The 24 Interview Lessons I Learned on the Way to Getting My First Full Time Job
I was suddenly grabbed by an idea to write down the lessons I learned from the ten interviews across seven different positions and 6 different companies I attended in the past 2.5 months on the road to my first job out of university. I started brainstorming in rough chronological order by the date of interview so don't construe this as a list by importance, EXCEPT for the first and last points, which I believe to be the most crucial. It is not exhaustive, and I may add to it if a) I can be bothered, and b) they come to mind.
I've included some tips and tricks (such as "use the security guards and receptionists to build confidence") as well as some classics (such as "go to the correct building") which you all probably already know. I had to find out to use them all the hard way. Here goes…
1. Interviewing is like dating
You have to play hard to get, but not too hard to get, and you probably won't get what you want until the third date. Focus on speaking slowly and limit your hand gestures especially. I made this mistake and appeared too easy to please. Employers want to employ someone who is "cool" (as far as banking goes) or a mathematical prodigy. Unfortunately, it's highly unlikely that you are the latter.
2. Anticipate and exploit the "tell me about yourself" question
Anticipate: prepare and rehearse the bare bones of your story; I used the M&I guide to structure mine. This answer can be paraded out for every interview you go to and all that needs to change is the last sentence. Exploit: take this chance at the beginning of the interview to speak slowly and calm down. This is the perfect opportunity to address point 1.
3. Identify whether the interview will be primarily market based or competency/position based
This is an easy question to answer and should be completed immediately upon beginning your interview preparation, and will guide your focus.
4. If the interview will primarily be market based, read as much as possible beginning a week in advance (or upon invitation)
I recommend each day reading the appropriate sections of the FT's Markets section and anything appropriate from the two editions of the Economist released prior to the day of the interview. Personally, I find that Bloomberg has too many "flashing lights" to find good market insight so I focus on those two sources. Having an interpretation and holistic view is important.
5. For the love of God, if they ask how do you keep up with markets, say (at least) "the FT, the Economist, and Bloomberg"
In my personal experience in the UK not saying WSJ will not leave a sour taste, but maybe it's different in the US. I guess you could also mention certain blogs and your own simulated or real portfolio, but you need to hit the big three to ensure they don't think you are an ignoramus.
P.S. if you can't afford a full subscription to these magazines just buy them in the short period leading up to the interview, hopefully your outlay will be worth it. Also consider public libraries which could well have them available for free.
6. Pick an article from the FT and the Economist which you can confidently talk about
I've found that interviewers will let you pick the news to talk about. Anticipate this request and pick stories which are different (but still relevant). For example, the Economist recently published an article about maple syrup cartels in Canada. The interviewer will probably be able to wipe the floor with you regarding typical news stories so try and find something where you are the teacher.
7. Use Bloomberg to learn particular indexes, rates, etc.
You may encounter, like I did, an interviewer who confuses perfect memory of index levels with someone who follows the market. Anticipate this threat by memorising key equity index levels, commodity prices, currency rates, and bank rates in the days leading up to the interview.
8. Always be prepared to answer: why this company? Why this position/team? Why this asset class?
A classic, but I found that once I had my competency answers down, these were all that changed from interview to interview, and it meant I wasn't clogging my head with answers to too many questions.
9. Never admit that you would be better suited to another job
The interviewer may insist you would be better in a different department considering your education, work experience, etc. Deny this to the death, and in a friendly (but insistent) way, reinforce your key point to the "why this position" question.
10. Never admit that you want to be doing anything different in the next 3, 5 or 10 years
Even though it is highly unlikely that you will be in this job and with the same company for your whole life, it's important to make it appear so. Focus on the soft skills side of things here with regards to ambitions.
11. Never lower your guard
You may have been blessed with a friendly interviewer who you get along with, but beware: being too informal will set off alarm bells along the lines of "what if they do that in front of the client?".
12. Go to the correct building
Your employer may have multiple offices in a small area. Check the address given to you on your invitation and check with the security guards before entering. Do not allow your interviewer to have to cross the road to collect you.
13. Always arrive 15 minutes early
This will show that a) you're punctual, b) you're eager, and c) you will save them some time if they are ready to start early. Why 15 and not 20 or 30? Refer to point 1…
13. Utilise the security guards and receptionists to build your confidence
These are people who are paid to be helpful and friendly. Say hello, how's it going, smile, etc. which will make you think you boss all social situations. Bonus point: if you do get the job, being friendly with your non-immediate colleagues is vital and you could utilise this boost every day.
14. Use the walk to the room as a chance to build rapport
If the interviewer walks you to the room use the chance to chat about their weekend, where they are from, etc. Treat it as if you were catching up with a friend. Remember, once you've surpassed the required technical barrier to entry, they only want to know if they could have a beer with you after work. Of course, this opportunity presents itself again if they walk you to the exit at the end of the interview.
15. Always have questions prepared for the interviewer
A classic but remember to prepare some standard questions and also find out some more about their background. Link to point 1: the most interesting topic to an individual is themself.
16. For a telephone interview, have your application, CV, and three prepared answers in front of you
(The prepared answers from point 8). I found I performed best when sitting down but still with good posture. You can "hear" someone slouching on the phone. Make sure you smile when you speak, this is also broadcast but luckily the interviewer cannot see your maniacal grin which would, of course, violate point 1.
17. If your technical ability is questioned by HR, blag
This is less effective strategy when faced with practitioners, but it's likely that an interviewer from HR will not know the technical side of things and you can overstate your confidence in the matter. If you come back for a second interview, remember to learn more about the skill as part of your preparation.
18. Have the same drink as the interviewer
The interview room might be catered with tea, coffee and water. Have the same drink as the interviewer which will make you seem more similar to them.
19. Don't drink the whole drink
Your chosen (by the interviewer) refreshment could be seen as an outlet of nervousness if you touch it too much or finish too quickly (indicating a dry mouth and nervousness). Don't finish the entire glass/mug and never go for a refill unless offered by the interviewer.
20. Don't sit in a funky seat
It's best not to rock the boat, so if there are three seats on either side of the table, just go the middle one like they expect, and if you find yourself at a triangular table sit on a different side to the interviewer/s
21. Always try to talk about sport
Sport is a typical medium through which strangers begin to bond. If you are asked what you do to let off steam/relax/for fun, always make sure you include the sports you like. Follow up by asking if they follow any sports and which teams #instajob
22. Mirror body movements and focus eye contact on the person asking the question
These two points will ensure you build subconscious rapport with the interviewer, but for the love of God don't make the mirroring too obvious.
23. Practice your prepared answers and test yourself
Rehearse answers to your prepared three questions, record yourself, and listen back to it. This way you can moderate timing, phrasing and structure. Testing yourself is the best way to learn this by covering up the answers then writing them down somewhere else. However, don't build a full script; you just need to know the one or two word cues which structure your answer.
24. Never underestimate the power of luck
You might turn up to your interview and find that you grew up in the same place, enjoy the same sports, or have a shared hobby. Remember point 14: pass the technical barrier then simply build rapport. This is easier when you have a shared connection. It turns out that your awesome degree, awesome grades, immaculate CV and cover letter, and intense networking pale in comparison to the effect of a lucky connection you have to the interviewer. Dorothy, it looks like you had what it takes all along.