Some years ago while preparing to take part in a competitive event, I found this saying: "Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can't get it wrong." That's exactly how you should approach your next job interview.
Most of us are content to think up likely interview questions, compose answers and try to memorize them. At that point, we may even congratulate ourselves for our diligence. Yet that is really only a preliminary baby-step, observes Harry Urschel, an executive recruiter and blogger in Eden Prairie, Minn.:
A well prepared person writes out their answer, hones the answer to make it as concise and substantive as they can, practices it, hones it further, then practices it further. They practice it into a recorder and listen back to themselves. They practice it to a friend, or relative, or spouse and get feedback. They practice questions from their kids over dinner. They practice in front of a mirror.
Sounds like a lot of work! It is... but you may be competing for the job against someone else that has gone to those lengths. Will you?
You're Competing in the Olympics
Think how much more effectively you would perform in interviews if you took preparation that seriously. With a nod to the Winter Olympics currently under way in western Canada, Urschel suggests that job-seekers should practice as long and hard as champion athletes like figure skating gold medalist Evan Lysacek.
Practice, practice, and more practice sets up a successful performance. Sufficient practice creates confidence. It helps you learn how to compensate for a slight misstep. It makes the performance become second nature and doesn't require as much thought when it counts. It reduces pressure, tension, and stress because you know you've done it dozens of times before.... Even athletes at the Olympic level often only do enough to perform well. However, those that win the gold prepare enough to excel and to be the best.
You needn't look to Olympic athletes for confirmation. Practicing until they "can't get it wrong" is a way of life for pros and would-be pros in most physical sports; in mental sports such as chess; and in the performing arts. In business, we rehearse speeches and presentations for client and company meetings. So why not rehearse interview "performances"?
Of course, even without rehearsals it can be challenging to find sufficient time to research prospective employers, figure out their needs and how you'll solve them - all while devoting 60 or 80 or 100 hours a week to your day-job. After all, you're first and foremost a banker, investor or trader - not an athlete or actor (or serious chess player, God forbid). Still, Urschel's formula, "Practice, practice, and more practice," is an ideal worth striving for.
Interviewing = Impression Management
There are other parallels between interviewing and the performing arts. Interviewing is always more about fitting in than demonstrating technical competence. It is therefore imperative to foster certain perceptions about your intentions and character in the mind of any interviewer - in other words, to manage impressions. That's true regardless of the role and company you are interviewing for, and regardless of your true intentions and character. Mandatory perceptions you must create include:
- You are a naturally positive person who maintains a cheerful, can-do attitude toward every environment and challenge you encounter.
- You have done well and appreciate all the good fortune you've enjoyed in business and life (whether true or not); the help others gave you in your career (whether true or not), and the successes achieved by others such as your interviewer, her boss or her company's CEO (even if you really think they were undeservedly lucky).
- That you love your work and are constantly learning from your awesome, inspiring boss and crackerjack team of co-workers.
Of course, everyone says to never lie in an interview. So if you don't believe one or more of the above three propositions, find a way to convey them without feeling you are lying. If you can't do that, then chasing another job in finance - or just about any profit-seeking occupation - probably amounts to banging your head against a wall.