Interviews: we've all been there. Prying our minds for an answer to a question while the silence grows more and more deafening. That feeling sucks, and avoiding it is usually just a matter of preparation. In this article, I'll go over how to prep for an interview and reveal a few tips and tricks that I've picked up along the way.
I know that this is a personal finance blog and that interview skills might not fall squarely in the topic's reach. But jobs and positions are still a large part of most people's incomes, and honing your interview skills will make it that much easier to land any role, be it for a job or an extra-curricular or a college spot. As someone who has been on both sides of the tables, I'll share how to prep for an interview, and what interviewers look for in candidates. Let's get into it!
Tips and Tricks
I was lucky enough to be raised by a mom who is amazing at interviews (with a “100% acceptance rate”, as she boasts), but even still, being interrogated by another person for an opportunity you really want, scared the crap out of me the first few times. Here are some tips and tricks I wish I had known before embarking on my first interview.
Be a Human Being
This will sound counterintuitive, but my number one tip for interviews is to actually be a person. “But Jeff, I AM a person.” Mhmm, maybe, but during an interview, most people turn into robots. This was my thought process during my first interview, and I suspect it's pretty common:
What does the interviewer want me to say? Should I put my arms on the table or not? How loud should I be? Should my voice be pitched higher or lower? Wait crap, I'm not making enough eye contact… ok I read somewhere that 3 seconds is natural, so I'm going to look at his eyes, count to three then look away then count to three. Ok look 1, 2, 3, look away 1, 2, 3, look 1, 2, 3. Wait I'm being weird. Maybe I should switch it up and throw in a 2-second look.
You might not be thinking the exact same things as me, but you get the idea. The more stressed out you are about an interview, the less likely you are to act normal. The biggest tip I have for you is to just remember that they are looking for a human being and to act like yourself.
Don't psych yourself out unnecessarily. The interviewer is human too, and it's often helpful to think of them as a friend or casual acquaintance. You could have all the technical skills in the world, but if you're awkward as heck in an interview, it'll be hard to get hired.
Find Out What Questions They Might Ask in the Interview
You're almost certain to encounter interview questions you weren't expecting, but finding out what questions interviewers might ask can still cover a lot of bases.
The specific questions you get will be related to what industry you're in, but some pretty generic ones to get started with are:
- What's your greatest weakness?
- Talk about one time when you had to… demonstrate leadership/solve a problem/overcome a challenge
- What can you add to this role?
Being able to answer the important questions in an interview is crucial to nailing it. Personally, I used to type out answers to about 10 questions I thought that an interviewer might ask, print out the answers, and then memorize them before the actual interview.
It may have been excessive, and certainly, not all of the questions were asked, but it DID give me a great sense of confidence going into interviews. Sometimes, the little edge that confidence gives you can mean a lot in the final decision.
Prepare Your Own Questions
Looking back, I did the worst on interviews in which I didn't ask questions.
“Thanks so much for your time today Jeff. By the way, do you have any questions for me?”
“…………… ok then…… ok well, you should expect an email from us within the next week letting you know our thoughts.”
Always always always prepare questions for the interviewer. These should be specific questions that show you've done your research and know what you're talking about. For example, if you're applying to an investment bank, instead of asking “what's a typical day as an investment banker look like?” you might ask “where is your team on the deal process? What deals are you working on right now?”
Worse comes to worst, if you can't think of any, then you can always resort to the classic “what's your favorite/least favorite part of the job?” Just make sure to always ask questions at the end of every interview. They show that you're truly interested, and want to know more about the role.
What They Are Looking For?
On top of an understanding of the general industry, there are two main things interviewers are trying to gauge when they chat with you.
- Do you understand what this role entails?
- How can you do those roles successfully?
1. Do you understand what this role entails?
Specifically, do you understand the actual day to day tasks that will be required of you? No seriously, if I ask you to build a schedule for someone in the role you are applying for, can you successfully do it?
If you answered ‘no' or ‘maybe', then you need to get researching. Google is a great resource but also talk to people who have worked in the role you hope to get. Ask them about their tasks and what they do.
A lot of people applying for roles are just applying because of the name of it. They think it sounds fancy to have a certain title, so they apply but have no real understanding of the work behind the role. If you can accurately depict the day to day tasks of the role you are applying for, you will have an edge over the other prospects.
2. How can you do those tasks successfully?
This doesn't mean that you need to have worked in the role before. It means that you need to find ways to tie your previous experiences to the day to day tasks of the job. Of course, this connection is relatively simple if you HAVE worked in a similar role before, but connections can always be made.
Also, a quick tip here is not to get too generic (“I have excellent communication skills which will benefit me…”). Try to hone in on specific tasks that you've done before which relate to the current role you're applying to.
Role: Research Analyst
Do you understand what this role entails?
- Ability to identify good sources vs bad sources very quickly
- Synthesize and simplify large amounts of information
- Type up concise reports / notes
- Format presentations (PowerPoint)
How can you do those roles successfully?
- Experience with creating presentations for academic assignments in the past
- Needed to vet sources for reports in the past
- Chief editor of school's newspaper club
Recap of How to Prep for an Interview
Learning how to prep for an interview is an invaluable skill. Not only will you get to know more about the role, but you'll also feel more confident and have a better shot at landing that position you want. The three big things I wish I had known before my first interview are:
- Be a Human Being
- Find Out What Questions They Might Ask
- Prepare Your Own Questions
Furthermore, the two big questions you should try to answer are:
- Do you understand what this role entails?
- How can you do those tasks successfully?
Keep working towards these and you're sure to become both a better interviewee and a more informed individual. Good luck with all of your interviews!
Thanks for reading through “How to Prep for an Interview”! If you're a student and want to learn about how to build income opportunities, head over to this post here. If you want to learn more about me, head over to this link here. Finally, if you want to get exclusive updates and tips, drop your email in the “get updates” box (might have to scroll up a bit.) Let me know your thoughts and suggestions in the comments!
Jeff is a current Harvard student and author of the blog Financial Pupil who is passionate about learning, living, and sharing all things personal finance-related. He has experience working in the financial industry and enjoys the pursuit of financial freedom. Outside of blogging, he loves to cook, read, and golf in his spare time.