An Introduction to Interviewing
You've prepared your resume and cover letter, did the networking, and applied to your dream company. You've received a congratulatory email inviting you to first round interviews, and you couldn't be more excited.
And nervous. This may be your first time interviewing - ever. And you want to put your best foot forward, but don't know how.
Perfect timing, because welcome to our guide on interviewing!
What are ‘interviews’
Interviewing is the final step of the recruiting process. They can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an entire weekend, and can take place by phone, Skype, Zoom, coffee shop, university career center, or in the firms’s offices.
Some firms only have one interview round. Others have been recorded to have as much as nine (looking at you D.E. Shaw). Some firms only offer virtual interviews. Others, if you are fortunate enough to receive an invitation for a final round interview, will pay for your flight, room, and board to their corporate headquarters and provide an extravagant weekend of networking opportunities, lunches and dinners, and multiple rounds of interviews staggered in-between (re: superday).
There is so much variance as to what an interview is, that it can be overwhelming to begin preparing for them.
But, at the end of the day, all interviews strive to understand one crucial element of who you are as a candidate: what are you actually like as a person?
Your resume, cover letter, and overall job/internship application paint a rather two-dimensional portrait of who you are. Even then, interviews are a pretty imprecise measure of who you are as a person as well. But they are still much, much better at demonstrating your personal qualities: how do you convey yourself? What are your attitudes and values, principles and behaviors?
Yes, interviews will test you. They will test you on everything from your knowledge of the job/internship role to the breadth and depth of your professional and interpersonal experiences and accomplishments. They can even test your knowledge of technical subject matter (if relevant) as well as your overall aptitude for analytical and/or creative problem solving.
But most importantly, interviews will test your personal and cultural fit within the team and wider company.
Are you a person the interviewers can see themselves working with?
Are you a person the interviewers can see thriving in the team and the company?
You can have all the knowledge, experience, skills, and degrees in the world needed to kill the job, but if you’re not seen as someone they want to work with: it’s game over.
A commonly misunderstood portion of the interview is that it’s mostly skills-based. That is, if you’re skilled enough, you’ll get the job.
While reasonable, it’s not entirely true.
In life, you will constantly see people on the job (or in a particular university, not to pour the tea or anything) who don’t seem like they belong there. Maybe they belong there. Maybe they don’t.
But one thing is for certain: in the professional world, it is NOT about being the smartest person in the room. It’s about being PERCEIVED as the smartest person in the room, and that often times is simply reinforced by how much that person is liked.
EQ > IQ. Remember this, because it’s a crucial principle that needs application in the interview, whether it’s in the first round or a nerve-wracking superday.
In a nutshell, interviews can be divided into three distinct formats: behavioral, cultural, and technical. Along the way, they test your background (past achievements) in order to evaluate your potential (future promise to the team and firm).
Interviews are a way for the recruiters to get to know you, but also for you to get to know THEM and the company + role. In the beginning, they will introduce themselves and will ask you to introduce yourself (re: the classic “tell me about yourself” question). This is your elevator pitch. Then, the interview will progress along the rest of the stages (behavioral-cultural-technical-etc.) until the end, when the interviewer may offer to invite you to ask some questions to them. This guide will cover best practices when asking questions, but in general this is where you can express interest and passion for the role and company, and demonstrate curiosity for learning more about your interviewers. This is one of the most under-looked aspects of interviewing!
These interviews test your ‘character’ and how you act in certain situations. Interviewers evaluate and assess past behavior as an indicator of future performance, asking questions like “tell me about a time you worked with a challenging boss/co-worker,” “tell me about a time when you lead a team,” and “what has been your greatest obstacle, and how did you overcome it?” These questions are deliberately open-ended, and are designed to test how you express key moments in your professional and/or academic experience.
This kind of interview tests your cultural ‘fit’ in the wider organization, and how well you align with its values, principles, and vision. Interviewees evaluate personality and attitudes as an indicator of how well candidates would fit within the team, department, and wider firm. They are essentially determining if they like you or not, asking questions like “why us” and “what are your hobbies and interests?”
These types of interviews test your knowledge and/or aptitude for a given role, and are often used in consulting, investment banking, software engineering, product management, UI/UX, etc. They examine your ability to solve problems; for positions that are technical in nature, technical interviews evaluate your skills and how they translate to the job itself. In roles that are more analytical and/or creative, they test your problem-solving skills and how you accomplish tasks under pressure.
In sum, interviews ‘test’ your ability to succeed on the job, simulating an environment that allows recruiters to firms to assess your overall skill, fit, and future potential within the firm. Interviews are by no means perfect, but they are the best current measure companies have ultimately evaluating candidates like yourself.
No matter what you’re recruiting for, every interview for every role and company will always begin with this omnipresent question: tell me about yourself. Prepare your elevator pitch, and if you haven’t though about it yet: no worries! Mosey down to our 'Elevator Pitch' post to learn how to craft an outstanding introduction that will impress your interviewer and give you the momentum and energy you need to ace your interviews.
While you’re preparing for interviews, you should also research the company you’re applying to and the person who is interviewing you.
Finally, find not only friends but also mentors to practice mock interviewing you. Then do the same for them. Take these sessions seriously, and push yourself out of your comfort zone. I also suggest running mock interviewers on the interviewer side as well, as you will begin to get a feel of what interviewers are looking for when assessing candidates. In this guide, I will provide a framework for how you can best structure and give feedback for mock interviews, so stay tuned for that as well.
Moreover, if a coffee chatter offers to practice interviewing with you, or if your school offers mock interview sessions, don’t hesitate and take it!
Perfect practice makes perfect, and you’ll need all the resources you can get in order to best prepare for your interviews.
Preparing for virtual interviews
In virtual interviews, you may be answering scripted questions and recording yourself or you may be interviewed by another person (or two) via Zoom, Skype, or any other video messaging platform. Regardless, here are some best practices to get you situated:
Stress-test your technology
Set up your background, and minimize distractions
Prepare like you would an in-person or phone interview
Don’t read off a script, as tempting as that is
Check your body language using your own screen
Dress the part (business casual up top, business wild down below)
Be just as enthusiastic and energetic as you would be in-person
Follow up and send a thank-you note ~6 hours after your interview
In general, virtual interviews aren’t substantively different from in-person ones. The format and medium have changed, but the questions (and stress) generally stay the same. Preparing for the two will largely take the same steps, so buckle up: we’re now heading into the more content-heavy bits of my Interviewing Guide.
Crafting your ‘elevator pitch’
If you are unfamiliar with the idea of an elevator pitch, definitely check our post on the topic.
Meanwhile, if you are familiar with the elevator pitch - and perhaps have even developed one yourself - it’s time to stress-test it and put it in action.
Present your elevator pitch to a friend/mentor. Tailor it for the role are you are applying to; is your story relevant to the position and what it’s asking for? Are you highlighting particular experiences, skills, and achievements that align with the job/internship description and what the job actually entails?
It’s a talking point that’s become sore from repetition, but everything you do - from your resume and cover letter to your elevator pitch - must be custom-fitted for the role.
Once you’ve mastered your elevator pitch - your story - it’s time to head over to our next post on interviewing and our guide to acing the behavioral interview.