How to get a job over equally qualified (or even MORE qualified) applicants

Want to know how to beat the competition in recruiting? How to get a job hundreds of people are vying for?

Good, you're in the right spot.

What I am about to lay out isn't going to get you the job if you aren't qualified. But it IS going to help you get the job if you are qualified, by giving you an edge over every other qualified applicant in the running.

This is about the psychology of an interview and how to make an incredible impression.

First, a disclaimer: this article is not about technicals. There is no advice below about how to do a DCF, case interview, or brain teaser.

There are so many articles, guides, and coaches dedicated to that topic, it would be a waste of your time to rehash that here. If you want help with your technicals, I highly recommend getting interview guides. WSO has some, Vault has some. Make sure you understand what kind of questions to anticipate.

Nail the technicals, that's step one. No bones about it, if you can't interview without botching your technicals, you need to study up. mock interview and practice your answers out loud.

But for most jobs, including investment banking, they don't hire the

most technically impressive person. Seriously, they don't.

The job isn't actually that hard, it's mostly simple algorithms. It's a completely doable job.

And for each individual spot at a top investment bank, there are a hundred completely qualified applicants with great resumes who understand finance math, know Microsoft Office, and can do algebra.

Think about it from your interviewer's point of view.

Your interviewer determines your fate, so it's worth taking the time to really think about the process from their point of view.

He/She is going to make a decision about you based on your time together. Maybe they will rank you or score you numerically, maybe they just get to decide hire or not hire. Either way, it's subjective. Your fate is 100% tied to their impression of you. Not how smart you actually are. Not how good you would be at the job. THEIR impression of those things.

They are screening for a person that is "above the bar" capable and after that they pick who they like, who they think will be a good worker and good to work with, and who they want around the office every day.

So the question is, how do I make it clear that I'm that person?

I'm going to break this down into three parts: body language, tonality, and what to say.

Some of this advice is going to seem simple and obvious, but you'd be amazed at how many people you see during the interview process not doing these simple, yet very important things.

Body language and non-verbal communication: easy, low hanging fruit

Hold your head up, shoulders back, make eye contact, and smile. When you smile, it's not just with your teeth, it's with your eyes. Smile every time you meet someone. Smile during the interview where appropriate. You don't need to be a kiss ass, but bring a positive energy to the conversation.

Hold out your hand for a handshake right away wherever appropriate.

Sit upright in your chair, don't slouch. Not to the point of being stiff, but so that you look confident and self assured.

Gesticulate when you speak.

Strike confident, open body language Not only will this make you look more confident, it will make you BE more confident. Obviously this doesn't mean put your feet up on your interviewer's desk, but it does mean strike the Wonder Woman beforehand.

Tone / Delivery

Be positive.

Be nice to everyone in the office, not just the interviewers. The interview doesn't start and stop when you are being interviewed, it's the entire time you are in the office. Too many times I have seen someone perform well in an interview and then blow it by being a dick to someone they don't think matters. Take this life lesson with you into the job as well.

Avoid at all costs an arrogant or condescending tone.

Don't sound like a recording. This doesn't mean don't practice your answers. It means practice until you have unconscious competence. Get to the point where you don't have to think about what you want to say, because you've said it out loud so many times you know without knowing the exact words that you'll hit all the key points.

The Actual Conversation

There's pages to write about here, but I'm going to focus on just one massively important part of the interview that rarely gets much love - the part where YOU get to ask the questions.

You just nailed your technicals, came off as a good dude when giving your background, and now you've got five minutes left to really hammer home that you're the guy for the job. What is the goal?

Make them like you! Make them walk out thinking "that guy/gal seemed really good, I like him/her a lot"
When you get to ask questions, think to yourself "what kind of mood will this put the interviewer in?" "How will this make them feel?"

Ask questions that get them thinking positive things and associating them with you.

Examples:

"What characteristics do you think make the best analysts? Not what makes a good candidate, but I mean what makes a great analyst once on the job"

This gets them thinking about their previous best analysts and also thinking about you in association with being already hired at the firm AND being a great analyst. Nod your head as they are talking so that they get a sense that you fit the type of analyst they are describing.

"What do you think is the best differentiator of this company/group/analyst program?"

Get them selling you.

"What is your favorite part about working here?" and "What has been the most pleasant surprise about [the firm]?"

Get them feeling good.

"Do people have the opportunity to stay on or come back if they perform well and the firm likes them?"

Get them thinking of you as someone who could stay on beyond when most people do. Also by asking, it implies that you think you will perform well enough to get the offer.

Important Note: Don't ask any negative questions, such as "what are the hours like?" or "what's your least favorite part about working here?". Save those for after you get an offer.

Will this stuff get you hired if you aren't qualified? No. But it WILL get you hired if you are qualified, over all of the other equally qualified people that are applying.

P.S.

If you think posts like this are interesting, you can go here to get free early chapters of our upcoming book Charisma On Command. It will take you to the next level as an interviewer, presenter, and leader.

Comments (30)

Best Response
Feb 18, 2014

Awesome stuff - really liked the part about asking the right questions.

I'll also point out - think about why you want the job and what you're looking to get out of it. I've been on both sides of the interviewing table and it only takes a few questions to see why the interviewee wants to be a part of your team (just for the money, prestige, or genuine interest). Show a little passion and leave yourself a little vulnerable.

    • 3
Feb 18, 2014

+1 SB, completely agree

Feb 18, 2014

+1 SB. Applicable for all interviews/industries.

Feb 18, 2014

Nice post to manage perception

Feb 18, 2014

I don't agree with the questions part at all...not to intentionally sound offensive, but I think those are terrible questions. I think better questions are ones that show some genuine interest in the job or piggyback on something specific to the interviewer or what they said, not ones that are very generic and don't reflect much thought being put into them.

Feb 18, 2014
Going Concern:

I don't agree with the questions part at all...not to intentionally sound offensive, but I think those are terrible questions. I think better questions are ones that show some genuine interest in the job or piggyback on something specific to the interviewer or what they said, not ones that are very generic and don't reflect much thought being put into them.

I hear you on this one... I grapple with these two points of view alot when interviewing. I guess I've found a blend of both is a decent approach if you don't have a strong indication that a particular interviewer is looking for A vs B.

Feb 18, 2014

I would agree that the questions come off as generic, but I think the general message is still applicable to other questions. Better questions would be specific to the conversation, yet emphasizing the positive/asked in a positive light. You can reap the benefits of putting your interviewer in a good mindset while emphasizing your genuine interest

    • 1
Feb 18, 2014

The thing that will determine how your interviewer perceives your interest isn't going to be the words, it's going to be the delivery.

If you want to improvise a specific question based on something the interviewer said, I'm all for that.

People should still have some questions in hand before they go in, even if they don't use them, so that they avoid going blank or stumbling over a question that isn't fully formed in their mind yet.

Also, if you're going to improvise a question, it's still very important to think to yourself "what kind of mood will this put the interviewer in? How will this make them feel?"

    • 1
Feb 18, 2014

Another great post, love it!

Feb 18, 2014

Ha, this is how I got my job:

- minimal preparation, so I was fresh and relaxed;
- ask positive questions (as OP said) and be a good listener. The interviewer then spent 10 minutes telling me how he became a BSD and how much he loved his job, shared some good laughs;
- after the interview, told the interviewer to hurry up because I had another 2 offers exploding soon;
- celebrate.

The Auto Show

Feb 18, 2014

Is talking about the interviewer's background during question time a good way to make a connection?

Feb 19, 2014

Yes, especially to the extent you can make a connection based on the things he says

Feb 19, 2014

Thanks!

Feb 19, 2014

1.) Be yourself

2.) Be positive, sit up right, elude confidence through your body posture

3.) Make it a conversation not an interrogation. Don't ever memorize a script. Sadly I made this mistake over and over.

4.) Smile, show your personality!

5.) You don't need to memorize tons and tons of interview guides. You don't need some amazing story of why you want a certain job. You just need to be yourself. I support this site I think theres a ton of good info. But the best thing I did for myself was just go in being myself not rehearsing a million different behavioral questions. There's probably 10 I could think of that are commonly used and I just took brief notes on what I wanted to say.

Good luck to all!

Johnny Rocket

    • 1
Feb 19, 2014

Couldn't agree more. I went into summer recruiting focusing so much on crafting a air tight story that makes sense and I think it just came off as being too rehearsed. It's far better to be yourself and explain how you're a good fit for them. It helps you be more genuine and positive.

Feb 19, 2014

this is awesome. thanks for the tips!

When you look into the abyss, the abyss also gazes at you..

Feb 19, 2014

Good point in getting them to sell themselves to you- accomplished people love talking about themselves. I subscribe to the PCT (perceptual control theory).

Feb 19, 2014

Those were actually almost exactly my go-to questions when I interviewed and got a tier 1 internship this fall, so I can definitely vouch for the effectiveness. Mine was a little altered, "what do you think differentiates the interns who get offers from the ones who don't?" but I frequently used the "what was the most positive surprise?" for junior people. Of course you always make some up on the fly, but they are definitely a good way to get started. And don't read the words when you read those questions, read the intentions, so you know how to make the connotations that are intended with your own questions.

Feb 20, 2014

Thanks for a nice post!

I would like to add my 2 cents to the story for readers and potential work seekers: just do not rely too much on this. Of course, charisma and nice business presentation are essential and do a lot of work but it rarely can buy you entering ticket into business if you are trying to look better than you are in real life.

Experienced interviewer just won't buy your charisma if it is artificial. Qualified recruiter is going to quickly understand where is 'the real you' and where is your 'try hard being nice selling message'.

That's why your aim should be becoming really positive and nice person and not just 'I will read how to do it and the world will be mine'.

BR,
Mark

    • 1
Feb 20, 2014

Great and informative post. As someone trying to break into the industry, I have learned through a series of informational interviews that being personable and likable far outweighs any technical pedigree you may have. I would say 90 percent of these interviews were obtained through well structured messages that emulate personality and likeability, rather than trying to hammer home how I can build DCFs or the hours I spent dissecting the three financial statements to perfection (admittedly, the latter of which I tried in the beginning and got zero responses).

Feb 21, 2014

this is a very helpful perspective. thank you

Feb 21, 2014

Completely agree. There are so many candidates out there that could handle the technical questions equally well, if not better. The key is to relax and make yourself LIKABLE! Obviously you should still do your homework on the firm and brush up your corporate finance knowledge, but once you pass the technical requirement it is all about personalities and how well you fit into the culture. From an employer's perspective, it is way easier for candidates to pick up industry knowledge and extra technical skills on the job than to change your personality to click with other team members.

Feb 21, 2014

Good post OP. A lot of it is the typical advice but I liked the example questions to ask, I always have a hard time coming up with a meaningful question to ask. Ultimately though, it's hard to detail all the factors for interview success because it's too subjective, the only over-arching advice I can think of is to gain experience and be chill. Consciously trying to be confident can often cause an opposite effect

Feb 21, 2014

Good post OP. A lot of it is the typical advice but I liked the example questions to ask, I always have a hard time coming up with a meaningful question to ask. Ultimately though, it's hard to detail all the factors for interview success because it's too subjective, the only over-arching advice I can think of is to gain experience and be chill. Consciously trying to be confident can often cause an opposite effect

Feb 21, 2014

Pretty unoriginal

blue horse shoe loves anacott steel

Feb 21, 2014

Re: "What do you think is the best differentiator of this company/group/analyst program?"

Does this question ever leave the interviewer with the impression that you haven't done your homework? I assume that at some point, you should be trying to convince them of why you are a strong candidate for their specific firm (what sets them apart).

Feb 24, 2014

100%, you definitely want to show you've done your HW. This question is more about "what is the best thing that i might not know about working here?" or "So I know that your firm consistently has some of the best returns in the industry, what do you think differentiates you guys that allows you to do that year after year?"

Feb 25, 2014

Exactly. I always like to ask "what's something I'll learn on day 91 (or three months in, whatever sounds better at the time) at this job that I don't know now?"

Sometimes the hardest thing about the end of an interview happens when they close much more quickly than anticipated. I've had interviewers go over their time, not really notice, and then have to wrap things up almost instantly; giving you about one minute for questions (more likely a question). I'd have one in the back of your mind for this situation just in case it comes up. When things close like that, the whole tone of the interview can change in a second. For this situation I feel like having a concise, yet insightful question that they can also answer quickly will be your best bet. Something like "what do you like best about working for XXXX" has worked for me before, but i'm no expert.

Feb 24, 2014
Comment