The Interview

It doesn’t matter if your interview is 60 seconds or 60 minutes long. You should communicate everything you need to in the first 30 seconds. Any additional time should be spent expanding your basic points.

– TJ Walker, Media Training Worldwide

Test Yourself: Which interview response is better?

Question: In thirty seconds or less, tell me a little bit about yourself and why you are applying for this position with our company. (Remember, this question is sometimes called your “elevator pitch,” and the real question is tell me, in the length of an elevator ride, why I should hire you).

  1. Hello, my name is Maria Smith.  I love people and I love to fly. I work really hard and everyone likes me. I know I would make a great flight attendant, and I really look forward to the travel benefits.  Thank you!
  2. Hello, my name is Maria Smith. When I was ten-years-old, I took my first flight alone to see my grandparents in Texas. The Southwest Airlines’ flight attendants were so warm and helpful that it made a lasting impression on me, which is why I took classes in this area. I have been a student in the Aviation & Travel Careers Program at Cypress College for almost two years. I earned my Advanced Flight Attendant Certificate last semester, and I am finishing up my Associate in Science Degree. I have also been working in attractions at Disneyland for the past two years, where I often use my Spanish language skills to assist guests. I would welcome the opportunity to contribute my education, customer service experience, and commitment to Southwest Airline’s exceptional reputation for friendly service. Thank you!

Number 2 is better because the first response provides only the applicant’s subjective opinions and desires. Remember, airline recruiters want to know less about what you want and more about what they get from hiring you.

How does the second response put applicant’s experience into context with the job requirements?

Airlines need people who are able to pass exams, be reliable, serve customers in challenging circumstances, and commit to the company’s mission. To be successful, applicants must provide objective explanation for how the airline would benefit from hiring them. The second response is packed with facts about how the applicant is more qualified, and it puts the applicant’s experience into context with the airline’s needs and its mission statement. Specifically, we see that the applicant has demonstrated experience and the ability to do the following:

  • Pass exams: two years of college shows an ability to study and pass tests
  • Be reliable: two years at one job suggests reliability and an ability to hold a job
  • Serve customers: working at Disneyland for two years shows an ability to provide guest service in sometimes crowded and challenging situations (and the applicant has an ability to serve Spanish speaking guests)
  • Be committed: the applicant appears to know the company’s mission statement and how the stated education, experience, and motivation relate to the company’s needs

For more about crafting your career story, see the section below.

Behavioral Interview Questions:

Most companies today use behavioral-based interviewing techniques. The premise behind this strategy is that “past performance predicts future behavior.” Research shows that behavioral interviewing is 55% predictive of future on-the-job behavior, while traditional interviewing is only 10% accurate. With practice, you can improve your success in answering behavioral-based interview questions.

Consider the typical behavioral-based questions below. Type your responses to these key questions to help you organize your education, work experience, skills, and experience into thoughtful responses that highlight your strengths. Use the STAR approach (below) by describing the situation, task, action, and result as objectively as possible.

  • Describe a time when you had a difficult situation with a customer or co-worker or customer and how you handled it.
  • Tell me about a time when you used your fact-finding skills to solve a problem.
  • Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.
  • Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or achieve it.
  • Describe a specific example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you did not agree.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty.
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to act in an emergency situation.
  • Tell me about a difficult decision you have made in the last year.
  • Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.
  • Describe a time when you anticipated problems and developed preventive measures.

Other Interview Questions:

Occasionally, the companies will also ask questions intended to check your commitment and knowledge:

  • How have you prepared yourself to work for ABC?
  • Are you willing to relocate? (The answer has to be yes)
  • What is the meaning of exceptional customer service?
  • What else should I know about you?
  • Do you have any questions? (Do not ask a taboo question! See below)

Trick Questions:

Some questions are designed to explore your weaknesses. Be careful with these questions as you can inadvertently disqualify yourself.

  • Name one of your strengths and one of your weaknesses.
  • If you could talk to any famous person in history, who would that be and why? (Careful with this one! Do not use anyone political, religious, or controversial).
  • What misconceptions do people have about you?
  • Describe a challenge you have had in your life and how you overcame it.

Taboo Questions:

Do your homework and never ask these questions in an interview as they demonstrate a complete lack of knowledge about the job.

  • Where does the airline fly?
  • How is the airline doing?
  • Where will I be based?
  • Do I have to relocate?
  • When do our pass benefits start?
  • How much is the pay?
  • What will my hours be?
  • What do you look for on the background check?
  • Are we drug tested?
  • How did you get your job?

Steve, this next section should be in its own box—preferably side-by-side with the information above (see this old website for an example:

Interview Online Self-Test: Click on the link and then enter your name and 90630 as the password.

Learn what others say about interviewing for the company where you applying by going to Glassdoor or Indeed.

Hot Tips!  Watch these “Ted Talks to Watch Before an Interview.”

Interviewing Tips from Delta Recruiter Hot Tips.doc

Tips from a former student: Cathay Pacific.doc

What Should I Bring to the Interview?

  • Career Portfolio*
  • Resume & References
  • Ten-year background history
  • Copy of your completed application
  • Social Security card
  • Passport (airline & cruise only)
  • Two pens
  • Wear a watch
  • Breath mints–no gum
  • Nutrition snack–hidden in case the day is long
  • Patience
  • Likable demeanor!

* Not necessary for all interviews but can be very helpful in keeping you organized and providing essential information when asked.

What Should I Wear?

Generally, you should look like the position you are applying for.  If for example, you are applying for a position as a flight attendant, you should look like a flight attendant.  To download the appearance regulations for most positions, click on the link: Appearance Reg.doc

Hot Tip: Research shows that blue suits are the best for both men and women. You may wear a white shirt or you may want to wear a solid color shirt that looks good on you. For example, a blue shirt can enhance your overall look and help you stand out a bit without looking too bold.

Need Motivation?  Watch this video.

Crafting Your Career Story

(or Your 30-second Commercial):

Instead of emphasizing events in your life, use the start-up question as an opportunity to showcase your skills for the job. The most important thing you should bring out is what your past taught you, not where you were.

– Get Hired, Paul C. Green

Remember that “facts tell, but stories sell.”  Every good career story has its challenge (set-up), struggle, and resolution.  To begin developing your career story, you can use the “script approach” which applies the structure used by modern storytellers in Hollywood or you can use the “journey approach” identified by anthropologist Joseph Campbell.

Script Approach (with example):


Setup (goal setting: keep brief):

I have wanted to be a flight attendant since I flew alone to Hawaii when I was ten to visit my dad.  I was initially apprehensive but one of the flight attendants was so kind, checking often to make sure I was okay, that I felt special and thoroughly enjoyed the flight.  Since then, I have flown several more times–enough to know that I really want to be that same kind of helpful flight attendant.

Struggle (the challenge, problem solving, wisdom gained from coaching)

But I had no idea about how to prepare myself or to apply, so I went online and found that Cypress College offered a Flight Attendant Associate in Science Degree.  I enrolled and immediately learned that being a flight attendant was much more than just serving coffee and smiling. For example, I had to take a class called Customer Care, which I thought would be an easy “A.”  But after writing a fifteen page research paper, comparing the services levels of two airlines, I learned how competitive and complicated delivering exceptional service and safety can be in the airline industry.

Resolution (triumph, emphasize a theme that shows what you’ve learned)

Knowing now that there are no easy ‘”As” in the competitive airline industry, I understand how important it is for you to hire competent and caring employees.  I am well-prepared in that I have completed a Flight Attendant A.S. Degree, two years of customer service experience at Starbucks, and I have saved some money in case I need to relocate.

I should also say that I am willing to work hard to contribute to ABC Airlines’ reputation for exceptional service.  My goal is to be the kind of flight attendant that I had that day on my trip to Hawaii, one who responds to the needs of passengers by making them feel special.  Thank you.

The STAR (or SAR) Approach:

Remember that a good story has a beginning, a middle and an end where you should state the (1) situation or task (2) the action or how you handled it, and (3) the results or what the experience taught you. Remember to use specific times, dates, names, colors, smells, sounds, or details to illustrate your story. Practice by preparing answers to the following behavioral question:

Give an example of a situation where you had to handle an irate customer.  Use the STAR or SAR (same as STAR without the “T”) method to make sure your answer is complete:

  • Situation (set-up your experience and the conflict)
  • Task (optional: explain the challenge or the struggle)
  • Action (describe the action you took or how you handled it)
  • Results (the resolution or outcome: what you learned)

Writing Your “Bio”

At times, you may be called upon to write your own bio (a short biography or blurb about yourself) for the purpose of introduction. To write your own bio, review the tips below.  Your bio does not need to be perfect, so have fun with it!  Be sure to acknowledge the “bios” of your classmates by posting a “reply” to their bios.

Sample Bio

Maria Smith is a sky-diver and a second-year student in the Airline & Travel Careers at Cypress College.  She has one semester left until she completes her Flight Attendant Associate in Science Degree, wherein she looks forward to paying off her 1984 hand-me-down pick-up truck with dings on every side.  For the past three years, Maria has also been working hard at the Ritz-Carlton, “fulfilling customer’s unexpressed wishes.”   For vacation, Maria’s sense of adventure has led her backpacking around Europe, running from rhinos on safari in Africa, and riding elephants in China.  Maria Smith can be contacted at or you can find photos of her adventures on her website at www.marialovestoskydive.

How to Write Your Own Bio

  • write in third person (as though you are introducing someone else)
  • list facts, not wishes
  • cite relevant experiences
  • belong somewhere
  • write tight
  • add a hook

Write in Third Person. People automatically give more trust to what is said of one person by another, than to what people say about themselves — even when they know that the bio was written by the author. Elementary psychology, and used by everybody who needs respect. In addition, the third person creates a distance that allows the reader or audience to feel less intruded upon.

List Facts, Not Wishes. If you are a lumberjack and/or a housewife, you are free to say so or refrain from doing so. You may also say what you do as a hobby, but don’t bother to explain that you hope to do your hobby full time in the future — the audience is unlikely to be interested in your dreams at this point. Neither is it recommended that you overdo the posturing — you may be an excellent student, but that is for the reader to find out. Every superlative used in your bio will reduce the audience’s trust in the objectivity of that bio, and hence of your material. It shouldn’t be necessary to tell of the dangers in actually lying in a bio — being caught in a lie is a major breach of trust and can do irreparable damage to your reputation.

Cite Relevant Experiences. If you have an education, then mention it. Any earlier work experience is also worth mentioning. Be specific–just don’t go into too many details. Once you have two or three references, you can stop; keep it down to a few good ones.

Belong Somewhere. If you are a member of any club or association, mention it as increases trust among the audience — they know that others are able to give more information about you or get hold of you if need should arise.

Write Tight. This is a good rule in all your writing, and particularly in your bio. The reader is checking out your bio only for a moment, and mostly only in order to estimate the value of your experience. Write more than a few lines, and you have lost him.

Add a Hook. You should include one or two bits of information that help give your bio that extra little color that will make readers remember your name next time you meet. Perhaps you can mention an unusual hobby, or something else that will twitch the reader’s smiling muscles?

Keep your bio down to one small paragraph, write honestly and to the point, and you will have a pretty good chance of being remembered.

Adapted from Writing Your Bio by Terje Johansen.  Terje Johansen is Norwegian, married, and a computer engineer by education, and writes because he loves to. In addition to writing about electronic publishing, he does a little bit of web design, mulls over antiquated and dilapidated camping stoves and walks the occasional forest path. He reads a lot, fiddles with hammers and screwdrivers once in a while, and generally likes to have his hands occupied.