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A good handshake, matched with a well-crafted résumé and a professional demeanor, is the first step to making a lasting impression and landing the job.

Brenna Swanston
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Cal Poly’s Fall Career Fair is here once again, sending students into frenzies about how to dress, what to say and how to shake a hand. Their interactions with potential employers at the career fair could fling open doors to a successful future — or not.

To make the most of the career fair, participating students should consider game plans for job interview preparation, execution and follow-up. The first step is to dust off and polish up the old résumé, Cal Poly Career Counselor Carole Moore said.

“A résumé is basically your shot within the first 10 or 15 seconds to get whoever’s reading it to get really interested in you as an applicant,” she said.

Students should ensure their résumé’s “past education” and “work experience” sections are readable and up-to-date, she said. More importantly, however, they should make sure the “skills” section is appropriate for their targeted job field.

“That’s a very dynamic part of your résumé,” Moore said. “It changes all the time.”

Psychology senior Josh Call went through the interview process on his way to becoming a Cal Poly library research assistant technician and librarian student assistant. Tailoring his résumé to the position was a crucial factor, he said.

“There are things in your education or experience that might not be particularly relevant,” he said. “That would just come off as bloat to the people looking over your résumé.”

Once the résumé is ready to go, students should get ready for a face-to-face interaction with employers. They should dress professionally and prepare answers for the questions employers are likely to ask, Moore said.

“You always want to be as professional as you possibly can,” she said.

Students can’t control everything about a job interview, but they can control how they present themselves, Moore said.

“Having a nice handshake, looking people in the eye, remembering people’s names, following up with a thank-you note, making sure your social media is professional and represents you in the best possible way — those are things you can control,” she said.

No one knows the exact questions an employer will ask, but most questions fall into one of three categories, Moore said. The first category is descriptive: The question essentially asks, “Tell me about yourself.” The second category inquires about the interviewee’s weaknesses. The third consists of fun questions such as, “What’s your favorite movie?”

The weakness category is often the most difficult, Moore said.

“Never, ever undermine your credibility in any of your answers,” she said. “But you do want to be authentic.”

The best way to answer such questions is with a characteristic-such as leadership-the interviewee would like to work on, she said.

Some interviewers employ unconventional interview tactics which require special preparation. For example, biological sciences sophomore Emily Santor was part of a group interview for an internship.

One of the best ways to stand out in a group interview is to dress well, Santor said.

“Definitely be dressed in appropriate wear,” she said. “Because they’re probably going to disregard the people who look like they don’t care.”

Group interviewees should know how to make their past experience catch the employer’s eye, she said.

“You have to think of things that are pertinent to what they’re looking for, like work experience or leadership experience,” she said. “Even if you just flipped burgers over the summer, you can think about all the positive things, like hard work, or teamwork or learning how to listen to directions.”

The next interview for the internship required Santor to come up with questions for the employer. It was the more difficult of the two interviews, she said. To prepare, she talked to people involved in business about what she should ask an interviewer.

“You have to come up with a lot of questions, and then when you strike on one, don’t be afraid to keep going with it, even if it wasn’t on your list,” she said. “Because if you go based off your planned questions, you might get stiff conversation. The best interviews just feel like regular conversations.”

After their interviews, students should immediately send the employers thank-you emails, Moore said.

The email should communicate the message, “I really appreciated talking to you, I’m really excited about your specific project and I would be the perfect candidate,” Moore said.

Even if the interview is a total flop, she said, a thank-you email is still in order.

“Everything’s an opportunity,” she said. “Anything bad you do, believe it or not, can turn out to be a good thing.”

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