By ASHLEE OWENS
The employer quietly studies the job candidate over steepled fingers.
"What specific strengths do you think you can bring to this position?" he asks.
"I have an optimistic outlook, I'm a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my work and ..." the candidate begins.
"Wait a minute," the employer interrupts. "Perfectionism is not a good thing to list -- it implies you may be tough to get along with. Otherwise, that was a good response. Let's try that question again."
Here's the twist: The man is not a real employer, and the interviewee is not a real job candidate. It's a mock interview, part of Youngstown State University's "What They Didn't Teach Me in College" seminar, which took place Friday through Sunday.
During the seminar, business professionals teach students the unspoken conventions and etiquette of the corporate world.
Donna Mowrey, a self-employed consultant and instructor of human resource management at Kent State University, addressed the class on constructing effective r & eacute;sum & eacute;s.
"A r & eacute;sum & eacute; is a marketing tool, and you're marketing you," she told the class. "Focus on what you know, de-emphasize what you don't."
Mowrey tempered her do's with four solid don'ts:
UDon't lie -- employers interview from your r & eacute;sum & eacute;.
UDon't give the reasons why you're not still working the "other" jobs.
UDon't say anything negative about a former employer.
UDon't supply age, race, marital status, height, weight or photos.
A cover letter -- two to three short paragraphs expressing your interest in the company and how you will meet the company's needs -- should always accompany a r & eacute;sum & eacute;, Mowrey said.
Marilyn Shaftic, a former human resources and recruitment professional at General Motors, lectured on mastering the interview.
Research the company beforehand, she emphasized: "There's no greater turnoff than asking, at the end of an interview, 'So what do you do here?'"
During the interview, monitor body language. "Don't wrinkle your brow or squint your eyes," Shaftic advised, as these actions may be interpreted as signs of poor stress management.
Answers should be direct and concise. Hugh Chatman, executive director of human resources at YSU, told students to be prepared with a list of questions for the prospective employer, such as, "When can I expect to hear about a selection? When may I call you? Why is this position vacant?"
End the interview with a firm handshake, Shaftic said, and follow up with a note of thanks within a week.
Dress for success
John Lisko, executive tailor and shirtmaker of the Tom James Company, gave a presentation on dressing for interviews.
"I'm here to inspire you to aspire," Lisko said to the group of 16 students gathered around a table strewn with fabric swatches, size-measuring tools and Tom James clothing-design books.
He distributed a few handouts to the students. One paper read, "If you dress better, you'll feel better. Dress like a prince or a king, and you are more likely to be treated as such."
Kingly, in this case, does not refer to the flamboyant style of Louis XIV. Classic and conservative were the words of the moment.
For an interview, Lisko recommends men wear a suit, a solid white shirt, a tie and lace-up dress shoes that match the belt.
Mary Fox, Lisko's other presentation assistant, said women make the most favorable impression wearing a pantsuit or blazer and skirt on interviews. Skirts should come to the knee or slightly below and should not have deep slits. Blouses should not be low cut. Classic pumps should be worn, but the heels should not be too high.
"What about jewelry?" a student piped up.
"Keep it minimal," Fox said, approving watches, small pendants, small earrings and pearls, which "are classic."
"What makeup is appropriate?" another student asked.
"Neutral shades, nothing dark or heavy," Fox replied.
Students next visited the "lunch interview etiquette" station, a table set to the nines and manned by Reid Schmutz and Elinor Zedaker, president and senior associate, respectively, of the YSU Foundation.
Schmutz advised students on what and what not to order. Students took notes while Schmutz blacklisted soups (spills), spaghetti (messy), hot tea (tea bag mayhem), alcoholic beverages, milk and Coca-Cola. Do order, Schmutz said, coffee, iced tea, water and any meal not likely to sojourn on the shirt front en route to the mouth.
Upon being seated, spread the napkin across your lap, Zedaker said. If you excuse yourself to get up, leave the napkin on your chair until you return.
The seminar ended with students participating in mock interviews and giving a two-minute, videotaped presentation about a company.
Students watched the recording, critiquing themselves -- and one another -- on dress, grooming, confidence and poise.
Overall, Schmutz said, "What They Didn't Teach Me in College" is all about polish, the stuff that sharpens and refines a competitive edge.