November 3, 2013

BUSINESS NEWS: How to Prepare for and Ace the Interview

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Students attend information sessions, prepare their resumes and iron their button-down shirts. But when they are finally seated at an interview table, some students say their palms sweat in response to recruiters’ questions.

By familiarizing oneself with the types of questions interviewers will ask, students can maximize their chances of obtaining a dream internship, former interns and a Cornell Career Services administrator say.

There are broad subject areas that every employer looks to cover. These include knowledge of the industry, interest in the specific company and behavioral questions, according to Rebecca Sparrow, executive director of Cornell Career Services.

“They may ask, ‘Why are you applying to us instead of some of our competitors?’ You might think, ‘I can’t reveal where else I am applying,’ but they’re interested to know that you are applying to some of their competitors,” Sparrow said. “If you’re only applying to one employer, that’s going to make them question your interest in the field.”

The first round of questions are straightforward and include terms an applicant should know, but final round questions are more complicated, according to Anderson Sumarli ’14. Sumarli spent his last summer doing asset management for JPMorgan in Hong Kong and conducting equity research for a securities company in Indonesia.

“‘Would you invest more towards the Twitter IPO or towards the Dell LBO?’ This question was announced to me the morning that Twitter actually announced their IPO,” he said. “It goes to show how on top of the markets you need to be.”

Equally important as technical questions are behavioral questions, according to Andrea Weidman ’15, who spent last summer interning with the Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

“If you want to get involved with investment banking or sales and trading, you’re going to spend a lot of hours with the people you’re working with, and personality is a huge part of that,” Weidman said. “You need to portray yourself as someone that they want to work with.”

Preparing for these behavioral and technical questions is just the first step. Another major part of the interview process is the networking that takes place before recruiters arrive to campus, according to Kartik Das ’14, who spent a summer doing investment banking in the Financial Institutions Group at UBS.

“Once firms come to campus, 400 people will apply for four spots. How do you make sure you make that first round cut?” Das said. “They should know your name before they come to the information session; they should know your name when they’re going through resumes.”

Weidman suggested that, in preparing for an interview, it is helpful to establish “a bucket of stories” of significant experiences to pull from.

“Don’t think, ‘For this question, I have this answer,’ but think ‘for this type of question, I have these stories that I can relate to and talk about,’” she said.

The first 30 seconds — the response to the “tell me about yourself” question — can make or break the interview, according to Das.

“Most people make the mistake of taking their resume and going through line by line. Never do that,” he said. “Start off with who you are, where you’re from and why you’re interested, but you should always end with why you are sitting there interviewing for that firm and why you think you’d be great for the position.”

Students should be confident and proud of their accomplishments and demonstrate that in their responses, Sparrow said.

“One [question] that rattles students regularly is, ‘You only have a 3.7 GPA. Tell me why I should hire you anyway.’ Sometimes students get caught in that trap and start explaining why their GPA isn’t any better than a 3.7,” she said. “What the employer really wants you to do is to defend yourself. They will ask the same question to the person in front of you that has a 4.1.”

Sumarli added that many people forget that what happens at the end of the interview is just as important as everything in the beginning and middle.

“[The end of an interview] is a really great opportunity for you to ask questions and get to know more about the company,” he said. “It’s your chance to get that insider point of view.”

From preparing holistic responses to researching potential employers, it may seem as though students are left with an overwhelming task, Sparrow said. However, students should keep in mind that, ultimately, the recruiter wants to see the applicant succeed.

“Employers are investing a lot in coming to campus. They want to go back with a lot of candidates,” she said. “They want you to be successful.”