The interviewer generally looks for two things:
- Technical Ability – Can this person do the job? This is less important as a finance skillset can be taught. However, the candidate must be intelligent and be willing to learn.
- Fit – Will this person be able to work with other people? This is called the Airport test. (i.e., will others be able to stand in you in an airport if a flight got delayed?) Or fit into the company’s culture? For example, Wachovia has a Southern culture – they tend to prefer Southern candidates.
And the question that is always in the interviewers’ heads is “Why should I choose this person over the other 12 people?” Always tailor your responses so that it directly or indirectly answers this question. You have to sell yourself and your abilities. That might sound trite, but it is very true. For example, if asked, “What traits does an ideal analyst possess?” Instead of answering the question straight up, mention key traits, and then illustrate how you possess them. Always tie in yourself and why you are the best candidate. During a mock interview, review each answer and ask yourself if the story or experience you are telling is a key skill set they are looking for.
You need to make it clear that you are not the better candidate, but the best candidate.
Am I going to remember this person when I interview the other 12 people? (Try to make the interview memorable for the interviewer, talk about something in the “Additional Information” section or perhaps bring up something you two might have in common.)
Keep your answers short and concise. What do I mean?
If he asks you what your greatest challenge is, don’t say, “My greatest challenge was when I climbed Blood Mountain in North Georgia and we spent a few days camping and hiking there. We spent the trip with four other guys sleeping in a tent in the outdoors. It was fun to hunt but it was hard living without running water or toilet.”
That’s a great answer if your friend asked you that question. But your interviewer doesn’t have the attention span your friend does and sure as hell doesn’t care about your mountain trip. He’s interested in what you learned on the mountain trip that may somehow be applicable to the job position. A better answer would be:
“My greatest challenge was when my friends and I went camping in North Georgia. We ended up losing half our gear on the way up and temperatures dropped to sub zero. We had to adapt to the environment. If that meant sleeping next to two guys, we did it. My key takeaway is that no matter what challenges lie ahead, you have to adapt and be flexible to anything that arises.
Takeaways are key. They are a quick summary of what you learned and to make sure that if the interviewer wasn’t paying attention in the beginning, to focus on the end.
The second answer was better because it was shorter, concise, and tied it nicely to a skill set you developed from this experience. You normally want to format your answers to this:
1. State your answer. (In this case, mountain camping)
2. Tie to short anecdote (Losing gear, cold temperatures)
3. Key takeaway (Adapt to changing environment)