The Art of The Interview

“If there’s a mile long track, and the first lap you travel 30 mph, how fast do you have to travel on the second lap to average 60 mph for both laps?” asks the stuffy man in the corner office.

I bumbled and stumbled around until I responded, “Hmmmm, obviously it’s not 90mph, but…… let’s walk…. it through!” My instincts told me it wasn’t a straightforward answer, but I really had no idea how to solve the problem. Instead, I got the first part right by addressing the trick question, and proceeded to stall long enough so that he couldn’t help but tell me.

FIGURE IT OUT YET?  NO CHEATING!

After about 20 seconds of thinking out loud, he blurted out, “Infinity Speed!  Imposible!” “You see Sam, since it takes 2 minutes to average 60mph for both laps, you just can’t do it because at 30mph on the first lap, that already took you 2 minutes!”

I quickly chimed in, “Ahh, of course! You beat me to it!” Whew. Of course he beat me to it because if we continued talking for eight hours I still wouldn’t know the answer!

The interview process is absolutely the most vital portion of your job application process. I don’t care whether you went to Harvard, have a 4.0, and dance like MJ. If you come across as a pompous fool, or you don’t show that you really care about the position, you will never get the job.

Putting it another way, think about all the people you aren’t particularly impressed with at work. How did they get through security? They simply interviewed well. Once you’re in, it takes a long time to get you out!

Below are some helpful tips I’ve compiled after interviewing over 250 candidates in my career so far.

FINANCIAL SAMURAI’S TOP 10 INTERVIEW TIPS

1) Don’t be late or too early! Nothing drives an interviewer crazier than a late candidate, or a super early candidate. Half the time, the interviewer is there because it’s part of his job requirement, or it’s a favor to one of his colleagues.  You won’t believe how many times I’ve heard an interviewer write-off a candidate just because he’s even 1 minute late. On the flip side, a super early candidate is annoying, because it puts pressure on the interviewer to alter his or her schedule.  Arrive 10 minutes early and ask your greeter to announce your arrival 3 minutes before the scheduled interview.

2) No limp handshakes or sweaty palms. Studies show that a first impression is impossible to shake. If you come out with a limp and sweaty palm, your interviewer is going to remember this because this will be your only physical contact.  Keep a small hand towel, perhaps with some talcum powder to keep your hands dry.  Shake firmly!

3) Dress appropriately. I’ve had many guys and girls come in dressed like they were about to go clubbing with their mini-skirts, and corduroy jackets. This isn’t Tryst in Vegas.  Dressing inappropriately conjures up images of immaturity and trouble.  Always dress equal to one half step better.  See “You Aren’t Going Clubbing, Interview Attire 101

4) Maintain eye contact, but don’t stare. If you’re constantly looking at the floor or wandering, you will give your interviewer the impression that you have no confidence, and/or that you don’t care. FBI studies show that during the shake down process, liars have a difficult time looking their interrogator in the eye.  At the same time, you don’t want to have crazy eyes and pretend it’s a staring contest. You will make your interviewer uncomfortable, and wonder if there’s spinach in his teeth. Maintain eye contact and practice looking away briefly during times of thought or transition.

5) Research the heck out of the company. If the company recently reported fantastic first quarter results, read all about it and figure out what drove earnings.  Understand the company’s strategic vision, which will hopefully jive well with your own.  No company has grown in a straight line, so pinpoint the stumbles as well, but understand how they learned from their errors and improved.

6) Research the heck out of your interviewer. More often than not, the HR person will give you a heads up on who you will be speaking to.  It’s important to research the person to the point where you are like a CIA operative.  Know everything you can about the person and their accomplishments.  If they studied Polish in college and like corgi dogs know it.  The idea is to not reveal to them everything you know, for that would be stalkishly freaky.  Instead, it’s important to be able to weave related interests with your potential colleague at choice times.

7) Interview them as much as they interview you. After a certain number of interviews, you should have a sense of whether they want you or not.  At this point really start using the opportunity to ask them about their experiences, likes, and dislikes about the company.  It’s unacceptable to not have any questions at the end of each interview.  You may be speaking with someone who actually hates his/her job, but have no idea because you aren’t asking about him/her.  Ask and investigate without being too nosy.  “How many years do you think the average person has been with the firm?” is a good question to always ask.

8) Always bring enough copies of your resume.  The idea is to make the interview as easy for the interviewer as possible.  Unless you’re speaking to HR, the interviewer is not a professional interviewer.  They could be speaking to you in between meetings on a hectic day.  Bringing your resume and other information for them to look over shows you are thoughtful and prepared.  The average time spent looking at a resume is 10 seconds, which also equates to the average amount of time an interviewer prepares to interview you!  Please read, “Examples of Good Resumes That Get Jobs“.

9) Be self-effacing while showing signs of brilliance. The arrogant interviewee will get booted faster than a rat on your favorite lemon meringue pie.  Talk about your failures and how you’ve overcome them to succeed in new ways.  Provide concrete examples of success, backed by results i.e. sales grew in my department by 25% after introducing a new method of selling.  Stay humble but show them your confidence.

10) Always follow up within 24 hours with a thank you e-mail or card. In each e-mail or card, do not write a generic message saying.  Instead, pick out a critical moment in the interview where you think brings out the best in you, or gives you the opportunity to show your skills further.  Perhaps the interviewer asked you about your most difficult moment, and you didn’t answer it well.  Use the thank you note to address the question further.

CONCLUSION

The number of qualified resumes are seriously piling up on my desk, making competition that much more difficult.  Focus on these initial tips to help yourself get ahead.  As a potential colleague, we just want to work with someone who shows promise and is a good person.  Don’t forget that when you do get accepted, to treat your job as if you won the lottery and not take your good fortune for granted!

If you’re interested in receiving professional help with your resume and interviewing skills, feel free to check out my Resume & Interview Services page. I’ve interviewed over 500 candidates as a manager during my time on Wall St. and have reviewed over 5,000 resumes. 

Regards,

Sam

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. Rob Bennett says

    My tip is to inject some personality into the discussion. Say something controversial or intimate.

    There’s a risk with this, of course. Saying something that prompts a negative emotional reaction in the interviewer will “disqualify” you in his or her eyes.

    The other side of the story is that there are probably five or so people getting interviewed and you need something to make you stand out. If you are the only one who forms an emotional connection, you’re the one!

    The trick is not to be too out there. You probably don’t want to say “I just love Sarah Palin!” or “I just love President Obama!” That’s high-risk stuff. But you might venture forward with “I don’t watch television anymore.” That will disqualify you with some and cause others to think you are free-thinking enough to be exceptional.

    Rob
    .-= Rob Bennett´s last blog ..What Is a Bear Market and What Is a Bull Market? =-.

    • admin says

      Yes, touching politics is a high risk, high reward maneuver which I wouldn’t recommend, unless you know the interviewer’s political stance, and something SO egregious has happened, nobody can deny it.

      Emotion connection is key.

  2. myfinancialobjectives says

    Also be sure to be very friendly to the receptionist, and anyone else who you come into contact with. Often times the interviewer will ask about the interaction you had with them.

    Sometimes it may be good to comment on a particular piece of artwork that the interviewer may have. Some interviewers actually hang something interesting on purpose to see if the interviewee will mention something about it. Be attentive to your surrounds basically. Why do I know this?
    .-= myfinancialobjectives´s last blog ..The Ultimate Motivator: Compounding Interest =-.

  3. Little House says

    These are all great tips. I’d like to add one more to this list, make sure your resume isn’t overflowing with fibs. I know so many people who have crossed that line from fluffing up their resume to straight out lying on it. (My husband’s friend has lied his way into many positions and is computer illiterate.) Luckily, I don’t have to interview candidates, or try to figure out who’s telling the truth, etc.
    .-= Little House´s last blog ..Amazing Home Makeovers =-.

  4. Nikki says

    I was on an interview for a job at a prestigious fashion company in New York City. I met with the owner and head designer. It was an awesome opportunity. The interview was going great. She invited me to the US Open. I couldn’t believe my luck. When the interview was wrapping up she mentioned one little thing. She said I was pretty but wanted to know if “they” could do my hair. I said the right things but the shocked look on my face killed it.

    • admin says

      Hmmm, very interesting. What an experience! Given it’s a fashion company, are they allowed to comment on looks and choose prettier people? I’m kinda shocked they would suggest to change your hair!?! Intersting world, tell us more!

  5. Jeremy Johnson says

    I like to bring a notebook with me to write in and also have many pages printed off of the questions they will ask me – with the answers, so that I can always find the answer – this definitely helps if you are going for a technical position where they ask you lots of obscure programming questions.
    .-= Jeremy Johnson´s last blog ..A Second Child Is Born, Sienna =-.

    • admin says

      A notebook is good….. esp for the technical jargon and stuff. Guess it depends on the industry as some don’t allow notebooks, calculators, cheatsheets or what not.

      CONGRATS ON SIENNA!!!

  6. Mike @ Saving Money Today says

    Great tips Sam!

    Interviewing for a new position can be a gruelling ordeal. To me the worst is when you’re meeting with someone who clearly has no interest in being there and is reading cookie cutter questions off a piece of paper.

    “What is your biggest weakness?”
    “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

    Blablabla…the ability to come up with good BS answers to stock questions doesn’t mean you’re any good. That probably explains why so many people end up in jobs they’re not qualified for.
    .-= Mike @ Saving Money Today´s last blog ..Swap Paperback Books Online And Save =-.

    • admin says

      It is interesting, isn’t it? That’s the scary thing. If you are a GREAT interviewer/actor, you will probably pass. And once you get the job, it is very difficult for the company to let you go due to legal reasons.

  7. Money Funk says

    Fortunately, one of my strong suits is the interview; especially with 5-7 and 10. I always research as much as I can about the company and the interviewer. This gives me loads of questions to ‘interview back’ and gives me thumbs up because I am ‘interested’ in the company (without being overzealous, of course).

    And i always follow up, whether it be a phone call or thank you letter.

    Tip: don’t ever forget to bring a hard copy of your resume (non-perfume scented)
    Tip: if it’s an entry level job, asking if they have a ‘mentor program’ always scored me points. :D

    Great points, Sam!
    .-= Money Funk´s last blog ..The Biz Idea =-.

  8. neal@wealthpilgrim says

    I tell my daughters to always be themselves completely in interviews. No job is worth not being yourself. I tell them to interview the company just like they are interviewing you.

    (Truth be told, I’d prefer them to be self-employed and this is my way of making sure nobody ever offers them a job) Shhhh….don’t tell.
    .-= neal@wealthpilgrim´s last blog ..Simple Ideas for a Balanced Life =-.

  9. Monevator says

    Firstly, send the ladies in mini-skirts around to my place. I’m hiring. Muhahaha.

    Secondly, I agree with all your tips (including that one about attire) but I’d just add for the real A-list jobs the interview can actually happen outside of the room/formal interview.

    For instance, if you’re ever invited to arrive with three other candidates the day before the interview for dinner with the partners and get stuck in a hotel ‘because they appreciate the effort’ or ‘they want you to relax’ or anything like that, you’ve been warned – you’re already being interviewed, with your head in a bowl of cheesecake! ;)
    .-= Monevator´s last blog ..US historical asset class returns =-.

  10. Boris says

    Sam,
    An additional advice that I would provide is to keep in mind that in a job interview the job seeker is not the only one being evaluated. The job seeker as well should be evaluating the company and his/her possible future boss… When the job seeker is aware of this, the attitude will change totally, gaining confidence and for sure, leaving a better impression.
    All the best,
    Boris
    .-= Boris´s last blog ..Your mission, should you decide to accept it… =-.

  11. Texas Cowboy says

    Bennett told the youngsters out there: “My tip is to inject some personality into the discussion. Say something controversial or intimate.”

    NO!

    An interview is not a time to prove your avant garde off-beat wit and cleverness. An interview is a serious appraisal of the skills, presentation, and communication skills of the candidate. Thinking and responding on your feet is always fine, and responding in kind to an incidental small humorous gesture that may occur, BY THE INTERVIEWER, is fine, but you must follow the lead of the person doing the interview. As a former hiring manager of a Fortune 500 company I can tell you that the unemployed Mr. Bennett’s advice on interview skills is hardly likely to leave you in good stead. Stick with the pros.

    Frankly, when I would detect a ‘pretender’ trying to put on a corporate face when it did not appear to be their true nature, I would indeed relax the interview, (over lunch is ideal for this) and get quite casual, and get a different perspective on the candidate. If they *then* started using slang, or adopted an immature or unprofessional attitude, then I knew this was not a candidate for us. Hiring: serious business. Not for the amateurs.

  12. Rob Bennett says

    but you must follow the lead of the person doing the interview.

    This phrase points to the source of our disagreement, Cowboy.

    I see an interview as a two-way street. Yes, the company is trying to find out if I fit. But I am also trying to find out if the company fits.

    I mean no personal offense, but I think it would be fair to say that I would not be happy working for a company in which you personified the corporate personality. It’s better that you find out where I am coming from right up front and it is better that I find out where you are coming from right up front.

    Could I win a job with your company by pretending to lack a personality for the length of an interview? Perhaps. But what is it that I would have “won” by doing so?

    My personality is a big part of what I bring to the table when I consider working for a company. Some companies see the value in it and some do not. I want to be working for the companies that see it. You would respond negatively in an interview to a show of personality. That’s something I want to know before I hand in a resignation from the job I am thinking of leaving to join yours.

    Rob
    .-= Rob Bennett´s last blog ..What Is a Bear Market and What Is a Bull Market? =-.

    • admin says

      Rob, I forget, but do you work for yourself or for a company? I think you would be quite an interesting person to interview. Do you think you would do more of the talking or more of the listening, or 50/50?

  13. Don@MoneyReasons says

    Another great post!

    Over course everybody should realize that the way you handle the interview would depend on other factors too, like the position, your age, your current socio-economical stature, how desperate you are for the job, etc …

    As for talking politics, unless your interviewer has pictures of Obama or Palin on the wall, keep that to yourself (this is common sense, I would hope)…
    .-= Don@MoneyReasons´s last blog ..What I Have Learned To Date From Blogging! =-.

    • admin says

      It’s important that the more desperate you are for the job the more you keep yourself calm and not show your desperation. Got to be mindful of this! Gosh, everything seems to go back to dating again…. I might have to just write another follow up.

      Wouldn’t it be funny if the interviewer purposely put a picture of Sarah Palin, to see how the interviewee would react but secretly disliked her? Tricky!
      .-= admin´s last blog ..The Best Financial Advice I’ve Ever Heard From A Comedian =-.

  14. Texas Cowboy says

    @ Rob “I mean no personal offense, but I think it would be fair to say that I would not be happy working for a company in which you personified the corporate personality.

    None taken. I think we are in COMPLETE agreement.

  15. Charlie says

    sweaty hands are pretty darn gross. I understand people are nervous, just please wipe your hand on your pants subtly first! Otherwise all I’ll be thinking about during the interview is how much I want to go wash my hand. …Great question btw!

  16. Rob Bennett says

    Rob, I forget, but do you work for yourself or for a company?

    I’m working for myself, Sam. I saved like a madman so that I could live on investments while I built a web business. The idea is to build my web site until it is bringing in millions. The work is incredibly fulfilling — the best! The pay so far has been real, real, real, real bad. That’s been the one downside thus far for sure.

    I think you would be quite an interesting person to interview.

    I think I understand why you say that. The reality is that you’ve probably formed a bit of a wrong impression. In real life, I am a mild-mannered, unassuming, shy person. The reason why you’re seeing it different is that I’ve become famous as the Leading Critic of Buy-and-Hold in the Known Universe, and being in that position has forced me to be a bit more assertive than is my norm.

    None of this was my idea, I assure you. There was a fellow who knew me from the pre-May 13, 2002, days who asked “Whatever happened to that puppy-dog poster we all knew and loved?” I’m the same guy. It’s just that I’ve been placed in circumstances in which I need to open up the possibility of criticism of Buy-and-Hold at the various boards and blogs and there are certain individuals (grrrr…) who don’t want to see that happen. And it takes a tough man to make a tender chicken. So I am pretending for a time to be a tough guy, you see?

    Do you think you would do more of the talking or more of the listening, or 50/50?

    More listening except in unusual circumstances.

    I takes a lot to get me to open up. I won’t talk unless I am sure that people are interested in what I have to say. But, once I get the idea that people are interested in something that I believe I know something about, then there’s no stopping me. That’s what happened in The Great SWR Debate. There were enough people who expressed interest that I came to feel an obligation to help them hear what it is that they are trying to hear. I am a shy person but I am also a determined person. We’re allowed to have more than one personality trait.

    On an interview, I would usually be listening. But, yes, if the talk turned to something where I had had an unusual experience or where I possessed a special expertise, then I would dominate for a bit. My style is to keep quiet until the discussion turns to a subject where I possess a special expertise, then go wild.

    I get people commenting on my long posts all the time. What they miss is that all the posts that I don’t submit have zero words in them! I don’t comment on a high percentage of subjects. There are only a few re which I feel I know something of value. Re those, yes, I feel an obligation to share all I know. I see it as paying back for all I learned when the discussion was on something re which I didn’t feel competent to comment.

    The mistake that people who are trying to shut me up sometimes make is to barrage me with insincere questions. That never works! I just answer the questions for the benefit of all those who really want to know the answers. I ignore the nasty context and respond as if the question is sincere and as if the person asking really wants to know the answer. And I just do the best I can to respond effectively.

    You asked!

    Rob
    .-= Rob Bennett´s last blog ..When Stock Prices Crash, Where Does the Money Go? =-.

  17. The Rat says

    Personally, I would rather show up at an interview overdressed such as having a tie and sports jacket with dress pants instead of a more casual open dress shirt concept if I wasn’t sure about what was more expected. Sometimes calling the potential employer and asking “what should I wear” can be ridiculous, so you just go with what you think is appropriate.

    I interviewed a candidate a while back who showed up 15 minutes late for an interview and I think that pissed me off more than someone coming in with a baseball cap on just a week earlier.
    .-= The Rat´s last blog ..Setting Up An Online Discount Brokerage Account & Investing On Your Own =-.

      • The Rat says

        True, but candidates were limited and this person had a kick-ass resume;
        we gave the person the benefit of the doubt considering the circumstances.
        The candidate didn’t get hired, needless to say.
        .-= The Rat´s last blog ..The Dow’s Dogs And Underdogs: Got Bite? =-.

      • Invest It Wisely says

        So let’s say there might be an accident on the roads or something else crazy that might cause you to be late. So instead of coming in super early, just get to the area super early but hang out in a cafe or something until closer to the time?

        • Financial Samurai says

          Exactly. B/c if you come late, it doesn’t matter what reason it is, it’s still an excuse which sets bad precedent. There will be hundreds of other qualified people who want the job who will be on time.

  18. geek says

    Dress 1/2 step up is always good. Some people will pity the mini-skirt and other clubwear interviewees, but no matter what you’re being judged.
    I don’t notice if someone dresses 1/2 step up. I DO notice suits or Seattle grunge. You want your clothing to not be noticed.

    • admin says

      Love that saying! Yes, I would love the principles of The Navy. Have a related post coming up sometime soon. I HATE tardiness. It kills me.

  19. MossySF says

    My secret weapon was bringing a portfolio of my work. Yes, you can make portfolios even if you work in an ordinary office job. When we would start on my work history, I’d bring out my 500 page portfolio. What better way to PROVE your past projects, your attention to detail, your writing ability? This tactic has yet to fail me although I’m on the interviewing side instead now. And no, I rarely see anybody even provide an online portfolio. The one or two who do always go to the top of our candidate list.

      • MossySF says

        Software projects — either official documentation I wrote myself or the major screenshots. I also included several of my art projects at the end. 500 pages sounds like a lot but when you’ve been writing computer programs since age 15, a few pages here and there for each major project adds up pretty fast.

        Of course, this was before the internet so I had to print it out. Nowadays — if I was still in the market for a 9-to-5 job — I’d make an online portfolio with all the details and just a one page summary for each project for the printed version. Still would add up to quite a lot of pages.

  20. FinEngr says

    What I don’t get about #1 is why/how would you ever arrive early??

    Due to an obsession with over-planning, I often arrive 10-20 minutes early for many things. While growing up I was told, if you’re early you’re on time and if you’re on time you’re late.

    Though you may get quisitive looks from security, you could always stand outside the building, scout out the elevator lobby, or map your different ingress/egress points before you ever make it into the actual office.
    .-= FinEngr´s last blog ..3-Month Performance Review =-.

  21. Roger says

    Ah, good list of interview tips, FS; I’ll have to put them to use during my next interview. I don’t know that there’s too much more to add. One note I would make is that, if you are in a fairly technical field and/or have a technical job, you will likely find yourself being interviewed by someone who doesn’t have your technical knowledge. Being able to explain what you do without a lot of technical jargon to someone from HR is an invaluable skill while searching for a new job.
    .-= Roger´s last blog ..Beware the Ides of…April? =-.

    • Roger says

      Also, I didn’t notice it at first, but you’ve broken 50,000! Congratulations, my friend; enjoy being at the top of the heap!
      .-= Roger´s last blog ..Beware the Ides of…April? =-.

  22. James says

    all great tips the one i like the best is interview them as much as they interview you.

    i truly believe you should do as much research as possible to get an understanding of your possible new company but don’t be afraid to ask people information about the culture, how long they have been there, how many people they are looking to hire, opportunities for advancement.

    no questions is off basis. the last thing you want to do is get the job and find out this is not the place you thought it was.

    • admin says

      You’re exactly right. Research the company as much as possible, b/c it’s a two way street. Imagine getting the job and saying ‘oops’, this ain’t for me.

  23. 30/60/90-day Sales Plan says

    These are excellent tips, especially the research one. If you happen to be in sales, you can use that research to create a 30/60/90-day sales plan to show the hiring manager what you intend to accomplish at the company in the first 3 months. It’s an “above-and-beyond” approach that really impresses hiring managers and helps them to see you in the job.
    Best of Luck,
    Peggy McKee

  24. Bill | Binary Options Trader says

    The last tip is one of the most important yet forgotten tips, make sure you followup within 24 hours. This shows that you are driven and really interested in landing the job. To be honest you’re going to have to follow all these steps and beyond to land a good gig in this market environment.

  25. Charles Christian says

    I just turned 70. I must have a small brain. I don’t get it in the example that started the discussion. Why doesn’t a second lap speed of 90 mph make the average for the two laps to be 60 mph. Two minutes has nothing to do with the answer since it was not stated in the problem that the individual only had two minutes to finish the race. Some one be kind to me and explain. Otherwise I will go out in the icy snow up here in Alaska and hope a hungry wolf doesn’t wander by.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Because it takes 2 minutes of total time to average 60mph for both laps on a one mile long lap. What is speed but a measure of time?

      If you went 30mph in lap one, it’s already taken you 2 minutes, leaving u with no time left.

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