Job interviews are a time to make your paper resume jump off the page. An effective interview will make you a more memorable candidate, convey your expertise and land you the job you want.
With applicant pools becoming more crowded, it's safe to expect an interview that is more pointedly geared toward uncovering your real-life ability to save or earn money with measurable results as well as your analysis of potential problems you could face on the job.
The Difference Between the Two
In finance, interviews are split into two rough categories: behavioral interviews and case interviews (although there can be some overlap between topics). The former type aims to uncover how you've reacted in the past to specific problems during your career. The latter attempts to evaluate what kind of value you could add to the company.
Behavioral interviews are popular because they force the interviewee to be truthful and more thoughtful, says Wendy Alfus-Rothman, president of Wenroth Consulting, a leadership and executive coaching firm. She recommends researching a company's areas of growth and decline, and to think about your own skills that dovetail into the company's needs.
"You need to have an arsenal of stories that quantify your skills," Alfus-Rothman says. "You need to tell them if you gained back market share when you analyzed other industry segments and captured a new audience. Track your successes, so they're always on the tip of your tongue."
It's difficult to pull off an unrehearsed behavioral interview with finesse, even if you're a seasoned interviewee, says Penelope Tree, chief executive officer of the Brazen Careerist, a career management and social networking site.
"Rehearse over and over and get rid of the extraneous details," says Tree. "The interviewer has heard thousands of answers before, and they're going to know if you didn't come in prepared."
Case interviews don't focus on your past experience, but your hypothetical actions to solve problems.
Despite your level of experience, it can't hurt to brush up on the finance basics, says Dave Ohrvall, founder of MBACASE, a case interview coaching firm.
"If someone asks you how bankers would react to an IPO for a tech stock, don't rattle off definitions," Ohrvall says. "A lot of candidates forget how savvy the interviewers really are."
Do Your Homework
In the finance world, a job hunter's pedigree can open a lot of doors -- so if you want to stand out, you'll have to do a lot of research.
Ohrvall suggests going back to your core finance reading to re-familiarize yourself with valuation techniques, the differences between debt and equity, and more. Next, look at all the examples of those finance principles, and then research current news so you can refer to real-life examples during your case interview.
If you're interviewing with a company in the throes of economic woes, you may be asked to determine which parts of the company would be valuable to sell. Research the company's current deals so you can use them in your examples.
One of Ohvrall's clients was asked a litany of cold math questions during an interview at Merrill Lynch.
A warning: It's going to take hours of research to be fully prepared, Ohrvall says.
If you get stuck on a question and honestly have no idea what to say, Alfus-Rothman says you can stall by asking the interviewer a series of questions that may shed some light onto the answer they want to hear.
And if you fear you completely bombed a certain question, don't slink away. Do your research, formulate a new response and e-mail it to the interviewer.
"Look, people mess up," Alfus-Rothman says. "What's more important is how you recover. Follow-through is sometimes more important than the actual interview. The last one standing often wins."
Mostly, the companies want to hear how you can present your line of reasoning, and usually, there's no truly right answer -- although not always.
"An interview is a two-way street," Alfus-Rothman says. "If a case interview is puzzling you, ask more questions. Show you have an inquisitive mind and that you want to work your way through whatever problem they throw at you."
Once you've made it to the interview, a significant part of the battle is over. Your resume and experience have already impressed the hiring powers, so let your knowledge and experience guide you the rest of the way. Brush up on your basic knowledge, connect your proven expertise with your intended company's goals and above all – don't be afraid to ask for clarification.
-- Diana Middleton
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