Job-Winning Strategies from Headhunters

In today’s business world, competition for jobs has never been keener. Rather than keeping the same job for twenty years, a worker typically changes jobs at least five times in a lifetime.

In addition, the pool of job applicants is seemingly expanding, as companies have come to recognize the value that nontraditional candidates (engineers, lawyers, health care professionals, and the like) can bring to general management positions. Responding to this highly competitive environment, top U.S. business schools have intensified the preparation they provide their MBA students who are seeking full-time employment.

Students are exposed to guest lecturers, benefit from private coaches, and receive videotaped mock interviews to give them detailed feedback and coaching. These efforts enable MBA graduates from top U.S. programs to fine-tune their responses to tough questions in job interviews.

Overall, headhunters agree that in recent years, attractive candidates for competitive jobs have developed a much more refined approach to interviewing than past applicants. Recognizing these trends, How to Interview Like a Top MBA:

Job-Winning Strategies from Headhunters, Fortune Recruiters, and Career Counselors introduces you to some “best practice” interviewing techniques. Whether you are seeking your first full-time employment, switching jobs, applying for a part-time job, or preparing for graduate school admission interviews, this book introduces you to approaches that can sharpen the delivery of your interview. The insights in this article can be helpful not only for business interviews but also for candidates in other fields from law to the nonprofit sector.

How to Make a Good Impression in Informal Interviews: An Insider’s View

Many candidates make the mistake of assuming that informal interviews do not influence an organization’s ultimate decision about whether to extend a job offer. That assumption is often wrong. In any interaction, you are creating an impression. Therefore, what sorts of pitfalls should you avoid, and what are good impressions to try to make in an informal interview? They are much the same as in the formal interview.

Here’s what Edward, a manager at IBM, advises: Common mistakes that candidates make in job interviews, informal and formal, include not preparing enough for the interview. Candidates should be ready with clear statements about their experiences, goals, and achievements. This begins with the first contact with a potential employer, and informal and informal interviews, candidates should demonstrate they know plenty of details about the company and the available job.

The résumé is also important. It should say something meaningful about a candidate’s accomplishments and goals, and how those are related to the available job and the hiring company. The résumé should have integrity and be easy to read.

The résumé should not have useless information that is not needed for the job the company is seeking to fill. It should not look like a cut-and-paste document constructed without reference to the specific job.

In both formal and informal contacts with the interviewing company, the candidate should help the interviewer see how he or she fits with the available job and company, how the job and company fit with her or his goals, and what the value he or she can add.

Business Talk: Four Key Elements

In the earlier example of Jennifer on page 4, the bits of behavior that created a poor impression included her boisterous laughter, her questionable jokes, her poor dining etiquette, and her negative attitude.

As we saw, when looking at Jennifer, one partner used a single question to guide his assessment about her: “Can I ever see myself wanting to introduce Jennifer to clients as a representative of our firm?” Observing her mannerisms, her demeanor, her attitude, and the topics of her conver8 Best Practices station, he answered that question with a resounding, “No.” There are some lessons to be learned here. When interviewing whether informally or formally pay particular attention to four dimensions of what you do:

your mannerisms, your etiquette, your attitude, and the topics you choose to discuss. Assume that you are being observed by those trying to envision whether they could ever put you in front of a client on an important deal. Thus, you should feel free to talk about noncontroversial current events, business events, uncontroversial company issues, industry trends, and topics such as sports. However, it is important that you stay away from important do-not:

• Do not talk about controversial issues. • Do not talk about issues that will make you seem overly negative. • Do not crack risky jokes. • Do not engage in boisterous talk. • Do not overuse business jargon. • Do not use slang unnecessarily. • Try to avoid speaking negatively of your past employers (unless there is some important reason why you would want to do so).

Making the Most of Informational Interviews: An Insider’s View

Many candidates wish to understand how top MBA candidates and other skilled interviewers are able to use informational or informal interviews to their advantage as tools for networking and introducing themselves to leaders in their field. Kelli Holden Hogan, founder, and president of City Scholars Foundation shares her insights.

As a Harvard graduate who has worked for the leading companies Goldman Sachs and Pacific Bell, and who served as an executive recruiter for Los Angeles–based Berkhemer Clayton (where she assisted Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, and Wharton MBAs with their career searches), Kelli notes key steps to ensure that you have an excellent informational interview:

Informational interviews—ones in which you meet professionals in order to gain information about their career path or their companies— Create a Great First Impression 9 is key to career development.

They offer a wonderful opportunity to meet senior-level executives with no strings attached. Most professionals find requests for informational interviews flattering. There are key ways to maximize this opportunity, and there are also many things to avoid.

Focus the conversation on the professional. First, if you secure an informational interview, make sure you focus the conversation on the professional who has agreed to meet with you, not on yourself. You should approach a professional for an informational interview by explaining that you are interested in speaking to him or her about their career and how he or she moved from their prior career positions to their current position, so as to get a better understanding of opportunities that might exist for you.

Be sure to present your motives as pure. Avoid thrusting a résumé toward the informational interviewer early on or shifting the conversation to be about you and your own aspirations too soon.

People love to talk about themselves, so by focusing the conversation on the professional and his or her career and achievements, you not only make the interviewer feel good, but you also make a good impression.

Show respect: don’t waste the interviewer’s time. Even though this interaction is informal, it is crucial that you are respectful of the time of the professional who has agreed to meet with you. Never waste his or her time. When you approach the professional for the informational or informal interview, specify that you only wish to take about twenty minutes of his or her time. You can suggest you’d like to buy the interviewer a cup of coffee so that he or she can share with you his or her experiences and how the individual made it to the current position. If he or she chooses to share more time, that’s all the better.

Etiquette for the informational interview: dress the part, arrive early. To show respect, in an informal interview you must dress well as well as you would for a formal interview. Similarly, just as you would for a formal interview, you need to arrive early for your meeting, but not too early to make the professional feel pressured to meet with you earlier. Ten or fifteen minutes early is ideal. Never take a chance 10 Best Practices that you will be late. That will leave the professional with the notion that you do not value his or her time, creating a negative, lasting impression.

Dos and Don’ts of Informal and Formal Interviews: An Insider’s View

Wilson Shelbon, who served as a manager at Procter & Gamble, explains what a world-class company looks for in a candidate: I served as a manager at Procter & Gamble, where my responsibilities included leading teams of talented professionals, working long hours to analyze product costs and ways to reduce them, as well as working with teams to devise strategies that will make us more effective in the marketplace.

When hiring, we selected candidates who we thought would do excellent work and blend well with us at Procter & Gamble. When I interviewed candidates from top schools, I used a number of factors to guide my decision making as to whether to support them in the hiring process.

Several factors helped me think of some candidates as skilled interviewees—as candidates who interviewed like top MBAs—and as potentially excellent hires. First, at Procter & Gamble, when we evaluated candidates, we took into great account key factors such as leadership abilities, analytical skills, problem-solving abilities, articulation, and creativity.

You could not be perceived as too weak in any of these major areas and expect to get a job at a high level at Procter & Gamble. We especially valued candidates with extraordinary leadership abilities.

We believed a manager who has the potential to succeed in any functional area and who will be tomorrow’s business leader will possess outstanding leadership skills because leaders drive change everyday managers at P&G are leading changes in the company as well as in the market. As managers, we devised strategies, analyzed market trends, performing competitive analysis, and so forth.

So a candidate must create a lasting impression of his leadership abilities that wouldn’t be erased during a formal interview. So what is my advice to a candidate who is approaching both an informal and a formal interview? There are some don’ts. Don’t go into an interview or interaction with a potential employer unprepared and lacking knowledge about the basics. You should have a sense of what the company does, and you should have read basic literature about the company.

Don’t be nervous! That creates a bad impression and will leave 12 Best Practices the interviewer questioning how he or she could put you in front of clients on team engagements. Don’t fail to express yourself clearly. If you do, you will demonstrate a communication problem, and an interviewer will question whether you can contribute in teams and if you will be an asset in front of clients.

Do Your Homework In Four Key Areas

Now that you have learned key elements about making a great first impression, it is important that you understand what some interviewers might expect of you in terms of preparation for a specific job interview. According to many Fortune 100 recruiters, headhunters, and career counselors, one of the most frequently cited mistakes candidates make in interviews is that they fail to come to the interview well informed in four critical interview-related areas.

It is imperative that you learn the basics about the industry you hope to secure a job within, the company you are applying to work for, the available job you are applying for, and the person(s) who will be interviewing you. Almost every Fortune 100 professional, headhunter, and career counselor with whom I spoke ranked this sort of interview preparedness very high. Given the importance of doing your homework and presenting yourself as knowledgeable, this chapter highlights key issues to consider about the industry, company, job, and people with whom you will be interviewing.

What to Know About Your Industry

One of the key topics you should research before you interview is the industry in which you want to work. The ideal depth of your industry knowledge will depend upon the level of job you are applying for. If you Copyright © 2004 by Shelly Leanne. Click here for terms of use.

are interviewing for a position as a senior manager or executive, of course, you will be expected to know the industry intimately. Short of this, it is advisable that you have at least a basic understanding about the nature, dynamics, trends, and future direction of the industry. This information should help you in the interviewing process. For instance, consider Lucas, who attended a job interview for a position as a general management consultant.

He was asked, “How do you see yourself contributing to our firm, given the industry trends we are experiencing?” Lucas found himself at a loss. He had been drawn to the strategic consulting job because the company was prestigious and the salary was large. He fumbled his way through his response, but the interviewer noted a marked lack of understanding of the issues affecting the industry and the trends affecting the company.

Had Lucas taken the time to run a few searches online, using resources such as the New York Times or, he would have understood that the recession of 2002–2003 had severely hurt the consulting industry.

Many consulting companies were shifting their focus to corporate restructuring work and were expanding their efforts to help distressed companies avoid bankruptcy. Lucas had skills that were germane to this restructuring work, but he was never able to talk about them, link them to industry trends, or elaborate on how he could use his background to help the interviewing company address its new work. A wonderful interviewing opportunity was lost as Lucas searched for a response.

What to Learn About the Industry Before Interviewing: An Insider’s View

How important is the depth of your knowledge about an industry during an interview? Is it necessary to garner information about the industry, rather than just about the company? Knowledge about an industry can be very important. Some employers will ask you to explain in detail why a particular industry or career, not just a particular company—is right for you, given your personality and experience.

Susan Kim, the head of the successful advisory group Kim, Hopkins & Associates—one of the largest franchises of American Express Financial Advisors in the Washington, D.C., area, with approximately $35 million under management explains how you can use information about an industry to interview like a top MBA:

In providing advice on how to use information about an industry in ways that help you to deliver an outstanding interview, I draw on my own experience at the Fortune 100 company American Express.

Several approaches have worked for me and have also impressed me as I have interviewed and hired job candidates. What information should you gather about an industry? First, gain an understanding of the overall structure of the industry to which you are applying. In the case of American Express Financial Advisors, you should know the industry of financial planning and how it differs from related industries such as investment banking.

Within financial planning, you should have an understanding of who the main players are. Know which companies dominate the arena and how they differ from each other. Also answer for yourself key questions, such as, “How many independent planners are out there, and what role do they play in the industry?”

What to Know About the Company Interviewing You

You should also become highly literate about the company where you will be interviewing. This is clearly important, as you want to demonstrate to the interviewer that you are serious about wanting the position. To appear serious about this, you need to have considered deeply whether the company is the right one for you.

To articulate reasons, you should be able to point out its distinguishing characteristics that attract you and then state why the interviewing company is a better choice for you than its main competitors. What factors specifically are important? Start with these key areas of understanding:

• The company’s main products or services • The main competitors of the company • What makes the company unique • The company’s mission • The company’s profitability and growth • The corporate culture of the company • The company’s strategy (for example, whether it is repositioning itself or expanding its products and services in any notable way)

Resources to Consider

When you are researching the company with which you hope to interview, the following sorts of sources are useful:

Company Website. One of the first information sources you should review is the website of the company you are applying to. You can surf the company’s website to discover the mission statement, structure, size, locations, and areas of specialization. Also, many sites post news releases; these might reveal information about the company’s plans.

Newspapers and Magazines. You can complete searches of local newspapers and national newspapers and magazines such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Business Week, Money magazine, Kiplinger, and Fortune. You can also conduct online research to find archived articles on network-TV news websites, such as ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, CNBC, and CNN. Specialized

News Resources. For candidates wishing to gain perspectives of companies from the vantage points of minorities or women, sources such as Black Enterprise, Ebony magazine, and Essence magazine can provide useful perspectives and often provide rankings of good companies to work for.

Search Engines. Search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Hotbot can lead you to articles and other references about your company.

Specialized and Sophisticated Sources. For more detailed and sophisticated information about companies, several sources provide in-depth information about companies. Try Hoover’s Online, Bloomberg .com,, and Tractive.

Annual Reports and SEC Filings. Annual reports and public filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission also provide detailed 22 Best Practices information for candidates who believe they will be expected to be intimately familiar with the interviewing company.

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