3 Lessons from Over 40 Interviews In One Semester

Image taken on my trip to China, after my senior year job search.
Taken on Mount Huangshan in the Anhui province of China. Reward for landing that job.

Let me tell you about my senior year job search.

Over the course of one semester, I interviewed with 46 different companies, advanced onto 11 final round interviews, and received 3 job offers.

Pack this on top of a taking six classes (I know!) and serving as the treasurer of my fraternity, and I had myself a wild ride.

It was do or die – land a job or graduate in December unemployed.

Thus began the journey taking me across 5 different states, plenty of late nights, and a lifetime of learnings on process, story, and perseverance.

(Somehow, even with everything that was going on, I managed to get my second-highest GPA this semester).

The Job Search Is About Process

Learning from my mishaps last fall during junior year recruiting, I made sure to stay on top of deadlines by applying to 5-10 different positions on my school’s career website weeks before the interviews began. In addition, I did my research beforehand, contacting alumni from my school in the positions I was interviewing for.

However, I realized that I could have used more practice! Going into my first interview for a position in sales and marketing at a boutique investment manager, I, rusty from months of no practice, stumbled in my responses both in content and delivery. Unsurprisingly, I did not advance to the next round.

Rather than spend too much time sulking around, I used the learnings to create a spreadsheet capturing company-specific information and common interview questions and responses. I also added two columns to fill in after the interview, one to note the questions asked during that interview and the other to reflect on what I could do better for the next one.  

Armed with this structure, I referred to this document before and after each interview, following the same process for each position: every night, after finishing my schoolwork, I would apply to 5-10 positions, tailoring my resume and cover letter for each role. Upon getting notification of an upcoming interview, I’d create a Google Doc to prepare, focusing on points such as my story, relevant professional experience, and job-specific technical questions. After interviewing, I would then document how the interview went, what I had trouble with, and main takeaways.

Though my senior year job search got off to a shaky start, I learned from initial setbacks and created processes to get better.

Your Story Helps Your Search

Job hunting is extremely competitive. It’s hard to stick out when applicant is a qualified candidate – hence the importance of your story.

Though I was applying to a variety of jobs ranging from investment banking to marketing, I had to present my experiences in a cohesive narrative fit for the role. For each interview, I used the job descriptions and roles and responsibilities as a guideline to explain how each of my prior experiences related to that specific role. All while responding to the first interview question of “walk me through your resume” with a logical story ending in a transition into the next step of the specific role.

I did this with a defined beginning, middle, and end:

  • Beginning – I got my start in business in high school, where I resold electronics on eBay and Craigslist
  • Middle – Through my coursework and internships, I’ve developed skills in research, financial analysis, communication
  • End – I’m looking to apply these skills in __ role, where I hope to learn and grow

First impressions are important.

Behavioral, Technical, and Fit Questions

Interview questions generally fall into the categories of behavioral, technical, and fit.

Behavioral questions try to predict a candidate’s projected ability to do a task. Examples include “tell me a time when you failed” and “how do you work in groups?”. These questions involve reflecting on prior experience to deal with a new situation, and responses reveal an individual’s ability to present information in an organized manner.

My performance in behavioral questions improved as I gained confidence, which helped with leadership training programs at corporates. These organizations focused heavily on these types of questions as they didn’t look for a specific background, just people who could do learn quickly – oftentimes, technical skills could be taught but other qualities remain innate.

On the other hand, technical questions are meant to assess an applicant’s prior knowledge. Companies often look for individuals with specific backgrounds to perform certain functions.

For example, tech companies and investment management companies often recruited computer science graduates over individuals who showed promise, but lacked training. Groups focused in one area hired those with experience in said area – investment banking teams focused on M&A would prefer someone with experience in that field over a parallel field such as capital markets.

Even with the right mindset and technical skills, it’s still important to be someone others want to work with. This is fit, the social aspect, tested with the pre-interview networking sessions, Q&A part of the interview, and the post-interview socials.

When I went to the meals or engagement activities (such as going to a lounge where they served alcohol) after the interview, I knew that it was also an important part of the process. I’d make an effort to get to know those who were there in a casual way, trying to have fun. It felt like rushing a fraternity – you’d want to have other things to talk about than just work. I took time to get better at making this small talk, a skill I continue to work on.

Job Searching Is About Perseverance

At the end of the day, job hunting can be a complete crapshoot because both the employer and the candidate operate on limited information. Oftentimes, the most qualified individual is NOT the one hired for the job – disheartening, yes, but not enough of a cause to give up.

To put it into perspective, there are many positions out there and all it takes is one offer to finish the senior year job search.

This requires perseverance. To keep going: applying to roles, preparing, and interviewing while taking classes. A process I kept up for four whole months. (It would’ve been great to have read some handy job search guides, such as this one, but I learned the hard way)

One day in the middle of December 2015, I received a phone call as I was walking home from an exhausting final exam. I got an offer!

That was quite a relief – I wouldn’t graduate unemployed. Armed with the offer, I went into the rest of my interviews with newfound confidence, securing two more offers and signing one.

In my journey to land a full-time job, I made my way through 46 first-round interviews and 11 final-round interviews to secure 3 offers. Along the way, I gained insights not only into several different industries, but also about myself.

Working full time, the journey continues.

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