How do you CRUSH your interviews?

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geoffblades - Certified Professional
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Mod Note (Andy) - We're reposting the top discussions from 2015, this one ranks #10 and was originally posted 10/4/2015.

In 2007 I made my hardest career transition.

After leaving Goldman Sachs and taking eighteen months off work, I decided to head back to Wall Street. As if having a big hole in my resume wasn't hard enough, after eight years at GS and leaving as a VP, I had my sights set on making a transition to the buy-side.

As many of you know, moving to the buy-side as a VP is no mean feat. Transitioning to the buy-side is competitive and challenging at every level, yet it's even harder when you are making a move at a somewhat senior level.

But that didn't deter me. I had an ace up my sleeve. A decade of researching personal development and building a certain set of skills, I was sure that I could land the jobs I wanted. I was so sure that I applied for just two. At what I perceived the top of the credit bubble, I focused on distressed investing jobs at the Carlyle Group and Oaktree.

After I was awarded both jobs and joined Carlyle, my boss said to me--"Of all the candidates we interviewed you were by far the worst on paper, but you easily beat out the others. How did you do it?"

I didn't share with him what I'm about to share with you:

1. Preparation, preparation, preparation

Over the course of a few months I spent more than 500 hours preparing for my interviews.
Having already spent a career on Wall Street I could have walked in somewhat cold, but in my work on personal development I had learned quite clearly that the key to all success is preparation. So, while I focused on networking and figuring out what opportunities might be available to me (it was limited because I wanted to stay in Los Angeles), I went deep into preparing myself for my interviews, developing nearly 100 pages of notes.

Now, of course, like preparing for an exam, you don't want to simply throw hours at your preparation, and you want to focus on the preparation that has the most impact.

The WSO products are the best on the street. The case studies and interview guides give you an excellent head start on your preparation. But like a text book doesn't prepare you for your exams, you want to create for yourself a detailed set of review notes, including personalized Q&A.

Work your way through the interview guides and work your way through your own resume. Carefully think about the questions you will likely be asked and how to position your answers. In particular think carefully about your key selling points (the things that make you a great candidate) and the objections to hiring you, including your framing and responses.

For instance--imagine you went to a less than top-tier school. You know it is a weakness relative to other candidates. You know the interviewer is thinking this, and you want an answer that satisfies their question (whether they ask it or not). So, what do you say?

You might say--You know, relative to the other candidates I didn't go to a top school. Truth is that [insert reason: in high school I was more focused on XXX], but you see from my grades in college how seriously I have taken my studies while still doing XYZ in school. And I'm here because I'm hungry and I want this job and I assure that if you give me the opportunity I will prove to you that....

No matter the question, Preparation, Preparation, Preparation is the answer!

2. Know the GAME

Look, you have lived long enough to know that the best and smartest and most qualified person doesn't always win.

The most beautiful woman doesn't win the beauty pageant. The woman who wins is the one who can get more of the judges to like her. A job interview is a popularity contest, and your job is to make the interviewers want you.

Humans are humans and a top rule of influence is that--us humans like people who are like us. That means a basic level of influence is to become an expert at building rapport (trust, comfort, respect) with people. While we all do this naturally, this is a skill you can expertly train (including unconscious rapport such as matching and mirroring).

In interviews this is tricky because you are meeting different types of people who are evaluating you in different ways, and your job is to profile them, figure out what they are looking for, and be able to position you and your experiences according to how they are evaluating you.

I didn't say this would be easy. It takes practice and wicked skills.

3. Develop wicked skills

Many people believe that effective communicators are born that way. That's as false as assuming that some humans pop out of the womb and start walking. Every thing us humans do can be seen as a skill and can be learned, if only you are willing to put in the effort to learn the skill.

Many people lament that they don't have great communications skills. Or they say, I'm not confident meeting new people or speaking in public. But, how many of them have actually done anything to train those skills?

How many of them learned to write without scribbling for years? Or ride a bike without falling off a bunch of times?

When you step into the interview (or even a networking coffee or lunch), your job is to use all of your skills to build a relationship and sell yourself. This takes time and effort yet these three tools will take you a long way:

i. Read Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends and Influence People: If you have read it, read it again. And also take the time to practice every single one of the principles over and over again. You can become excellent at communications with this one book, but if you are ambitious, also check out Influence by Robert Cialdini.

ii. Master selling: Again, people think of selling as something you either have or you don't. WRONG. Selling is a skill that brings together preparation and the skills of communications and influence. Read How to Master The Art of Selling by Tom Hopkins. If you are serious, consider creating a Selling Black book to sell your most valuable commodity--YOU

iii. If you're bold, dip your toe in the water and learn the most advanced skills of influence--NLP and conversational hypnosis. Here you will learn nuances of language and non-verbal communications that few people even know people do. It's hard to learn from a book, so check out courses on NLP.

4. Mental rehearsal

The trick to extreme performance is to see yourself succeeding long before the task.

Since age seven, every night before bed Michael Phelps watched a videotape of his perfect swim. He would close his eyes and imagine himself swimming faster and stronger every time.

This is deep unconscious programming and it is the key to unlocking confidence and top performance in your interviews.

Close your eyes and imagine seeing yourself in your interviews. See yourself shaking hands, sitting down, and answering all of your questions with confidence, building a great relationship with the interviewer, and walking out of the room with the job. Then step into the scene imagining yourself in the interview, feeling confident, answering with flow, and feeling yourself walk out with the job.

Do this over and over again until you literally expect this is how it will play out for you.

5. Physical rehearsal.

It is said that Will Farrell will stand for hours on end and crack jokes at himself in the mirror. By just doing it over and over again he's becoming loose. A boxer will shadow box for hours on end, practicing his moves as though he has an opponent in front of him.

The icing on your cake of all of your preparation is to physically rehearse over and over again. Dress accordingly. Run through your script. Imagine yourself in the heat of the moment nailing the interview. Do this with a friend or family member and have them really grill you as though you are in the toughest interview of your life.

Of course everyone does this to some extent, but do it to an extreme, and watch yourself CRUSH your interview.

About Geoff: A former investment banker at Goldman Sachs and investor at the Carlyle Group, Geoff Blades is an advisor to senior Wall Street executives, CEOs, and CFOs, on corporate and strategic matters as well as topics of personal and professional development.

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Comments (33)

Sep 19, 2015

+sb thanks for the insight geoff

Best Response
Sep 19, 2015

TL;DR: Prep for your technical questions, learn how to interact with people well (even by reading books on the topic if needed), and practice your interview answers.

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Sep 20, 2015
OleBurnSides:

TL;DR: Prep for your technical questions, learn how to interact with people well (even by reading books on the topic if needed), and practice your interview answers.

** and buy WSO's products -- WSO's a seasonal business and Q3 is the moneymaker!!

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Sep 20, 2015

hey geoffblades

Thanks for this post.

What are kind of readings you would recommend for any one who wants to break into the distressed investing other than the usual Moyer's distressed debt, http://www.distressed-debt-investing.com/ and DDIC?

How did you develop your thought process as an investor when you were at the sellside before moving on to Carlyle Group?

Jan 3, 2016

hey aspharagus, you are right on about distressed specific stuff. there are books like the vulture investors, but rather than expecting you to understand the ins and outs of the business which you will only ever get once you're in the seat, most investors will want you to prove a strong desire for investing and to be thoughtful about the schools of investing.

i spent years at goldman preparing myself for a move to the buyside which gave me plenty of time to read many of the great investment books, particularly from the value school which most distressed investors identify with: e.g. contrarian investment strategies by dreman, margin of safety by klarman, anything on buffett. And much of my preparation was thinking through deals I had worked on in leveraged finance and being able to position the deals through the eyes of an investor.

It was a tough sale and I needed to prove to them that I wasn't just a banker, but someone who thought like an investor, so the more you can talk about experience investing in stocks or your long term interest in the buy-side the better positioned you are.

another must read are howard marks' (chairman of oaktree) monthly memos - http://www.oaktreecapital.com/memo.aspx

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Sep 26, 2015
geoffblades:

hey aspharagus, you are right on about distressed specific stuff. there are books like the vulture investors, but rather than expecting you to understand the ins and outs of the business which you will only ever get once you're in the seat, most investors will want you to prove a strong desire for investing and to be thoughtful about the schools of investing.

i spent years at goldman preparing myself for a move to the buyside which gave me plenty of time to read many of the great investment books, particularly from the value school which most distressed investors identify with: e.g. contrarian investment strategies by dreman, margin of safety by klarman, anything on Buffett. And much of my preparation was thinking through deals I had worked on in leveraged finance and being able to position the deals through the eyes of an investor.

It was a tough sale and I needed to prove to them that I wasn't just a banker, but someone who thought like an investor, so the more you can talk about experience investing in stocks or your long term interest in the buy-side the better positioned you are.

another must read are howard marks' (chairman of oaktree) monthly memos - http://www.oaktreecapital.com/memo.aspx

Did you actually have any distressed/restructuring experience in your 6 years at GS? Or was the GS name/your network enough to get you interviews with the two firms you wanted?

I have neither the brand of the network and do vanilla M&A so am thinking about the best way to get into value focused PE e.g. Turnaround/distressed credit/lend for control etc...

Thanks for doing this

Jan 3, 2016

nope. but leveraged finance was a good head start. then i had one former colleague at oaktree and a friend introduced me to his friend at carlyle who got my resume to the PMs.

the best i would suggest is building the network. think about who you have worked with and who they know. look at your alumnis and see if you can find anyone at a shop who will meet with you. it's not easy to do, but by far the best way to get your foot in any door is through someone already inside.

also, for you and everyone else reading this. think ahead. you might not be looking for a job right now, but if you are cultivating your network over years you have built up massive optionality.

hope that helps.

Sep 26, 2015
geoffblades:

nope. but leveraged finance was a good head start. then i had one former colleague at oaktree and a friend introduced me to his friend at carlyle who got my resume to the PMs.

the best i would suggest is building the network. think about who you have worked with and who they know. look at your alumnis and see if you can find anyone at a shop who will meet with you. it's not easy to do, but by far the best way to get your foot in any door is through someone already inside.

also, for you and everyone else reading this. think ahead. you might not be looking for a job right now, but if you are cultivating your network over years you have built up massive optionality.

hope that helps.

Thanks for doing this Geoff, you make a really good point around optionality. This made me realise I've been leaving opportunities on the table; I had friends / friends of friends working at Mega Funds who I hadn't contacted as I hadn't considered joining a MF. On reflection this was silly as people move around all the time, plus it never hurts to connect with potential winners. I've reached out to a few people in my network and am meeting for coffees this week.

I have one more question if you don't mind. I am in the process of reaching out to alumni/my network/recruiters and the next step as far as I see is cold emails. Would you mind critiquing my cold email below? I've had a look at the numerous cold email threads on WSO but feel you might be able to provide some fresh insight.

Subject: planning to leave this blank so that they open out of intrigue

Hi [*],

I came across your profile on LinkedIn while looking into [Name of firm].

I'm really interested in the distressed debt space and am trying to develop a better understanding of how buyside professionals think about/assess potential opportunities.

If convenient, I would be keen to grab a coffee at some point and find out about your experience with [Name of firm] and its approach to investing.

Please let me know when/how best to reach you.

Thanks,

[*]

I've tried to keep it to the point with minimal fluff but the salesman in me feels like there's no value proposition for the reader. What does he/she have to gain from meeting me...or maybe I'm overthinking it...would be really interested to hear your thoughts.

Thanks!

Jan 3, 2016

You're onto a really important point. How do you nail these types of emails?

I think you're very close and your value proposition idea is right. you need them right away to feel good about reading your email.

remember, all communication is emotion. so, right away you want to start with something that gets them feel warm and fuzzy. what did you see on their profile that made you think, wow, you're an interesting person. or you have had a fascinating career...

I would also make your ask more specific.

for all of you on WSO, this is an interesting product on these topics from an expert who knows his stuff -

http://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blog/how-to-a...

Sep 26, 2015

Thanks for taking the time to respond Geoff, reviewing the link now.

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Sep 21, 2015

As someone who's been through a fair amount of IB super days and received offers from all of them, I would comment that the most important skill to have is to get people to like you. In my case, I'm pretty sarcastic, and I typically throw in a few funny comments when appropriate. If you are going to be working with your team for 80+ hours a week, it's important to pass the airport test with flying colors. Know your technicals cold as well as the interviews keep getting harder. Just some food for thought.

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Sep 21, 2015
Eatmarkers:

If you are going to be working with your team for 80+ hours a week, it's important to pass the airport test with flying colors.

Good remark ! +1.

Sep 21, 2015

I am also a student of self-development and personal success.

I want to emphasize how important visualization is. If readers want to understand more why this is so important learn about the subconscious mind! Positive mental attitude coupled with visualizing yourself succeeding are very powerful. There are other factors as well, but I think those are critical and not going to write a huge post about everything I have learned so far that goes into self-development.

Similar to you, I am in the LA area. I wanted a better, higher paying job and got it in part because I visualized the success of the interview process / visualized myself signing the offer and walking into work after having the job.

Being aware of the subconscious mind and the power of visualization helped me get the job I wanted.

95% of our minds are made up by the subconscious but the sad thing is, 98% of people have no idea how important it is to use it and control our thoughts. Once I learned about it and started reading books about it, it took about 3 weeks for my life to start getting better than it already was.

The power of thought and the subconscious are things that should be taught in elementary school and Bob Proctor and Napoleon Hill agree!

Of course I worked hard and had a good resume, like every other candidate, but the two things I did that probably no other candidate did were - used my subconscious mind and visualized the end result. I feel as though these things were the kickers that helped get me here!

The analyst job I got had over 200 applicants... AND I think the main reason I got it is because I am aware of the power of our minds when used the way they should be, and more specifically our subconscious minds.

Congrats on your success! I'm also in the LA area and as a student of personal development myself would love to chat sometime.

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Jan 3, 2016

couldn't have said it better myself!! a great deal of my work with clients comes to down to unconscious programming, visualization, and other techniques. thanks for you input!

Oct 1, 2015

I agree with the statements made about visualization and the subconscious mind. I played college baseball my first two years of college. It was something that my hitting coach preached upon constantly. Think about it, if you are successful 3 out of ten times then you are a good hitter. It is a damn humbling sport.

It really goes with anything in life. If you visualize it you are confident.

Sep 21, 2015
  1. be smart
  2. don't be fucking weird
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Sep 22, 2015

Do you have any book recommendations for visualization?

You speak in in varying levels of verbosity.You often adopt the typing quirks of others as you find it boring to settle on styles.

    • 1
Sep 21, 2015

The power of your subconscious mind by Joseph Murphy, helped me start changing things for the better within less than a month of reading it. Master Key to Riches by Napoleon Hill & Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

I bought everybody in my family The Power of Your Subconscious Mind after reading it. Best book I have ever read if you read it with an open mind.

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Sep 22, 2015

Thanks man just picked them up

You speak in in varying levels of verbosity.You often adopt the typing quirks of others as you find it boring to settle on styles.

  • Anonymous Monkey
  •  Sep 28, 2015

I played hockey growing up as a goalie and had a lot of problems mentally during games. A great book I read to get me over the hump was Mind Gym. It's examples are more sports related, but it still does a great job of showing the benefits of visualizing a positive experience in all situations.

Oct 1, 2015

I actually read Mind Gym as well. It does a great job of using stories about athletes to apply the mental concepts they are looking to teach.

Sep 25, 2015

When you discuss matching and mirroring, should we consciously but subtly do this during an interview?

"Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face."

Sep 25, 2015

"I didn't share with him what I'm about to share with you:"

  • I will teach you to make $1MM and you will be like wow so simple - Nice way to work in the subtle sales hook in there
Sep 25, 2015

You brought me back from the dead - I have never posted on this site because I have never aspired to be in IB. I am in my late 30's, worked 3 years in sell-side research, 3 years in small VC shop, have BA from Columbia, 3.8 GPA, and an MBA from Columbia. I graduated in 2008 and as the economy was crashing I came down with a debilitating and potentially terminal illness that kept me out of workforce for 4 years. I mentioned it as little-to-never in interviews on principle, and spent last 3 years working as an investor relations consultant for an agency, with goal of moving into a corporate FP&A or corp dev. role. I never worked at a bulge bracket bank, nor am I huge screw up by any means. But the market does not take pity on people and my circumstances are what they are. I have an OK financial cushion but with my most compelling experience coming before my MBA, my interviews progress only so far, and there is always a reason to choose someone else. I was just about to give up - literally, and get a job bagging groceries, if that is even possible. But I read your post, and for whatever reason it gave me strength and determination. Advice on positive outlooks and perseverance get stale - You just laid out concrete steps to engage, and conquer - or at least go down swinging. Much obliged.

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Jan 3, 2016

wow, hangel. that's huge, man. im glad I could do my part, but you've brought yourself back, my friend.

if i can make one suggestion for you and everyone else who is focused on transforming your thinking and setting your sights on what you want, it is to read Think and Grow Rich.

BEASTMODE TRADER referenced it above, and I will tell you as an expert on PD, having read thousands of books, this is the one that I come back to over and over again. And don't just read it. Re-read it. Practice the exercises. make it your bible, and allow it to help you go for what you truly want.

your story is inspiring. everyone wants to win!!!

Sep 25, 2015

Thanks very nice points. I just bought your suggested book Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends and Influence People.

Sep 25, 2015

Great post! I've had Carnegie's book sitting on my shelf for months--it's about time I finally read it.

Sep 26, 2015

This is great. Thank you for posting this.

Oct 2, 2015

Not sure if this is helpful or not - maybe for some of the non-traditionals out there.

I had gone into public service after undergrad at a top-3 Ivy, lateraled into a Big-4 Consultancy which was pretty boring work for me. Generally, my career was in a complete rut and my resume made no sense to anyone.
I sucked it up and did consulting at the same time as getting an eMBA at a top-3 institution.
Busted my ass during all my free time to be able to come out and get As or A+s in all my finance classes. Still not enough to get where I wanted to go without a BB on the resume.

Walked into a BB superday relaxed, very open and honest (who wants to interview someone with cookie cutter answers? Better to make a personal connection with an interviewer), and totally able to answer their finance/accounting questions (which were reasonably basic).

A very important thing was to have a good answer to explain a connection from where I started to where I wound up ("Investment banking is the intersection between strategy and finance, and that is right in my wheelhouse" - which is very true).

Got an offer, which I'm now weighing.

Nov 14, 2015

Geoff,

Any recommendations on sources to use to learn about NLP and conversational hypnosis? Does this stuff actually work?

Nov 21, 2015

I always love your posts, Geoff. Thank you for writing this.

Dec 1, 2015
Dec 1, 2015
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