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Rhyme's Totally Fallible Guide to Interviewing [#permalink]
03 Nov 2007, 15:57
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EDIT (kryzak): Stickied for now, since it's very relevant. Will unsticky after most people have read this useful document.
A few things to remember before we get into it...
Interviews are mostly about fit. That is to say, they are not about assessing whether or not your goal to be in banking makes sense for you. They aren't looking to see whether or not your quant skills are up to par for your intended job. They are assessing, in effect, three things: 1) Do you have a well thought out idea of what you want to do and why? 2) Do you know why you want to come to school X? 3) Are you a normal personable individual who could "carry" the schools name?
Second, most school interviews are blind. That is, at most, the individual interviewing you will have a copy of your resume. They may or may not have read it. Be prepared for the question "So tell me about yourself"...
With that in mind, there are a few key things you must know, and you must know COLD.
1. What are your short and long term goals and why?
Important here is to sound interested and excited. Focus less on the details of what and more on the why. The interviewer is going to be more interested in hearing about why you want to be a banker than what a banker does day to day. Think introspection, think self-aware, think passionate. Explain more than you think you should - remember the interviewer does not know you worked at company X for 3 years in role Y and role Z, and you loved role Z but not role Y. Tell them. Remember, they are not mind readers. The more cohesive, clear and passionate your story is, the better. Super bonus points if you can also describe why you need an MBA now in your career, rather than say, in a year or two. The easiest way to do this is to find something that is going on now in your target industry, and then just talk about how you want to be a part of this change, and to do so, you really need to get your MBA now. For instance, you might talk about you want to deepen turnaround management and finance experience with distressed firms, and that, given the current credit crunch, getting your MBA now is essential to capitalize on the growing opportunities in this area. You can probably come up with something better than that but you get the idea.
2. Why do you want to come here?
You had better have lots of reasons. Avoid website mental dumps. Excellent faculty and diverse student body are weak and meaningless points. Talk about your experiences visiting the school. If you haven't visited, talk about what you've heard, but don't spend time explaining why you havent been unless asked. If you are asked, just keep it short and sweet. Talk about specific clubs, activities or features of the school that are truly unique. Try to avoid cliches. Kellogg is not all about teamwork and friendliness. Chicago is not all about finance and quant. Stanford is not all about entrepreneurship and VC. Comments of the sort are weak and often make you appear poorly prepared. Rather, talk about what you truly believe - if theres a professor you love, mention him or her by name. If theres a class you are dying to take, mention it. If you can't wait to take part in some activity - say a random walk at Chicago or a round of golf with friends near Darden - then just say it. Better to sound honest and interested than contrived and pandering. The best answers are ones that sound true, contain very specific details and ideas that go beyond meerly the website (thus demonstrating a deep understanding) and tie directly into question 1. For instance, replying "I also hope to do a quarter abroad in Australia at School Y, which provides me with exposure to the cultures of my primary target market, when I launch my shark shaped surfboard, which I know I can here at school Y through your program X which I heard about from XYZ. " demonstrates interest, research and dedication to your goals.
Questions you should consider preparing for are at the end of this post. At the very least, practice the first 15. Yes, they overlap a lot. Get used to a question coming from you in different directions.
Advice for the interview itself. First, whenever you hear a question, restate it in your own words. You want to be sure you've understood. Spending 5 minutes answering something you thought was asked but wasn't, wastes an awful lot of precious air time. Second, get accustomed to and be OK with silence. Don't be afraid to collect your thoughts for a moment before answering. Remember, what feels like 30 seconds of dead air was probably 3.
Finally, and this is the most important - practice this a million times if you can... Transition. Transition. Transition. You cannot prepare for every single question they might ask you - there's just no way. Instead, prepare different answers for questions that you are likely to get, and practice RECASTING the question you receive into one you have thought about. Come up with a handful of stories you can tell, and practice redefining a question so that the story fits. This doesn't mean that if they ask you for a story on leadership you talk about your stamp collecting hobby. There has to be a link - but the more you practice it, the better you will get at it. For instance, if they asked you something like "Tell me about what drives you" - you might reply "You know, that's a good question. I'm motivated by a lot of things, obviously, or else I wouldn't be here today, but I think the thing that motivates me most is seeing those around me succeed. I get a lot of joy from that. For example.... BIG TEAMWORK STORY". Suddenly, instead of coming up with something entirely new right there on the spot, you've taken an existing teamwork story and recast it to fit the question.
So, what stories do you need?
You absolutely need: leadership, teamwork, biggest weakness (that you continue to address), cultural story, outside of work story, analytic ability story, ethics story. Come up with your best leadership story and your best teamwork story...
This brings me to my next tip. You will have a pad of paper with you in all likelyhood. Have cues on the pad.
For instance, I might write:
"L: X story. Antici prob w/ ABC, picked 2 prs, exec ask me to lead, did X, did Y,.... "
The idea would be that I could glance down at the page, and if I'm drawing a blank, I could quickly remember what my leadership story was... "Oh yea, its the X story, the one where I anticipated that problem with ABC, picked those 2 people the execs had asked me to lead ..."
Odds are you wont have to look at the page, and if you are prepared, you won't have to. But... better to have it, and take 2 or 5 seconds to glance at it than to just start talking when you cant remember your points.
So, I had a one line description at the top of my pad of paper for Leadership, teamwork, analytic, ethical,cultural etc...I also had a few tidbits on why school X. For instance, for kellogg I had "WHY K: GIM, JV, balanced approach"... This was to remind me to talk about the GIM programme, the Joint Ventures programme, etc. Its easy to forget these details, and having one or two word reminders is helpful.
Of course, don't rely on the pad unless you have to. Its best to know your stories cold. Dont be afraid to write down questions you have for hte interviewer either.
Finally, a good way to practice if you have a long commute.... tape the questions into mp3 format, burn them on a CD and slap them in your car stereo on the way to work. Practice answering them on your way there and back and you'll do well. If you really really want to test yourself, record your own answers, and listen to yourself. Its painful, but can help. Consider timing yourself as well. A ten minute answer to "Tell me about yourself" is too long.
Some general practice questions:
1. Discuss your career progression
2. Give examples of how you have demonstrated leadership inside and outside the work environment
3. What do you want to do (in regard to business function, industry, location)?
4. Why the MBA? Why now?
5. Describe an ethical dilemma faced at work?
6. Describe your career aspirations
7. What would you do if not accepted?
8. What are your long- and short-term goals? Why?
9. Why are you applying to business school?
10. Why does this school appeal to you?
11. What is an activity you are involved in? Why is it important to you?
12. Talk about experiences you have had at work.
13. Why are you interested in a general MBA program?
14. Why did you choose your undergraduate major?
15. Discuss yourself.
16. What contributions would you make to a group?
17. Name three words or phrases to describe yourself to others
18. What is most frustrating at work?
19. How would co-workers describe you
20. Describe a typical work day
21. Have you worked in a team environment? What were your contributions to the effort?
22. Discuss any experience you have had abroad.
23. How did you choose your job after college
24. What do you do to relieve stress
25. It's two years after graduation, what three words would your team members use to describe you
26. Describe a situation where you brought an idea forward, and it failed.
27. How do you define success?
28. What would you do if a team member wasn't pulling his own weight?
29. Is there anything you would like to ask me/us
30. Give an example of leadership that you didn't discuss in your essays
31. What is your leadership style?
32. What are the pros/cons of your style?
33. What did you learn from experience XYZ (that was discussed in my essays)
34. Tell me about a time you had to deal with conflict in the workplace
35. Tell me what you do in your daily job
36. How are you a leader in your job
37. Have you thought of other schools?
38. What accomplishment are you most proud of?
39. What role do you usually take in a team setting?
40. Tell me about a time when you exhibited leadership.
41. How do you work in teams?
42. What would your colleagues miss least about you?
43. What makes you unique?
44. Tell me about a standout academic experience.
45. Tell me an important thing that you learned from your work and school experiences.
46. Tell me about a specific situation in your professional career where you solved an important problem.
47. Why do you want to be in senior executive role?
48. When was your belief challenged
49. What books do you read
50. When did you lead a team? What is the hardest part of leading a team
51. Would you have any regrets if the market tanked next year and you were unable to get a premier job
52. Where else have you applied and what was the result
As for the recruiting scene, theres no slowdown as far as I can tell. Things are nuts at the GSB.
I have met with at least a dozen firms so far, and there have probably been over 200 campus events thus far if, I had to guess. Looking at my calendar, last week alone, there were about 50 campus recruiting events (no i didnt go to everything, you just cant do it, its impossible). Thats only including the stuff I know of - there were easily another half dozen events I only heard about - like a women's only bowling thing with a big name consulting company, or a specific recruiting event for minorities with some other firm, etc... I wouldn't be surprised if there were 75 events just last week. This coming week is no different. All the big firms are coming, or already here, including many of those mentioned in the article, etc. If these firms are tightening their recruiting, it doesnt appear to be happening here.
Great post, and may I second the important of preparing! Don't go in there with rehearsed answers like a robot, but prepare the main points for each of these questions. Eventually, everything will meld together and you will be able answer questions to seamlessly.
Also, if you feel like you screwed up a question, don't be afraid to go back to it. After you ask the interviewer your 2 mandatory questions sbout School X (at least 2!), then they might say is there anything else. If you did not like your answer to "Take me through your resume" because you just couldn't get the words out, then tell the interviewer that you would like to go back to that question. I guarantee that they will appreciate you speaking up and will not hold it against you; they might even give you more kudos for doing so!
Finally, I did not see it in Rhyme's guide, but prepare for "Where else are you applying?" Don't start ranting about the other schools you are applying to, but I don't recommend lying--the interviewers are not stupid.