

Task: Tell us what you needed to accomplish. What was the challenge that faced you? Note: this is very similar to Situation, and in fact some people combine these two categories into Situation or Task. Do not spend too much time on Situation and/or Task. Although it is crucial to give enough explanation to make your story easy to follow, be careful not to get bogged down in boring and irrelevant details. Just give the necessary facts.

Action: Talk about what you did in this situation. What actions did you take to calm the angry customer, or resolve the conflict, or meet the deadline? This is the exciting part of your story, so spend most of your time here. Be specific with the steps you took. And make sure you’re talking about what you personally did, rather than what your team did – this is no time to be modest.

Result: Let us know how everything turned out. After all, what story is complete without the happy ending?

Winning Example

Interview question

Give us an example of a time when you went above and beyond to get the job done.


Situation: My work at the credit union is very customer-service-oriented, so going above and beyond the job description is frequently necessary in order to make the customers happy. For example, last year one of our customers was approved for a home loan, but she couldn’t come in to sign her final paperwork because she was a single parent and her daughter was in the hospital.

Task: I knew that her loan approval was going to expire if I didn’t find a way to get her to sign that paperwork.

Action: So I took it upon myself to take the paperwork to her. I spent my lunch break one day driving over to the hospital, getting her to sign the paperwork, and triple-checking to make sure that she had done everything that was necessary.

Result: She was so grateful; she kept saying that it was such a load off her mind at a stressful time, and that she appreciated the personal touch. In the end, it worked out well for everyone – her daughter got better, her loan paperwork went through, and the credit union now has a loyal customer for life.”

Written by Lynnette Lee.

Practice makes perfect. Call us at 225-231-3733 to schedule an appointment for assistance with crafting your answers or for a mock interview. Alternately, you can check out our interview-related YouTube videos here: EBRPL Career Center – YouTube


Note: This article was originally posted in November 2016, and has been re-posted with updates to reach a new audience.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Job Searching, Part 5

This is the fifth post in a series of posts about the most common and damaging mistakes jobseekers make. Read the full series here.

5th deadly sin: not preparing for a job interview

You read our blog posts about the first four deadly sins of job searching, followed our advice, and scored a job interview. Congratulations! Now, don’t go out and celebrate the achievement on the night before. Instead, use that time to prepare.

Why prepare for a job interview?

After all, this is all about you, and you know yourself pretty well, right? Not quite: the job interview is about you in relation to the job you are applying for and how you can benefit that company in that specific position. In order to be at your peak performance, you need to prepare the following:

Your clothes

Research the organizations’ dress code and dress accordingly. Check out your interview clothes a few days before, if they need dry cleaning you don’t want to find that out the morning of your interview. If it has been a while since your last job interview and you don’t wear your interview clothes frequently, try them on. They might not fit anymore or be out of style.

Your route to the interview location

Check out where you are going. If you are taking public transportation, check the schedule. If you are driving, search for the best route, how long it takes, if there is construction, etc.  After all, one of the biggest interview blunders is being late!

Research the company and the role you are applying for

You want to know everything about the company you possibly can. If you know somebody that works there already, talk to them. At the very least you need to thoroughly check out their website. Ideally you also follow them on social media and research their business information in company databases such as ReferenceUSA.

Your answers

This is obviously the big one. Most job interviews will be conducted using behavioral questions. Behavioral questions are those that ask about real life examples from your work history or hypothetical scenarios common in your field. For example: “Tell me about a situation with a difficult co-worker and how you resolved it” or “An angry client calls and accuses you of giving him the wrong information. What do you do?”. It is very hard to come up with good answers to those kinds of questions on the spot. You need to take time and prepare them.

The best way to answer behavioral questions is the STAR methodSituation/Task, Action, Result. You want to tell the interviewer the situation or task you were faced with, the action you took to resolve that situation and the result from your action. Google the most common behavioral questions and write down your own best answer to each of them. Then practice them until you can present them naturally and with ease. You also want to record yourself. This way you can see your facial expressions and body language.

If you need help with interview preparation, contact the Career Center at 225-231-3733. We have many interview prep materials for you to practice and will conduct mock interviews, which we can tape if you like.

Stay tuned for the next deadly sin of job search.

Written by Anne Nowak

The Job Interview: “What Are Your Strengths?”

The job interview is intended to help employers determine whether you would be the best fit for a position. To that end, hiring managers will ask you about both your weaknesses and your strengths. The question “What are your strengths?” seems like an easy one to answer – it’s a great chance for you to sell yourself and your skills. Yet many people stumble over this question. Let’s take a look at some great and not-so-great responses people make to this question.

mistake #1

“Ummm. . . .I’m not really sure. I guess I hadn’t thought about it. Can we come back to that one?”

How this hurts you: This question comes up, in some way, in almost all interviews. You should be prepared for it. A lack of forethought on your part indicates to the interviewer that you didn’t put much effort into getting ready for this interview. Additionally, no one will be impressed that you have no self-awareness of your strengths.

mistake #2

“I work hard. Y’know. . . I get things done. I’m also very athletic, I love sports, so if you have a company softball team, I’d be a good addition to it.”

How this hurts you: Everyone claims to be a hard worker in a job interview. It’s not very impressive or believable, and it’s too vague to really speak to your relevant skills. Notice the word “relevant” – you want to play up your skills that are related to the job, not the things that you enjoy doing in your personal time.

Mistake #3

“My greatest strengths are that I’m great at customer service, I’m good with computers, and I’m a quick learner.”

How this hurts you: This answer is much better than the previous two. It shows self-awareness and forethought, and it showcases specific relevant skills. Yet it still feels incomplete and unconvincing. Based on this answer alone, do you really believe that this person has these strengths? Have you seen any evidence of the skills mentioned? Or does it feel like empty words?

so how do you answer this question?

First, brainstorm – well ahead of the actual interview – about what your strengths are. What are the skills you bring to the table which would be an asset to the workplace? If you have trouble determining where your value lies, reach out to those around you who might be able to help you. Your family and friends, and most especially your former co-workers and supervisors, can tell you what you’re good at.  Also think of your greatest achievements and success stories from previous jobs: what strengths did you show in those situations? Then, determine which of your strengths would be the most valuable and relevant to the job in question, as well as which strengths you can provide the strongest evidence for.

winning strategy

For each strength you mention, follow a three-step formula.
First, state the strength clearly and directly.
Second, prove the strength with specific details and examples from your work history.
Third, connect the strength to the new job by relating how it would be useful for your new would-be employers. This step is optional for skills whose connection is obvious, but it is very useful for soft skills (such as attention to detail, teamwork, and time management).

winning example

“One of my greatest strengths is customer service. I’ve always tried to follow the Golden Rule and treat customers as I’d like to be treated. I actually won an award two years ago for outstanding customer service. I know that if you hired me, I would make your customers feel welcome and want to continue doing business with us.
Another strength of mine is my proficiency with the software required for this job. I use Microsoft Word, Outlook, and Excel every day in my current position. I also have experience using Google Calendar for booking appointments and WordPress for website maintenance.
My final great strength is a passion for learning. At my current job, I’ve read all the training manuals for every department, not just my own, so that I can have a better understanding of how all the departments work together. That knowledge has enabled me to help customers better, because I could solve problems for them rather than referring them to a different department. Were I to come work for you, I am confident that I would quickly become one of your most knowledgeable employees.”

A final thought

You may have noticed that the winning answer is much longer than any of the mistake answers. That’s okay – as a matter of fact, that’s exactly what you want. Employers want to use the interview to get a good feel for who you are as an employee, what you can do for them, and how you’d fit in to the company. They can’t learn these things unless you provide full answers to their questions. Beware of rambling – you do not want to go on pointlessly for ages. But as long as everything you are saying is relevant and well-structured, don’t be afraid of a long-ish answer.

If you need any help preparing for a job interview, you may call 225-231-3733 to schedule a practice interview with one of our career specialists.

Written by Lynnette Lee

Job Search Tips for Ex-Offenders, Part 2: The Interview

The Career Center recently presented a pair of job search seminars at a local correctional facility, focusing on the resume and the job interview for ex-offenders. Here are some of the greatest takeaways from those seminars. Read the first post in this series here.

Should I talk about having a criminal record in the interview?

  • It is crucial that you talk about your criminal record in the interview, even if they don’t bring it up. Why? Because they will run a background check and discover your criminal record, and if you haven’t prepared them for that, it will come as a nasty shock. Much better for you to talk about it in the interview, where you can explain the circumstances and reassure them that you’ve changed.
  • One hiring manager we spoke with explained, “If they tell me about the conviction in the interview, I can work with that. I can ask follow-up questions to figure out the details of their situation. I can give them the benefit of the doubt. But if they never tell me, and I find out from the background check, I feel like they were dishonest with me. I don’t appreciate that.”

Dos and don’ts of discussing your incarceration

  • DO: Bring up the incarceration early in the interview, maybe as part of your answer to the very first question, “Tell me about yourself.” Take responsibility for your mistakes. Tell a redemption story about your path to rehabilitation. Focus on the valuable skills and experience you gained while incarcerated. Emphasize your commitment to becoming a contributing member of society again.
  • DON’T: Spend too much time talking about the details of why you went to jail. Blame other people for your situation. Appear hostile or negative. Seem unrepentant for your crimes. Beg or seem desperate for any job. Neglect to convince them of your skills and qualifications for this job.

winning examples of interview answers

  • Tell me about yourself. As you can see from my resume, I’ve got several years of industrial experience. I spent a year as a warehouse technician, which involved operating a forklift and pallet jack, and another six months as a laborer on several different construction projects. After that, my career got derailed a little bit. I made a series of stupid mistakes and wound up in jail. While I was in jail, I realized what a mess I had made out of my life, and I felt ashamed. I decided to turn my life around. I wanted to make sure that I would never go to jail again, so I decided to learn new skills that would help me in the real world. I signed up for vocational training classes to learn new skills. I also worked as a mechanic at the prison for 3 years, which gave me a lot of experience working with my hands and with tools. I’m not afraid to work hard and get my hands dirty, and I think that all of these skills would be useful to your company.
  • Tell me about your criminal record. I was incarcerated for possession of narcotics. I was addicted to heroin, and was too stubborn and stupid to get help for my addiction. I feel like the conviction was justified. I didn’t think this at the time, but now I almost see it as a blessing in disguise. Because I hit rock bottom in jail. The first time my daughter saw me behind bars, I finally realized what I was doing to her. So I made a promise to myself that from then on, I was going to be someone she could be proud of. I enrolled in the prison’s drug rehab program and got clean. I started attending classes and vocational training, so I could be a valuable employee once I got out. I turned around my life and got paroled. Now that I’ve been released, I’m staying on the straight and narrow path. I’ve been drug-free for two years, I’m a deacon at my church, and my daughter is proud of me. If you hire me, I will put my skills and training, as well as my ambition to be a successful employee, to good use for your company.
  • Why should we hire a convicted felon? I can understand why you’d be hesitant to hire someone with my background. I know you’re probably worried that I’ll disappoint. But I’m not going to go back to my old, bad ways. I was young, foolish, and made a terrible mistake. But I decided to turn my life and attitude around. I took advantage of every educational, vocational training, and work opportunity available to me in prison. I now have clear goals, which including being a model employee for a successful company like this one. I have character references from my parole officer and pastor, both of whom would tell you that I am a changed man. If you have any doubts about me still, please hire me on a probationary status until I can prove to you that I am the best man for the job. Frankly, I plan to become your best employee within my first three months.

helpful resources

  •, a job search website devoted entirely to companies willing to hire people with criminal records.
  • Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Louisiana, which has an ex-offender re-entry program offering free training and employment services.
  • The Capital Area Re-Entry Coalition
  • Any book by author Ronald Krannich, including The Ex-Offender’s Re-Entry Assistance Directory, The Ex-Offender’s Quick Job Hunting Guide, Best Resumes and Letters for Ex-Offenders, and The Ex-Offender’s Job Interview Guide. All of these books may be checked out from the East Baton Rouge Parish Library.
  • The Career Center (inside the Main Library at Goodwood, 7711 Goodwood Boulevard) can offer personalized assistance with job search strategies, online applications, resumes, and interviews.

Written by Lynnette Lee