How to Interview

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The toughest interviewer I have ever sat in front of told me recently that I should teach others how to interview and told me precisely how I stood out (seven months ago) compared to the five interviews he had that day. Wow! Best compliment. I want to be there, and it showed on day one. I hope I can keep bringing that magic every day.

My reaction to this suggestion was first, “oh, some things people have to figure out on their own.” However, in hindsight, by the time I set foot in the interview, most of the work was done. My intention was to not only land a job, but also to make a very deliberate change in my career, both in industry and function. Maybe he is correct that there is value in sharing this information to help others find their dream job, and employers find their best hire.

1) Self-reflect

Prior to my career change, I spent nearly a decade in banking and private wealth management. I started my EMBA program in 2009, right as the recession hit the wealth management industry the hardest. What I liked most about my first career was the client-centric culture. However, by this experience, I learned that I excel at building procedures and fill gaps seamlessly in the chaos of client and employee turnover as well as in periods of growth. I also discovered in the classroom that I enjoyed big picture corporate financial strategy – again, mitigating chaos. Holding the idea in the back of my mind that I love financial strategy, and I should have pursued accounting straight out of college, I decided to make the change now. My self-reflection has been years in the making, but valuable in building energy toward evolving goals and reminding me of my history of repeatedly stepping out of my comfort zone.

2) Do your homework

Even those at the top have had moments in their career where they were completely lost and had to figure it out. However, once you have reflected, start talking. To everyone. Who is in your network? Contact your mentor. Reach out to recruiters. Meet with the career center at your alma mater. Do you have a parent or step-parent in a similar field? Call them! There are many people prepared to discuss your target job or career, and if you hold steady to “I’ll figure it out,” then you are missing all of the information and resources they have to give to help you gain insight into the industry, location, and the company.

3) Practice. Practice. Practice.

One strange benefit to being older when I met my husband, is that thanks to eHarmony, I had been on an embarrassing number of introductory dates. I learned how to sit face to face with a stranger and be, somewhat, engaging. Take every opportunity to network formally and informally. Sit down with an interview book, like, “How to Interview like a Top MBA”┬áthat gives sample interview questions and writedown answers to many of them. Sit down with friends, explore interview stories, and conduct practice interviews. Be candid with each other when giving feedback. Practice does not make perfect, but practice helps you to hone your message so that you can deliver it in an authentic, non-scripted way.

4) Tell a story

Once you are in the interview, tell a (focused) story of how your history has lead you to here. This story should highlight two or three significant achievements that have shaped your career. Draw links between the paths you have taken to lead you to the job you are applying to, and end with where you will take the job and your career. The interviewer knows why they are sitting at the table, but it is your responsibility to tell them why you are there. Listen and answer their questions thoughtfully, but keep the conversation on track to make all of the points you wish to make. Make it personable, the interviewer has been in your shoes.

5) Ask good questions

After soul searching and much research, I knew why I wanted this. I could ride out the first-career path, but I chose to make a change, and I had this one shot to get it right. Coming off the heels of briefly joining a company that was the wrong cultural fit only exposed and amplified what I needed in a company, a manager, and the team. Yes, they had to choose me from a pool of applicants, but I needed to be sure of them too. Asking questions shows respect to the interviewer, helps to break down barriers, and shows a high-level of interest in the role you hope to fill. Asking good questions shows that you have done your homework and are committed to the company and the job for which you are interviewing.

6) Send a thank you note

I am amazed at how the art of thank-you notes has become lost. However, this sad fact is an opportunity for you. Since it does not often happen, it automatically sets you apart. After the interview, send a thank you email within 24 hours to stay ahead of the decision and fresh in mind when they decide. Reiterate points made in the interview that you hoped the interviewer to take away from their discussion with you. Also, address weaknesses that have been uncovered (for me, that was a lack of direct accounting experience coming from the banking world, although a lot of the software used is very, very similar) and how you are already working to overcome them.

One last note, because I have seen this happen recently, make sure you address the thank you properly. Don’t give your interviewer a nickname they did not know they had.

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