The interview process is broken. In the case of job interviews, there is a wealth of evidence demonstrating that interviews do not predict future job performance. Not only that, research even describes why job interviews don’t work. Yet, most companies continue to use the same interview practices they have for years. As an MBA graduate, I’ve been through countless MBA interviews and had some unique experiences—everything from having my interviewer take a call from his girlfriend (surprise, I didn’t make it to the next round!) to being offered the position on the spot.
In this posting (which may have a part 2), I’ll discuss how you can take advantage of the cracks in the interview process. And this is relevant not only for job interviews; the same applies for admissions interviews for MBAs and all sorts of other programs.
One of the most common interview formats is the behavioral interview. This usually consists of questions about specific situations that you may have encountered during your career or in school. If you’ve ever been asked questions like, “Tell me about a time when you had to lead without authority,” or “Describe a situation in which you had a conflict with a coworker,” you’ve been in a behavioral interview. This leads us to the first flaw in behavioral interviewing.
Interview Flaw #1: You know all the questions beforehand. There are only so many behavioral questions that companies can ask. Career centers in business schools have comprehensive list of these kinds of questions and any questions you are asked that aren’t directly off this list will be minor variations. Other good resources are your fellow classmates, alumni and interview books in the library.
The Arbitrage Opportunity: Now that you know all the questions that are going to be asked you can come up with great stories that answer the questions. However, it is very important to understand what is actually being asked. When an interviewer asks about a time when you had a view that was different from everyone, what they are really asking is how do you persuade people. An answer such as, “I show them my idea is best by working hard on it,” may be true, but doesn’t demonstrate to the interviewer how you thought about the issue, developed a plan, and executed on it. Think deeply about the intent of the question and mold your story so it demonstrates how your experience in the past will help you succeed in the future, and in particular at the role you are applying for. Ask your classmates and the career center for feedback so you can perfect your answers.
Interview Flaw #2: The way you deliver your answers is more important than their content. I just spent two paragraphs describing how important it is to develop great answers and now I’m saying they don’t matter? Not exactly. Crafting excellent responses to these questions only separates you from those who haven’t even prepared (surprisingly, there’s more than you think). But beyond this, companies hiring MBA graduates (like business schools before them) place a tremendous value on communication, presence and charisma. In fact, how you deliver your answers is the number one factor they will use to evaluate you. Whether this led to the financial collapse is still being debated, but I’m just throwing it out there.
The Arbitrage Opportunity: Remember when you were in the 7th grade play? It’s time to break out those acting skills again. Because you know the questions beforehand and have thoroughly prepared your answers, your lines are ready. Practice your delivery until it is exactly how you want it to be and then practice it some more. This is another great opportunity to use your classmates to get feedback on how you are delivering your answers. Videotape your performance and critique it so you can improve. If you put in the time and effort to work on this aspect of the interview process you can exploit this flaw to your advantage. Just ensure that your answers still sound natural and not too rehearsed and you are good to go. If this sounds a little contrived, think about how you would prepare if you had an important presentation in front of a more important audience. You would no doubt intently practice your delivery until it was perfect. Think of an interview as the most important kind of presentation.
In a future post we’ll take a look at the flaws in the case interview and how you can exploit them to land that internship. For now, if you prepare as I have described above, instead of wondering if you got the job, you should start practicing for your Oscars-style acceptance speech.