I joined LinkedIn’s Career Advice beta program and have been providing career and interview tips to students and professionals wanting a career change since 2017. Since several students have found my feedback helpful, I hope you’ll welcome this unsolicited feedback. Now that I’m back in graduate school, it’s also a nice reminder for myself as we approach “interview season.” For some context, I’ve never had HR or Recruiter titles, but I’ve been fortunate to have had many opportunities to interview college students and experienced professionals at EY, PG&E, and KPMG.
So, where’s this interview feedback? First, try to find a little comfort in the fact that most first-round interview questions come from a script (you might even see this all the way through your final round of interviews).
While sometimes boring and not engaging, it’s important to make a positive impression… These interview scripts aim to reduce bias and help to ensure an equal playing field for all candidates. Every interviewer is particular about what they look for in a candidate (or what drives them crazy - I’ll get to some examples below). When I’ve interviewed candidates, I always preferred those that demonstrate a good balance of smarts, social and conversational skills, confidence and humility.
Just providing more perspective here, but when you get that interview, there is nothing wrong with telling your interviewer(s) that you don’t know the answer to their question. A good response in these situations is to answer with “That’s a great question but I honestly haven’t come across this (specific problem, or situation, etc.).” Perhaps you could try something like, “I don’t have experience with that exact analysis, however, (then follow through with an example of a similarly complex analysis / research / project that you’ve been a part of).” Again, just my two cents, but this sounds exponentially better than an overly-confident, nonsense-riddled response.
Here’s an example of what not to do during an interview: I interviewed a college senior whose resume stated “Mastery in Microsoft Excel” - Having used this tool aggressively for 10+ years, I was quite impressed. I proceeded to ask the candidate to explain how a VLOOKUP works and they were unable to. Excel’s VLOOKUP function is basic… super basic… for Excel power users and financial engineers. We all embellish our skills and experience on the resume, a bit, or we tweak the resume in hopes of appearing like the perfect candidate… That’s expected, but avoid misrepresenting yourself or coming across as brazen.
Given my prior career niche within the Finance world (i.e., financial forecasting / modeling and financial reporting valuations), my work has always required me to follow objective, reasonable, and supportable methodologies. My leaders have always encouraged creative thinking, opinions, and recommendations, but when dealing with interviews (and later when dealing with your work teams and project stakeholders), be sure to present your opinions and perspectives about a problem rationally, removing your personal feelings from the equation as much as possible. Remind yourself that interviewers aren’t out to get you(!!!), however, they will pry to see if you demonstrate the skills that their organization needs to succeed. This is also helpful feedback for case study interviews (on-the-spot verbal or take-home case studies)… Stick to a fact-based, logical style that supports your point in a succinct manner.
I stress this a lot, but try to enjoy your interview experience… Nerves can be a beast (I still get the jitters before I’m interviewed), but be yourself, be friendly, and be inquisitive. I was always bored out of my mind with overly stiff candidates (granted, I recognize that nerves could have played a role). Long-winded 90- to 120-second introductions also irked me… it just sounds over-the-top and too scripted.
Two last tips:
1) As you’re nearing the end of interviews with a company, don’t be intimidated by titles if you’re asked to interview with a Director, Partner, VP of Artificial Intelligence, or CEO… this just means more experience, more time, and many more repetitions than you. They’re (mostly!) normal people with normal hobbies, they like the same books and TV shows as you, they drink the same booze as you, and they have families, just like you.
2) Don’t forget to send thank you emails to your interviewers (personalized thank you emails are even better)… This still stands out as very impressive, even if it is perceived as “old school.”