Ace Your Next Interview by Thinking Like an Olympian
In Pyeongchang, the Olympic stage either inspired or intimidated. Red Gerard nailed his final slopestyle run to move from eleventh place into the gold medal spot. Mirai Nagasu delivered her triple Axel to seal a team bronze, and the duo of Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall were the picture of grit and guts.
Yet, many more athletes wilted under the pressure.
Interviewing is no different. While a gold medal may not be at stake, a life-changing career opportunity can hinge upon that half-hour known as the screening interview.
Here are 6 ways where you can take the competitor’s mindset into an interview situation – and win:
Get the Interview! An athlete can’t make the podium if she doesn’t qualify for the Olympics! Make sure your resume describes your relevant experience in adequate detail to maximize your chances of scoring an interview.
Highlight matters you have worked on which are a “skills fit” or an “industry fit” for the role you want. “Drafting and negotiating stock purchase agreements” isn’t as powerful as describing the deals you were staffed on, the roles you played, and the parts of the deal over which you had primary responsibility.
Anticipate which buzzword search terms your interviewer will likely do a “Control-F” for when reading resumes (like “144A”) and make sure to include them.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare. Just because there are mental intangibles inherent in a competitive setting that make it fundamentally different from the most rigorous of practice situations, you cannot discount the importance of prep.
While there are countless variations of questions that an interviewer can ask, they largely fit into two categories: (1) How does your experience make you a good candidate for the job, and (2) Why are you interested in this company and role?
Tailor your answers to #2 to the job you are interviewing for. Don’t be generic when you talk about your why.
If you are currently in the States and seeking to relocate to Asia, be prepared to discuss why you aren’t looking to lateral with your current firm (if your firm has an Asia office). If you are seeking a practice group shift, such as from a capital markets practice to an M&A practice, be prepared to address why the firm you’re interviewing with is the best environment in which to learn a new skill set. If you are currently at a firm and interviewing with a potential in-house employer, talk about specific aspects of the in-house role which appeal to you, such as a chance to play a business-focused role on projects as well as provide legal advice, or work for a company that provides a cutting-edge service or product.
When it’s time to discuss your experience, come armed with a mental list of 2 -3 of your “greatest hits” – deals which you led, deals which involved certain novel complexities, or recent, high-profile deals on which you played a major role.
Prepare a list of questions. The book How To Win Friends And Influence People discussed the power of active listening. Interviewing can come down to “fit”, and there’s one near-foolproof way to get someone to like you – listen to them and ask them targeted questions that show you care.
And remember: when you’re not talking you’re winning.
Get in the Zone. Approach the day of an interview like an athlete would approach the day of a competition. Don’t do anything differently that you haven’t done before. If you aren’t a coffee drinker, don’t chug four espressos right before your interview!
Get to the interview site with time to spare. No one wants to carry the added stress of will-I-be-late into an interview. This may seem a bit extra, but I always advise candidates to arrive at the interview site half an hour early. This will account for any subway failures, traffic jams, or other Murphy’s Law events, and give you time to clear your head before it’s go-time.
Interview More! You can recite your “sales pitch” over and over again, memorize your resume, conduct mock interviews with your recruiter to anticipate potential questions – but nothing will ever prepare you for an interview like another interview.
Because coping with the pressure of go-time is an inherent part of an interview. How can a potential employer have confidence in your ability to tackle high-stakes negotiations with counterparties if you cannot convey the necessary gravitas in a screening call or half-hour meeting?
Learn to Let Go. You can’t control all the variables or predict all possible questions that will be thrown at you. After a point, you’ll have to trust in your preparation. Some interviewers will ask “curveball” questions to unnerve you. You may just not “click” with others. And you may find out the hard way that a strong rapport with an interviewer doesn’t always translate into an offer.
Clear your mind and approach each interview like a conversation instead of an interrogation. Conversations are enjoyable, low-stakes events. Recognize the stakes, put them to one side, and focus on the process over the outcome.
If You Lose, Find Out Why. While post-interview feedback can be hard to come by, sometimes your recruiter might be able to give you some insight on why someone got the nod over you. Most of the time, this variable is something out of your control, like in situations where your potential employer decided to fill the role with an internal transfer, or another candidate had more on-point legal experience or language skills.
But, if there is something you did in the interview which hurt your chances of moving forward, try to find out what it was so you can optimize your approach for next time. Adopt an “always in beta” approach to feedback. After all, you are the only variable which you can control.