Interviewing 101

Surviving the interview process with ease--from getting the inside scoop to answering trick questions to avoiding interview faux pas.
Posted December 19, 2000

Laura Buchwald

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The more seasoned we get in the workforce, and the greater and more varied our qualifications, the higher the stakes become for a successful interview. With an advanced degree comes increased expectations from recruiters. "They expect much more from you after two years in business school than they do after four years of undergrad," says Max Fleming, who holds an MBA from the University of Rochester's William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration and now works for a major investment bank. "Fortunately, they train us well in school."

Most business programs offer elective workshops and seminars on interviewing. Fleming attended seminars on how to interview for different industries--some traditional for an MBA, such as investment banking and consulting; others less typical, such as publishing and high tech. One workshop was based on the premise that different demographics of recruiters expect different things from interviewees. Students were trained in how to interact specifically with male recruiters over 50, female interviewers in the same range, and so on.

The region in which a school is located will often determine the types of industries for which it prepares its students. According to Emmett Bradley, a graduate of Stanford Business School, on the West Coast "there is an increased focus on going to work for a start-up or on starting your own business. This is a function of the environment in Silicon Valley, and the trend has shifted astronomically in this direction over the past four years." As a result, at Stanford there is almost a backlash against investment banks and consulting firms, once perceived as the ultimate goal for MBAs. "It's a cyclical thing," Bradley explains. "In the late '80s, the investment banks were generating the most enthusiasm. In the '90s, it was the consulting companies. Now it's the high-tech industries."

Recruiting Recon

Recruiters who interview on campus follow a couple of different methods for doing so. The more exclusive approach is the closed schedule; companies such as McKinsey will buy a school's resumi book and select candidates they are interested in meeting. Other companies, or those in newer industries such as high tech, will hold interviews in a more open forum; students find out what the different companies' interview schedules are, and drop off their resumi for consideration.

Be in the Know

Joe Fitzpatrick, a graduate of an Ivy League business school, works for a large investment bank and often interviews candidates for his firm. The differences between interviewing for a job at the MBA level are marked, he says. "[With an MBA,] there's a specific level of knowledge that you are expected to have. You are expected to know the basics about the company, and to demonstrate this knowledge through the questions you ask your interviewer."

Margaret Victor, a fund-raising consultant who helps nonprofit companies with their recruiting efforts, agrees: "Do your homework. Research the industry, the company, the specific position." According to Fleming, there are many ways to go about researching: read press releases, trade magazines, the company's annual report. "I got very lucky with my current job," he says. "The day before my interview, my [future] boss was on the cover of Forbes. There was a three-page piece on where he's taking the business." Fitzpatrick adds, "The Web has become an excellent pre-interview research tool. Web sites provide a lot of good information for job hunters."

If the company is privately held, and information is difficult or impossible to come by, Fleming suggests, "Call the company beforehand and try to speak with somebody who works there. Private or public, it's a good idea to speak with people inside the company." The Internet could also prove valuable in either case--check out the company's own site to glean information.

How do you do this? As at most schools, Stanford's career center maintains an extensive list of alumni contacts for graduates looking to network; the database is searchable by industry, company, region, and various other criteria. It's an invaluable tool for gathering information about and making contacts at specific companies you'd like to work for.

For more in-depth, technical articles, subscribe to MBA Jungle. Copyright 2000, Jungle Interactive Media, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

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