A tough grilling in an interviewer’s office can be a stressful experience no matter how well-prepared you are – and few questions cause more interview-morning heartburn than the dreaded “What’s your greatest weakness?” inquiry. Answering this question is no cakewalk for any professional, but the right approach and attitude can give you a solid advantage over the competition. Here are some expert tips to get you planning ahead and thinking positive.

Understand what employers want to know
A question about your greatest weakness might seem like an attempt to trip you up or test your reaction speed, but it actually contains a few different shades of meaning. On one hand, “an interviewer asks this question to determine if you are forthright and honest about your flaws,” says Heather McNab, author of What Top Professionals Need to Know About Answering Job Interview Questions – so your response should be clear and upfront. At the same time, says Alison Doyle, job search expert for About.com, “they’re also looking for insight into what you think are the skills you may need to improve.” That means they’ll be looking for cues about your self-assessment abilities – and how you handle your own shortcomings – so it may be helpful to focus on a weakness you’re already acknowledging and trying to improve. In the end, though, “they’re trying to find out if you’re capable of doing the job,” says Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding and author of Promote Yourself (St. Martin’s Press, fall 2013). Thus, it’s better to describe a general weakness than one directly related to the job’s core functions.

Understand what’ll turn them off
As mentioned above, no employer will hire a candidate who claims a main weakness in an area crucial for the performance of the job. But that doesn’t mean you should err too far on the side of vagueness – or worse, dishonesty. Your interviewer will likely be well-trained to sniff out avoidant answers. “Many professionals try to take a strength and turn it into a weakness – ‘I just work too hard’ – but the interviewer won’t buy it,” McNab says. Instead, what’s most important is to give the interviewer proof that you’re human, aware of your flaws, and committed to self-improvement. Even more importantly – though this might seem to go without saying – no employer will be happy to hear you claim that you don’t have any weaknesses. “This could indicate that you aren’t flexible, or are unwilling to improve when improvement is needed,” Doyle explains – or worse, it could imply that you’ve got something to hide. In short, you’ve got to pick a weakness, admit it openly, and spin it as a net positive.

Understand what kinds of stories they like
Putting your weakness in proper context means walking a delicate line. The goal is to describe the weakness as a motivation for positive self-change without sounding too defensive about the problem. In other words, “saying you lack the right skills but are a quick learner won’t help your candidacy,” Doyle says. A far better approach is to think of an area in which you’re currently working hard on improving, and frame that as a weakness. “Explain that although you’ve had difficulty in a given situation, you recovered from it, learned something and have performed better as a result,” Schawbel says. An alternate route is to talk about a weakness that has little or nothing to do with the job for which you’re interviewing. If you take this path, though, it’s important to focus on a weakness that conveys a genuine struggle – otherwise your answer may sound like a cop-out. If you tell a personal story well, though, your answer may satisfy the interviewer and cast you as a fully developed “character” at the same time.

Keep these tips in mind as you rehearse your answers, and you may wind up surprising yourself – and your potential employer – with a unique and thought-provoking answer.

Guest Blogger – Ben Thomas, a member of the Riley Guide writing team, is an expert on a variety of topics related to the job search.

Emotions on FacesHave you ever worked with someone who had mood swings that affected the whole office? Or maybe you had a colleague who often got angry in meetings, sparking tension and disagreements? Have you worked with someone who always knew the right thing to say to make you feel better? Have you been supervised by someone whose positive attitude infected the entire workplace culture?

These are examples of how emotional intelligence can impact the workplace, whether your workplace is an office, a restaurant, a store, or a factory. Very few people work alone. Most people work on teams or in other kinds of groups. So, employers are looking for people who can navigate those teams well and improve the team by being a member of it. For all these reasons, emotional intelligence is a huge plus for a potential candidate.

So, what exactly is emotional intelligence? The technical definition is that it measures the level of ability an individual has in regulating his or her own emotions and moods as well as understanding and considering the emotions of others. People with high levels of emotional intelligence are adept at adapting to stressful situations and having difficult conversations. They can regulate themselves emotionally and help others to regulate themselves by offering care or respect or positivity. Emotionally intelligent people are good at sensing what other people are feeling and knowing how to react to those feelings in order to reduce tension and conflict.

You can see why this would be a good quality to have with your friends and family, but why does it matter at work? Well, there are certain skills associated with high emotional intelligence that correlate to success at work, including social skills, self-awareness, self-control, and motivation. High emotional intelligence also coincides with the ability to manage stress. Work can be stressful, and employers want to know that their employees can handle that stress in productive ways. They also want to know that their employees are self-aware enough to know how other perceive them, including clients and customers.

How can you cultivate emotional intelligence? Treat your co-workers with respect and build relationships with them. Go to work with a positive attitude whenever possible, and if you’re having a bad day, let people know that you’re struggling. If you feel yourself getting angry or frustrated at work, take a moment to examine why before reacting. You will be surprised how often just thinking through a problem or conflict that is upsetting before you react will eliminate the power of the feeling associated with it. Try not to blame others for workplace mistakes but offer solutions to problems. Finally, in your interactions with your co-workers, be in tune with them, ask them how things are going, and actually care about the answer. There is nothing as frustrating as working with someone who only pretends to care. If you build caring relationships at work, you will build your emotional intelligence, and be able to exhibit this at work and in future interviews. With some luck, taking the time to care about those you work with will lead to other opportunities, through referrals and recommendations. There are many different kinds of intelligence, and emotional intelligence is a useful one to work on increasing.

Posted by Jessica Baron, Graduate Assistant Career Advisor at OSU

For nine years Black Friday has been recorded as the busiest shopping day of the year. The shopping extravaganza, which takes place the day after Thanksgiving, begins anywhere from midnight to 4am when lines of eager shoppers await various store openings in order to snatch up some of the best deals seen all year. Much like preparing for a job interview, Black Friday involves much planning and preparation. Here are 3 ways preparing for Black Friday is like preparing for a job interview:

  1. Do your Research. When preparing for your job interview, research can be helpful in learning a little bit about the company such as its missions and goals. It can also give insight on statistics and competitors in the particular field in which you will be interviewing. Doing your research for Black Friday is also important. BlackFriday.com already has Black Friday ads for 2012 posted for major stores like Walmart, Best Buy, and Sears. Researching and comparing ads from different stores can be helpful to ensure you are getting the best deal. To go even further, researching past and current prices of the item you are hoping to buy can also be helpful to ensure you are really getting a deal. (I bought a camera last year on Black Friday and it turned out I waited in line at 4 in the morning for a small 10 dollar discount on it! Sometimes the small discounts might not be worth all the hassle of Black Friday.)
  2. Prepare & Practice. Though you don’t know the specific questions that will be asked of you in your interview, there are still a few ways you can prepare and practice. Making a list of your skills and accomplishments can help you give specific examples in your interview answers, while practicing and recording yourself answering questions can make you aware of your mannerisms and habits. Making a list for Black Friday is important in helping you stay on track and stay focused. Many big stores like Target and Walmart get so crowded with shoppers that things can become very overwhelming and intense. Sometimes with limited number of items, stores have people pushing and shoving for the latest and greatest deals. This is also why practice can be important in preparing for your shopping day. It can be helpful to visit the stores you plan on going to and get familiar with the set-up and layout of the store. Some stores may also rearrange their layout for the big day, so sometimes maps are placed in their Black Friday ads which show where big items and different departments will be set up.
  3. Image. The last step in preparing for your interview is deciding what to wear. “Dressing the part” can be crucial in the interview process, sometimes making or breaking the outcome. Dressing the part for your interview usually varies depending on the company and position. In addition to dressing the part, making sure you are comfortable can be important, as well as being conscious of things you might fidget with or that might be distracting like hair, jewelry, etc. With long lines and crowded stores, dressing the part is just as important on Black Friday. Being comfortable is also highly recommended for Black Friday since you will be doing a lot of walking and a lot of standing in lines. Having comfortable clothing can also make moving through the stores easier, helping you get in and out at a quicker pace. (I waited in line at a store for 2 hours on Black Friday 3 years ago!)

There you have it…so be sure to do your research, get prepared, and get comfortable and you will be ready to take on those Black Friday deals as well as an interview!

Posted by Erica Evans, Career Services Assistant

Today it’s all about interviewing! Here are some common interviewing questions:

What are common interview questions?
These days more and more employers are asking behavioral interview questions. These are the kinds of questions that ask you to tell about a specific experience. For example, “Tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult person and how did you handle the situation.” Behavioral questions are popular because past behavior is a strong indicator of future behavior and employers want to make sure they are hiring someone who is  a good fit for the organization.The top interviewing question themes are:

Strengths and weaknesses
Problem solving
Leadership Abilities

For a list of common questions, check out “Sample Interview Questions Asked By Employers.”

How long should I talk for when answering a question?
About 3 minutes. Usually in three minutes you can answer the question fully, much more than 3 minutes you have probably gone off on a tangent and are no longer answering the question or maybe you are but the interviewers are ready to move on.

Should I ask questions at the end of the interview?
YES! Ask at least two questions (but not more than 5)…it shows that you are interested in the position, have done your research, have critical thinking skills, and some employers won’t hire you if you don’t have questions. It is true, I know someone who didn’t hire someone because of that reason! Check out some Sample Questions to Ask Employers to get you brainstorming!

What should I wear?
You want to look professional but also fit in with the culture of the company. It is better to dress on the conservative side and if you are ever questioning what to wear you pretty much can’t go wrong with a nice pair of slacks, button up collar shirt, and suit jacket (and a tie for a guy). Make sure to wear close-toed shoes and minimal jewelry and perfume/cologne. If it is the summer, then usually you can go without the jacket and women can bring a light sweater. I always layer and then once I see what everyone else is wearing I can decide whether or not I keep wearing the jacket. Need more advice on what to wear? Then check out “Dressing for the Interview.”

For more information on the job interview, check out the OSU Career Services website section on interviewing.

Any other questions about interviewing? Any suggestions?

Jen Busick, Career Advisor & Outreach Coordinator at Oregon State University advises students about internships and the job search, applying to graduate school, resumes/cover letters, and interviewing. She also organizes and updates resources, manages social media for Career Services and coordinates outreach opportunities. She enjoys working with students in coming up with a plan to finding a job and assisting them with figuring out the next steps. She has a lot of international experience, including the Peace Corps, study abroad, and independent travel.

Question: How can I practice for an interview if I am not able to do a mock interview at Career Services?

There are many ways to prepare and practice for an interview. Here are some suggestions:

  • Research online! We have an extensive section on our website about preparing for an interview including sample questions.
  • If you can’t do a mock interview in person at Career Services, then do one virtually! We have a program called InterviewStream where you can do a practice interview and then watch yourself afterwards. You can also select to have a career counselor view your online interview and give you feedback.
  • It may seem silly, but practice answering a few questions in front of a mirror!
  • Practice with a family member or friend…particularly one that has been on the hiring committee before.

Please do a few or even all of these suggestions! Anything you want to do well you must prepare and practice…just like anything else in life. What are some ways you have prepared for interviews? Any questions you were asked that were difficult?

Jen Busick, Career Advisor & Outreach Coordinator at Oregon State University advises students about internships and the job search, applying to graduate school, resumes/cover letters, and interviewing. She also organizes and updates resources, manages social media for Career Services and coordinates outreach opportunities. She enjoys working with students in coming up with a plan to finding a job and assisting them with figuring out the next steps. She has a lot of international experience, including the Peace Corps, study abroad, and independent travel.

Working in real estate helped me to improve skills and abilities in different areas!

Welcome to week five!!! The Career Fair last week was a huge success, and we’re inching closer and closer to the end of this academic year.  As we do, I’m inching closer to the end of my story of a Career Changer. Or maybe not the end, but I’m definitely inching closer to my present moment, where my career path is right now; though it’s always a living and breathing thing that can morph and change.

Last time we talked, I had just graduated from my MFA program and realized that I didn’t want to teach; I wanted to advise. Because of this switch late in the game, I decided to take the summer “off” from thinking about the future by working as an actor at the Creede Repertory Theatre again. It was great fun to perform again, be with friends, and regroup.

As the fall and the end of the season neared, my time was taken up by wedding planning for a September date. After the wedding (A great party, you should’ve been there!), I started to ask around town for possible winter jobs. If I could find something, we could just hang tight, work in Creede for the year, and I would job search for my advising dream job from there. In a small town like Creede, it didn’t take long. A couple of people approached me about work they needed done. I got my substitute teacher’s license so that I could work at the school. I was asked to work part time as the high school drama club coach for a small stipend. Then, rumor had it that one of the local real estate offices was looking for an office manager.

Now, I’d worked in offices before, but not in a long time and never for real estate. But my skills in writing were unusual, as was my facility with different software programs. I brought a resume into Broken Arrow Ranch and Land Company and spoke with Anne, the owner and main broker. The following Monday, I started at an hourly wage.

One thing I want to stress was that I was able to sell my skills to Anne, letting her know that I would be comfortable with taking on marketing, writing up advertising, filing, phones, etc., and also that I would be comfortable learning everything I didn’t know about her business. She trusted that my previous experience as an instructor would translate to managing her office well. And although it took me some time to learn the procedures of real estate, I jumped in to learning about a brand new field with both feet. As you move into a new industry, it is important to acknowledge what you don’t know and what you need to know in order to do the job well. I spent much of my first week studying the file folders on the computer network, learning how to use Microsoft Publisher, and asking a lot of questions. Soon, I started offering small suggestions for streamlining some of her processes and improving her advertising. I was in a totally new field, and it was really fun!

So, all this is to say, be flexible, be open, be a learner, and you never know what doors will open. Although my job at Broken Arrow Ranch and Land Company was not in the industry I hoped to be in, I was learning skills and honing abilities that would help me get that dream job someday.

Have a great midterm season, and I’ll be back Week Seven with the next chapter in my Career Changer life!

Jessica Baron is currently a Graduate Assistant in Career Services at OSU and a full time student in the College Student Services Administration Program. Before making her way to Oregon State, Jessica worked as an actor, waiter, online tutor, receptionist, college composition instructor, creative writer, gas station attendant, nonprofit program director, writing workshop leader, high school drama coach, Hallmark card straightener, substitute teacher, real estate office manager, and SAT tutor, not necessarily in that order. Her “Confessions of a Career Changer” will focus on her wavy career path and the challenges and joys of wanting to do everything.

Career Services offers many workshops throughout the year. It is very important to take advantage of these workshops and all of the information provided by both Career Services staff and company employers. With two career fairs right around the corner here are just some of the workshops that we have coming up.

Brand Yourself into the Job of Choice

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM

This is a new workshop that we are offering this year and will be presented by Rachel Mendell of State Farm Insurance. Have you ever wondered what you can do to set yourself apart from other candidates through the pre-employment process? It’s easy!! By taking the time to create your own personal brand, you can set yourself apart from other candidates at career fairs, on your resume, and during the interview.  Not only will you be able to set yourself apart, but you will also realize through the branding process what opportunities are truly the best fit for you.

Creating a Stand-Out Resume

Monday, February 20, 2012 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM

This is a great way to learn about different formats and how to best set up your resume for success. At this workshop you will learn how to tailor your resume to individual employers and find out what appeals to them. One of the main recurring themes seen in resumes is lack of information. Learn how to take a dull resume and fill it out with content so that it will truly reflect your skills and capabilities. Check out the resume section on our website for more information on resumes.

How to Ace Your Job Interview

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM

In this workshop you will gain great insight on typical questions that interviewers ask and how to respond to them. You will be given tools like the S.T.A.R technique (Situation, Task, Action, and Result) which will help you give thorough responses. Knowing how to present yourself in an interview situation can be tricky but this is a perfect way to improve your skills. A good way to prepare in the mean time is through the interview section of our website which gives you tips for several situations.

Success at the Career Fair

Monday, February 20, 2012 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM

If you are planning to attend the Winter Career Fair this is a great workshop to attend. During the Success at the Career Fair workshop we will go over many details that can be looked over.  This presentation will give you the tools needed to make a great first impression at the Career Fair. We will go over many things, from how a resume should look to how your body language is an interview all in itself. Find out more information about our Career Fairs and how to prepare!

These are just some of the workshops that we are offering leading up to next week career fairs. We also offer many more that aren’t listed! For more information check out our website!

Posted by Silver Trujillo, Career Services Assistant

All over campus we hear the phrase “Dress for Success.” It is an excellent goal and obviously a good idea, but perhaps a little vague?  We all know we should dress professionally and that our clothes help paint the first impression picture that will forever be printed in an interviewer and future employer’s mind, but many students are unsure exactly what looks appropriate, what should be left off, and what will make us stand out.

The most important things to remember about dressing for an interview apply to both men and women: Continue reading

Have you ever been in a job interview where the employer begins a question with the phrase, “Tell me about a time when…?”  You may have been asked to describe a time you’ve worked well with a team, a time you’ve implemented a creative solution to a problem, or a time you’ve faced an ethical dilemma.  If you have come across these types of questions, you may have found they can seem a bit tricky to answer.  These types of questions are referred to as behaviorial interview questions.  When asking behavior questions, the employer is hoping to gauge what type of skill set you have in an effort to determine how successful you’ll be in a future job.  Employers often feel that past behavior is the best predictor for future behavior.  This blog will introduce you to a strategy to help you answer these questions and a few tips on how to best prepare.

The S.T.A.R. interview technique gives you a way to frame the answers to your questions.  Utilizing the technique will ensure you are giving enough information in your answer in a way that is well organized.  S.T.A.R. stands for:

S – Situation: Describe the logistics of your experience (time, place, position, etc).
T – Task: Share what you were responsible for accomplishing.
A – Action: Share how you accomplished the task.
R – Result: Explain what came as a result of your work.

To further explore that method, I will share an example of a question and answer framed in this way.

Question: Tell me about a time when you implemented a creative solution to a problem.


  • Situation — I was an intern in the advertising department of the Daily News.
  • Task — Advertising revenue was falling off and large numbers of long term advertisers were not renewing their contracts.
  • Action — I designed a new promotional packet to go with the rate sheet.  I compared the benefits of Daily News circulation with other ad media in this area.  I also set up a special training session for the Account Executives with a marketing professor to discuss competitive selling strategies.
  • Result — We signed contracts with 15 former advertisers for daily ads and 4 for special supplements.  We also increased our new advertisers by 20%

When answering behavioral questions, be sure to be specific, use relevant experiences, and place the focus of your answer on your strengths, skills, and accomplishments.  To help you prepare for these questions, you can also complete the following exercise to help you brainstorm stories.

Brainstorming Exercise

Take a close look at the job description and pick out four characteristics you believe the employer would find valuable in a new employee.  Next, reflect on your experiences and think of two times you demonstrated each of the characteristics.  Write out these eight experiences in the S.T.A.R. format and practice telling them to a friend, partner, family member, or pet.  The more familiar you get with telling your stories, the more prepared you will feel to tackle any question that is thrown your way.

If you have interest in practicing this interview technique, please make a mock interview appointment with our office by calling 541-737-4085.  You can also use the online program InterviewStream through Beaver JobNet.  Good luck!

Posted by Bobbi Hutcheson, Career Services Graduate Assistant

Looking for unique opportunities as an undergraduate to serve your community and gain experience for your resume?  Entering the job market can be an unsettling process for some students, but participating in unique opportunities can make you stand out in comparison to other applicants.  As an undergraduate the most valuable experience I gained was serving as a student representative on a search committee for the new Director of University Housing and Dining.

Through serving on search committees as a student you can gain valuable information on what potential employers are looking for in resumes, cover letters, and interviews.  You also have the opportunity to represent the student perspective to potential candidates.  Additionally, there are plenty of networking possibilities when serving on a committee with campus administration and faculty.

Although serving on a search committee can be a time intensive process it is certainly worth the time commitment.  Through my work on a search committee I learned of job opportunities and gained a great respect for the faculty and staff I worked with.  Connections I made as an undergraduate on the search committee afforded me the opportunity to secure a position at Oregon State University as an employee while I attended graduate school.

If you are interested in serving on a search committee contact your college or department to see if there are opportunities available.  If you are a student worker on campus try talking with you supervisor about ways to get involved in committee work within your department.

Posted by Rachel Allen, Career Services Intern