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Congratulations! If you are reading this post, there is a good chance you have already secured an interview for a job. You’ve made it past the initial round of cuts.
Depending on your skills and confidence in interviewing, the job interview can either be the easiest part of the process for you or the biggest obstacle in your job search.
You’re wondering how to prepare for an interview. The time you spend leading up to your interview must be allocated and used effectively. The job market is extremely competitive and you will have to have an edge.
In my young career, I have applied to hundreds of internships and jobs and have interviewed in person, online, and by phone for a total number of interviews probably in the range of 75 to 100.
Interviewing is a skill and like all skills, you suck at it in the beginning. By reading this post, it is my hope that you will be able to take the lessons I have learned through trial and error and use them as a shortcut to have a successful interview.
The Areas of Importance for This Phase
Before embarking on your study and practice, it is important to spend time preparing and laying out how you are going to spend this time. You’ll want to be as efficient and effective as possible to find that edge.
Let’s walk through the areas of importance for this phase of time leading up to your job interview.
Identifying what is important
To avoid wasting precious time, you should begin by identifying what is most important in order for you to get the job offer.
Examples of important things include:
- Networking with current and former employees
- Practicing interview questions
- Learning about the business and industry
- Learning technical concepts
- Learning how the company’s hiring process works
- Building confidence
- Preparing a fresh wardrobe for the interview day
Based on your skill level and background, some of these may be more important to you than the next person. Take care of the most impactful things first. Don’t get lost in the minutia. You want to perfect the areas that will have the largest impact.
In an investment banking interview, it’s important to practice technical interview questions.
For a data analyst position, the most important thing could be to practice your skills in Excel, SQL, and other tools.
Use your best judgment to make the call and take action.
Now that you have identified what you need to work on, the next stage is gathering information.
In the info gathering stage, you’ll want to consider anything you would possibly need to know for the interview. Never take anything lightly and assume anything could be asked.
When I was interviewing for a finance role within a corporation, I considered removing technical finance questions from my study.
I thought to myself, “This isn’t an investment bank or financial firm. I doubt they’ll ask technical questions.”
Luckily I ended up following through with studying technical questions. Once I went into the interview, I was bombarded with technical questions that would have stumped me if I had skipped practicing them.
So gather all the information you can to study for the interview.
Now that you’ve gathered every bit of info you could find, it’s time to organize that information. Take your raw notes, organize them, and trim the fat off of the wording so you are left with the essential information. This act in itself will prepare you and help you remember information for the interview.
Create groups of documents and resources that you could study individually.
Groups could include flashcards on Quizlet, separated by these categories:
- Company information
- Industry and competitors
- Fit and behavioral interview questions
- Technical questions
- Current events
Practice and retention
Everything above takes care of the bulk of the tedious work in interview preparation.
Once you reach this point, all you have to do is practice until you are confident and have retained all the information you have been consuming. We’ll go into the details of this later in the post.
You can practice on your own or have someone give you a mock interview.
What You Should Know Going into an Interview
Before beginning your study and practice, I wanted to list out some essential things you should know going into the interview.
Your resume, background, and qualifications
First and foremost, you should know yourself going into an interview. You should understand everything that is listed on your resume and be able to talk about each item comprehensively.
Also, review things that aren’t communicated on your resume. Think back to your experiences, achievements in school, clubs you participated in, projects you were a part of, and previous positions held.
You want to have this information fresh in your head to answer questions during the interview.
If the interviewers asked you “Can you tell us about a time you overcame an obstacle while working in a group?” you’ll want to have a story ready to share.
Before the interview, sit down, think, and compile everything that you did and were involved with.
Information on the company
For the company, you should know things including:
- The business
- Its divisions
- Its competitors
- How the business makes money
- What the culture of the company is like
Being able to speak about the company fluidly during the interview will show the interviewers that you did your research and you are taking this seriously.
The extra effort will be appreciated and will show them that you are committed to working at their company in particular. Definitely browse through the company website a few times.
Information on the role
It is extremely important that you fully understand the role you are interviewing for. This will help you in two ways:
First, by understanding the role, you will be able to sell yourself to the interviewers to the best of your abilities since you will be able to connect your skills and experience to the position you are applying for. By doing this, you will help the interviewers see that you are a fit and can perform the job.
Secondly, the interviewers will ask questions regarding the role. They may bluntly ask “Can you tell us what you know about the position?”
If you can’t answer questions like these confidently, your chances at an offer will tank. Your interviewers would assume that you did not study well enough or don’t care as strongly about the position as the other candidates.
The best way to find information on the role is to view the job posting or job description online. Your next best bet is to search the internet. If you are interviewing for an investment banking analyst position, you can Google “Typical duties of an investment banking analyst.”
The most commonly asked interview questions
Certain interview questions are asked in nearly all interviews. Examples include:
- “Can you tell us about yourself?”
- “Why should we choose you as a candidate over someone else?”
- “What have you done that makes you a fit for this position?”
These are just a few examples, but you should identify the most commonly asked interview questions and master them entirely. More are listed a little further in the post.
In your study, you’ll probably be practicing flashcards with at least 100 potential questions or topics.
While you should practice them all, put more weight on the questions that are most likely to be asked. If you can’t nail those common questions, the impact of you nailing the technical question on how to calculate free cash flow won’t matter as much.
Technical concepts can be taught. The answers to commonly asked questions tell the interviewers a lot more about yourself as a person and professional.
Get an idea of what the interview process is like
By referring to sources online or asking others who are further ahead of you, you can get an idea of what the interviewing process for a position is like.
For example, it would be beneficial to know that a bank’s interview process may look like this:
- The first interview is a HireVue online video interview where you answer questions into your laptop’s camera
- The next stage could be a phone call with the hiring manager or an invite to the Super Day
- The Super Day will be an exhaustive day with 3-5 sets of interviews
- Following the Super Day, you may be called back for a final round of interviews
- After that, you will receive an offer at the end of that day or by phone a few days later
By knowing what the job interview process is like, you can optimally prepare for each stage of the process and you won’t be blindsided by any surprises. If you know a day of 3-5 interviews is coming, you’ll be more comfortable and prepared than if you learned the day of.
Current events in the business and industry
Current events going on with the business, the industry, and the economy often come up in interviews.
An interviewer may ask:
- “Can you tell me how the economy is going right now?”
- “Can you tell me about a piece of news you heard on our firm recently?”
- “Talk to me about an M&A transaction you have recently seen in the news.”
These types of questions test your knowledge of the concepts within the underlying question, but they are also asked to weed those out that don’t stay in touch with the news or don’t understand what is going on in the news.
In business, it is essential to stay updated with what is going on in the company, industry, and US and world economies. Reading sources such as the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Yahoo! Finance, and CNBC should be part of your daily routine.
Instead of browsing through social media, choose to browse through news sources related to the industry you are looking to work in.
How to Study and Practice for an Interview
Alright, let’s get into the actionable steps to take to study and practice for an interview. You’ll see that they are divided into categories: content, learning and memorization, communication, and overall.
Content to Know
The content category is meant to show you what content you should be studying and practicing to perform during your interview.
Master the opening and closing of an interview
The most impactful parts of the interview will be the opening and the closing.
You’ll make an impact with the way you enter and greet your interviewers, what you open up with when questions begin, the questions you ask at the conclusion of the interview, and when you thank the interviewers and shake their hands when leaving.
Focus on you what you will say and what your actions will be for the beginning and end.
Practice what you will say when the interview starts and they ask “Can you tell us about yourself?”
Practice what questions you’ll ask at the end of the interview when they ask “Do you have any other questions?”
The beginning and end of the interview offer you a chance to be memorable. Focus on it. Study the job description thoroughly and incorporate items from it in your opening and closing statements.
Master the most common interview questions
We mentioned this above, but we’ll emphasize that when you practice, you should master the most commonly asked questions. These should be easy questions if you are prepared.
If you answer them well, you’ll check the interviewer’s box. If you answer them poorly, it’ll be held strongly against your case as a candidate.
Common job interview questions include:
- Can you walk us through your resume?
- Can you tell us a little about yourself?
- Why do you want to work for (insert firm)?
- What have you done that has prepared you for this position?
- Why should we hire you over someone else?
- Where do you see your career in five years?
- Why did you choose this career path?
- What are your career goals?
- What do you like to do in your free time?
- Can you tell us about a time you made a mistake?
- How do you handle stress and working under pressure?
- What are your strengths?
- Talk about a time you worked in a group and encountered a conflict.
- What are your salary expectations?
- Why did you leave your previous job?
Ask connections and employees for info and advice
When you begin to practice, it wouldn’t hurt to utilize your connections and mentors. If you know employees that currently work there, you could get the following information from them:
- What the interview is like
- What questions you should be prepared for
- What you should wear and how you should act
- What to highlight while you answer questions
Practice all types of questions
There are different categories of questions that will be asked during an interview. Depending on the position, business, or industry, an interview may consist of more questions of a specific type than another.
The categories of interview questions that can be asked include:
- Fit: Fit questions are asked to find out just that. Are you a good fit for the position, team, and company?
- Behavioral: These are asked to gauge how you HAVE acted in certain situations or how you WOULD act in certain situations.
- Technical: Questions of this type revolve around technical knowledge and capabilities related to the position.
- Examples can include questions on how the financial statements tie together, how to value a company, how to perform a discounted cash flow, etc. Technical questions are notoriously tough.
- Case Study: Case study interview questions involve questions asked after a case is laid out in front of you verbally or through a written document. The interviewers will ask you questions related to the case and this will test your analytical and problem-solving abilities.
- Firm/Industry Specific: Interviewers will ask questions specifically about the firm or the industry it is in. This tests what you know about the company and industry and also gives a gauge to the interviewers about how strongly you want the position. If you wanted it bad enough, you would do your research.
- Current Events: These questions test how in touch you are with what is going on in the news and if you actually understand what is going on.
- Interviewers will ask a basic question and drill deeper with follow-up questions on the underlying concept the news event is on.
Learning and Memorization
The learning and memorization section will help you synthesize the content you have gathered and practice it so you can retain info in your long-term memory to be used during the interview.
I would emphasize that you use active learning techniques during the entirety of your practice. This will test your mind and memory in different ways and help build strong neuron and synaptic connections in the brain.
The best way I found to study for interviews was to create flashcards…and A LOT of them. When I had an interview for Goldman Sachs, my stack of flashcards exceeded 350.
I’ll note that the stack was digital because I always built my flashcards on Quizlet. Because of the number of cards I had to create, Quizlet was a great solution because I could quickly create cards by typing and I didn’t have to carry around physical cards all the time.
I know that research says that writing and drawing things out help us remember things better. However, I personally found more benefit by having the speed of typing out a large number of cards at once rather than writing out every single one.
Regardless of what you choose, create flashcards for all potential questions you think could be asked. You can practice these cards anywhere, out loud or in your head.
Practicing with flashcards is beneficial because you can shuffle the cards so each card that you pull will be random. This will be a truer test of your knowledge.
Study in different locations
Change up the scenery every so often while you practice. The change in the location itself will keep things fresh for you, allowing you to study longer and with more wakefulness.
But another benefit to changing locations is that your mind won’t become accustomed to only recalling the information you study in one location.
For example, a common learning method for an exam is to study in the room where the exam is held in. While studying the material in the exam room, you may make associations with the environment that will help you recall information during the test.
You do not want this to happen while you are studying for your interview.
If you can only remember answers to questions at your desk in your office, that will do you no good. To prevent this from happening, study in different locations and at different times of day as well.
The idea is to mix up your environment while practicing so you can recall the information no matter what environment you are in.
Study using any and all learning styles
Some of us learn more visually. Others through sound. And others through a hands-on activity.
Some learn better in groups and others learn better alone.
When you practice for your interview, most of your time practicing should be spent on the style that you learn best at. However, you should also spend time learning and practicing using other methods as well.
Learning styles include:
- Visual: Learn by seeing
- Auditory: Learn through hearing
- Kinesthetic: Learn by doing
- Verbal: Learn by saying or writing
- Social: Learn by working with others
- Solitary: Learn better when alone
Practice using every style of learning. Practice for your interview alone or with a group. Watch yourself in the mirror or through a video you filmed. Record your voice and play it back.
Practice in any way you can. The benefit is that you are learning material from multiple angles.
Each time you learn through a different method, the connections of synapses in the brain develop and grow stronger. The myelin sheath that surrounds the nerves in the brain will thicken. This ultimately leads to learning and retention through the strengthened affinity between neurons and improved flowing of information in your head.
To fully grasp the material you are studying, you want to make connections in your brain from all angles and want to strengthen those connections.
Use memory devices (associations, mind maps, mnemonics)
To aid in memorizing information, you can utilize memory devices.
These will help you interact with the information in a type of active learning that helps you form connections and associations that make things easier to remember .
Here are a few examples of memory devices:
- Mnemonics with acronyms, music, and rhymes
- Memory palaces
- Mind maps
- Chunking information
Communication is key to an interview, both with your words and through body language and voice.
You don’t want to neglect practicing your communication skills. The content of what you are saying may be great, but if your delivery is poor, your words won’t have much of an impact and could be distracting.
Practice body language and voice
When you practice answers to your questions, practice having proper body language and voice.
For Body Language
- Have an upright and wide posture
- Look relaxed yet eager
- Keep eye contact with both interviewers
- Utilize appropriate use of hands and gestures
- Mirror the body language of your interviewers
- Lean slightly in when your interviewers are speaking to show interest
- Speak at an appropriate pace. Not too fast or too slow
- Change the tonality of your voice to emphasize certain points
- Speak with volume and “umph”
- Speak with conviction, not in a tone where it sounds like you are doubting yourself
- Don’t be afraid to take a short pause in between points
Practice in the mirror
Practice answering questions in the mirror. You’ll be able to look yourself in the eyes when speaking, while also noticing what your body does as you speak.
You can set a table and chair in front of a mirror to simulate the actual interview while sitting at a table.
Practice resting your hands on the table. Be conscious of how you are sitting in the chair. You want to sit in a relaxed, confident, and interested stance.
Use mock interviews
After practicing on your own, you’ll want some outside help to test yourself. Mock interviews are the closest you can get to replicating a real job interview.
For your mock interviewer, you can ask family and friends, which will likely be the most accessible options. If you can, ask mentors, professors, or even someone who is already an employee at the firm you are applying it.
The latter group has been through the interview process themselves and have likely conducted interviews. They will be able to challenge you and offer feedback that your friends and family won’t be able to offer.
Take all the opportunities you can for mock interviews. The more you interview, the more confidence you will build for the real deal.
Record a video of yourself and mute the audio
To isolate your attention on your body language, you can record a video of yourself and watch it muted.
When you do this, all you have to look at is your body language. This is an easy way to observe yourself and pick up on anything you do that doesn’t look right.
Record yourself while you practice alone, but also record when you are going through mock interviews since they are the closest thing to the real interview.
Record the audio of your voice and play it back
And to isolate your voice, you can record an audio file of yourself practicing and listen to it after.
You’ll be able to identify where your strengths and weaknesses are in the way you say things. You may sound dull and monotone in some areas of the interview and overly energetic and enthusiastic in other areas.
Watching and listening to recordings of yourself can be awkward, but it’s real feedback that can help you fine-tune your interview skills.
These should be kept in mind at all times during your practice.
Create real-life scenarios
As your practice progresses, you will want to focus on creating real-life scenarios. The more you can replicate the real thing, the more comfortable and confident you will be in the actual interview.
To create real scenarios, you can:
- Utilize mock interviews
- Practice in your interview outfit
- Replicate a Super Day of 3-5 rounds of 30-minute interviews
- Practice answering questions while seated at a table
- Answer your practice questions, predict potential follow-up questions, and answer those follow-ups
These suggestions may sound like overkill or foolish, but when something such as your career is at stake, you’ll want to do anything you can to improve your performance and chances of being hired.
Interviewers like to see a candidate that is confident.
This does not mean they like a candidate that is cocky. A cocky candidate will push away interviewers. They want to work with someone they can enjoy being around.
When you are confident in your abilities and in the way you carry yourself, it sends a message that you believe you are capable, can fit in with the team and company, and perform your duties.
When you practice, don’t just go through the motions and mumble your responses for the sake of saying them. Say them how you would in an interview: with confidence and conviction.
You don’t want to give the impression that you are questioning yourself when you respond to questions. You want to answer confidently.
Confidence can be expressed in a variety of ways:
- Speaking with volume
- Speaking at a pace that is just right. Not too slow where you lull your interviewers to sleep and not too fast where you may come off as nervous
- Responding with conviction in your statements
- Maintaining a wide and relaxed body language with your shoulders back and head held level, even slightly up
- Speaking with your hands appropriately and resting your hands on the table or on the armrests rather than on your lap
- Keeping consistent eye contact
Practice enthusiasm and authenticity
Enthusiasm and authenticity may come natural to you if you are legitimately stoked about the job opportunity you are interviewing for.
Even if you are excited internally, maybe you are someone that doesn’t naturally come off as enthusiastic on the outside.
It is important to be mindful of how you are being perceived in an interview.
Practice having appropriate enthusiasm and authenticity before your interview and be sure to implement it.
Some candidates take their enthusiasm too far. They interview with too much enthusiasm and energy that it comes off as fake.
Interviewers can see right through this type of behavior. Kissing up during an interview is a turn-off. Just behave as a professional who has ambition and is ready to get to work.
They can sense when a candidate is genuine and authentic and you want to embody that. These are the candidates they can see joining the company confidently to bring value to their team.
Further Preparation for the Job Interview
Okay, you’re nearly prepared. At this point, all that’s left is a little housekeeping. Think about the following below.
What you’ll wear
I won’t go into too much detail on what the best attire is for an interview, but the point here is to remind you that you should put some thought into it and plan it out.
Find out what the culture of the company is that you are applying for. Is casual, business casual, or business professional the appropriate way to dress?
Another thing to note is to wear soft colors. You can wear a colorful shirt, tie, jacket, etc, but you don’t want anything that will be an eyesore. You want to come off clean, put together, and professional.
What you’ll bring
Plan out what physical items you need to bring to the interview.
This can include:
- Copies of your resume
- Copies of the job description
- A cheat sheet of the major things you wanted to remember
- A padfolio and paper
- A portfolio of projects and presentations you have worked on
- A snack to maintain energy
Self-care leading up to the interview
Proper self-care is a big priority of mine when going into an interview.
Staying up late to work more hours becomes detrimental to mental performance and energy levels. I always want to be sure I go into an interview feeling my best.
For self-care, I’ll do things including:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Getting sufficient sleep
- Taking vitamins and supplements
- Exercising regularly (including the day of the interview)
- Meditating and relaxing
Treat yourself like a professional athlete or a business. You want to take care of yourself and optimize your performance.
Take a few minutes to plan out the logistics of the interview day.
- Plan what your morning will look like
- Decide when you should arrive at the building (always arrive early in case)
- Plan how you will get to the location and where you will park
You don’t want to risk being late and adding stress to your day when logistics are an issue.
Etiquette upon arrival, when greeting, and when leaving
Finally, remind yourself of proper interview etiquette and behavior for the day.
You should assume that you are being watched and analyzed the second you walk into the building. Some companies out there have had their receptionists report back to them on how candidates interacted with them and how they behaved while sitting in the lobby to wait.
Always be on your best behavior. Greet everyone with kindness and sit in the lobby looking like you are ready to go in and kill the job interview.
Slouching in your chair and browsing your phone is a bad look. Pass time by reviewing the materials you brought with you in your padfolio.
After your interview concludes, tell everyone thank you and goodbye on your way out. Walk out with respect and with a confident strut.
These things may or may not matter if no one is taking note of it, but know that some companies out there do. It’s better to play it safe and stay in character until you are out of the building.
If you have made it to the summary, pat yourself on the back. This post was the longest one written on this blog so far. I tried to keep everything concise and give you the essentials. The skill of interviewing is comprised of so many things that I didn’t want to leave anything out for you.
Interviews are key to landing the internships and jobs you want. In a competitive field, you’ll have to find your edge to be selected over the other candidates.
I wasn’t someone who received an offer for every single interview I went through. I faced many rejections and learned from them. The lessons I learned and things one needs to focus on are laid out in this post.
I hope it adds value to you and I wish you the best of luck in your interview.