Saturday, January 16, 2010

Standing out for the right reasons

"Why should I hire you?"

You are guaranteed to get this question in all your interviews. Answering this in a unique, compelling way will increase the chances that interviewers will remember you. Otherwise you are another nameless face in a pack of resumes when it comes to making offers.

We have given examples of outstanding stories that people used to land their jobs.

The point in answering this question is not to say something that you think is impressive. An interviewer has listened to bullshit pretty much all day. The last thing they want to hear is a wannabe banker/consultant regurgitate the Vault guide or something they heard from an informational session.

Studies have shown that people only listen to about 40% of what is said in a conversation. There's a higher probability that what you say will stick in the interviewer's head if your story is unique and personal while being interesting.

There is one caveat. Many readers have emailed us asking if they could spin their stories in a certain way to make themselves more interesting. In some cases, this "spinning" makes them sound like a complete tool. I can say from my experience that those who try to be too creative with their stories tend to fail, save those who truly are distinctive and can say something substantive about it and back it up.

Case in Point: A reader recently asked us if

1. he should use his ethnicity, first-immigration status, and lineage from an obscure tribe in his sell pitch during an interview

2. in response to a question -- "Can you give me an example where you faced a tough-love or tough-hate reaction in school and how you reacted to it?" -- use an anecdote about how people have been ignorant of his ethnicity (this was an actual interview question from an MD)

Stories about your political leanings and your ethnicity are on the risky side -- don't mention them unless the interviewer starts the conversation. If you are passionate about these topics, and are convinced that you absolutely want to bring them up in your story, be tactful and as objective as you possibly can.

This is easier said than done, which is why I advise against pitching yourself on these criteria. Of course you should take pride in your heritage, but that doesn't demonstrate any merit for why you are better for the job. It comes off as you trying too hard to stand out.

People holding unfair assumptions of you based on ethnicity is a terrible thing. But using such an anecdote to answer question 2 would not help you, in my opinion. This is because finance -- and especially trading -- requires thick skin and someone who can take insensitive comments. The MD is gauging how you respond to conflict and how you are proactive in resolving even the slightest conflict, since working well in teams is vital to doing well at the job.

In sum, as you prepare for interviews, keep this in mind:

The point is to be sincere about your desire to break into the industry, but not to say that too explicitly through a trite, overused story.

You demonstrate this candidly by using your own words and your own story to sell yourself.

Don't refer to things to make yourself sound impressive. I guarantee you will come off as insincere and a tool.

Have a sanity check on what you are planning to say. And think about what the interviewer is testing when he/she asks you a question.

Don't try to spin yourself out of answering a tough question because interviewers will know that you are dodging the point. Be candid and dispel any concerns the interviewer may have.

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