From Backpack to Briefcase

Use these tips to maximize your job interview.
01 April 2006
Beth Huetter
Starting a job hunt can be a scary and grueling experience even for veteran job-seekers. And being a student with little job experience can certainly put you at a disadvantage. There are a few things you can do to better your odds, though.
The first step is to prepare for your interview, and the way to do that should be easy for a veteran student: research.
Before you send in your resume, you should research the company to which you're applying. Find out what they're best known for, their products, even what their competitors are working on.
"I am always impressed with an applicant who does their homework," says Victor Greer, a recruiting consultant from Northrop Grumman Space Technology Corp. (Redondo Beach, CA).
Talk to people at the company and find out what it's like to work there. Not only does this give you an idea about what the job and company are like, it may result in a good recommendation, or at least someone in the company who knows your name.
Once you know everything there is to know about the company, the next step is to practice giving an interview. Sit down with a professor, a friend, anyone willing to help who will be critical, and have them ask you typical interview questions.
"Many experts encourage candidates to develop a 'one-minute commercial,'" says Anna Lawson of

Once you are in the interview, every question is an opportunity to sell yourself. "If you believe you are qualified for a job, feel confident that you are the right person for the job," explains John Cain, SPIE course coordinator.

Point out all the leadership roles you took and experience you have in your field. "If your side jobs during college are at all related to your job objective, include them," says Cain.
Show them what you studied in school, and how you would use that to help their company.
"Your answers should focus on what you can do for the company, not vice versa," Lawson advises.
According to Lawson, the employer's major concerns are: Can this person do the job, and properly? Will the person fit in with the team? How will the person get along with supervisors?
If things start to go bad, don't panic. If you feel yourself becoming tongue-tied, ask for a chance to rephrase your answer to the question.
A common question interviewers ask is "do you have any questions for me?" Always make sure to have questions. "Applicants should view the interview process as a way to obtain valuable information about a company and its competitive future in the market place," says Greer. "By not applying this principle it could lead to layoffs or too many short term jobs that must be explainedon a resume."
This same policy applies when you are looking for academic work. Is the university heavy into research, a liberal arts school, or is their emphasis on the classroom?
Another important step is to let the interviewer know if you are interested in other positions. This shows you are interested in the company, not just in a paycheck, and if a similar position opens up, you'll more likely be considered for the job.
As many experts point out, most people do not get the first job they apply for. Instead, think of every interview as a way to perfect your skills. Even if you're not sure you want the job, go to the interview anyway and use it as practice.
At the end of the interview, thank the interviewer, and follow up with a thank-you note.
After that, it's all over but the waiting.
If you would like to brush up on your resume or interview skills, free resume review sessions and workshops are given at most larger SPIE events. To find out about the workshops, visit the SPIE Works website at

For 10 great interview tips, see the related article "Top 10 Interview Tips from the Experts."

University Perils
Applying for a research or teaching job at a university has its own challenges, and the U.S. university system is especially hard to get hired into as a non-citizen.
Above all, universities expect your curriculum vitae (resume) to focus more on your classwork, field studies, and what goals you set out to achieve and whether they were met.
Universities are also more concerned with how you'll fit into their program.
Above all, though, they are most interested in what kind of research you have performed and how it will benefit their institution.
If you are applying for a teaching position, you will be expected to present a sampling of a course. Be prepared to give a mini-lecture (ask the university what topic you will lecture on).
John Cain, SPIE course coordinator, adds that if you are not a U.S. citizen, make sure to let your potential employer know if you need a sponsor to work and live in the U.S.
To read articles about lessons learned and tips for the academic job hunt, see The Chronicle of Higher Education's website at

Beth Huetter, Staff Editor

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