Ace the Case: How to Flex Your Intellect in a Case Interview

July 29th, 2008

Case interviews are great opportunities to showcase your smarts. They’re designed to assess your ability to deal with complex problems, to approach an issue strategically and thoughtfully, and to reach intelligent conclusions with the available facts in a short amount of time.

In other words, they’re checking out your judgment, intellect and quick thinking. And those are pretty important skills, so it’s wise to prepare yourself thoroughly for this kind of test.

With that in mind, here are some practical tips for a successful case interview. 

1. Listen Carefully

Maybe this sounds obvious, but it’s absolutely critical: listen very carefully to the problem or case. And make sure that you respond directly to the problem at hand, rather than a side issue. One of the biggest mistakes made in case interviews is misunderstanding the question or answering the wrong one. Try to stay focused.

To avoid any confusion, take the time to repeat the question back to your interviewer. This not only demonstrates your excellent listening abilities to your interviewer, but also ensures that you understand what they’re asking you to do.   

And during the case interview, listen closely for any extra information they give you. Chances are these are helpful clues — so pay attention!

2. Outline your Thought Process and establish a Logical Structure  

Case interviews, as we mentioned, highlight your thought processes. The hiring manager wants to see that you follow a rational, structured approach to problem-solving.

How do you do this? Outline four to five major issues that need to be examined upfront before you can address the big issue. And then describe your overall problem-solving approach to your interviewer. This demonstrates to your interviewer that you can take a complex problem and break it down into manageable components.   

The natural conclusion for your interviewer? That you’re logical, thorough, and mentally organized.

As part of your explanation, share why you are addressing each point, and convey where it fits into the overall problem at hand. If any part of your approach is wrong or missing something, the interviewer has a chance to redirect you at that point.

 

 

3. Ask for More Information

 

If you find yourself needing more information relax it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for clarification. In fact, most interviewers expect you to ask for it. Most of them want you to ask for it.

 

 

 

But, again, make sure you understand where each question fits into the overall picture. Don’t make the mistake of firing off a bunch of questions without understanding where they fit into the bigger picture, or without explaining to the interviewer why you need the information.

 

 

4. Talk it out

 

And this is why you need to talk it out: because the employer is far more interested in your thought process than the actual solution. So do your best to verbalize your mental journey, to walk your interviewer through your problem-solving process.

In some cases, you’ll run out of time before you even have the opportunity to present your conclusion. In these situations, it’s even more important to talk through your reasoning out loud.

 

 

5. Step back and Summarize from Time to Time

 

Take time to step back periodically and summarize the conclusions you have been able to form so far and what the implications may be.

 

 

This is especially helpful when you don’t have the time to talk through all the key issues or the entire case. The summary demonstrates to your interviewer early on in the case that you can synthesize information and draw conclusions.

 

 

And remember that the whole point of the case interview is to understand your ability to think and reason logically so don’t get hung up on solving the mystery. Rather, pour your energy into demonstrating a logical thought process.

 

 

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Expect the Unexpected: How to Handle Interview Brainteasers

July 24th, 2008

Some questions you can prepare for. You can rehearse. Maybe even memorize an answer. But all the studying in the world won’t help you when the hiring manager asks you something out of left field, like,  “How many potholes are on Manhattan Island?”

That element of surprise is the whole purpose of the interview brainteaser. And hiring managers in the finance world love to toss these out to see how you approach, analyze, and solve problems (especially those that are wildly unfamiliar). Of course, they also want to see how you react to the unexpected — in other words, how you handle stress.

Because brainteasers are generally unstructured, it’s difficult to lay-out a proven methodology to answer them. But here are a couple ways to prepare yourself for the unexpected.

Tip #1:  Take notes

Make sure to take notes when the hiring manager is giving you the brainteaser, especially if it’s heavy on the numbers. This will help you think through your response — and ensure that you don’t get flustered trying to keep it all straight! You’d be surprised how easy it is to forget the simplest numbers when you’re under pressure.

Taking notes also shows the interviewer that you’re detail-oriented and an active listener — great qualities in any potential employee.

Tip #2: Treat the brainteaser as a conversation/intellectual exploration

The good news is: the right answer is not necessarily the most important part of the brainteaser. How you arrive at your answer is every bit as telling.

It’s important to have a clear framework with which to tackle the problem. One way to do it: think of this situation as a conversation over coffee with a friend. Pretend the hiring manager asking the brain teaser doesn’t know the answer (he might not!), so it will feel like you’re trying to solve the problem together. In a conversation, it’s perfectly fine to ask for more data or information.

(This conversation approach may also paint you as more of an “intellectual team player” than a “competitive know-it-all.”)

Tip #3:  Try answering the problem out loud

When it comes to brainteasers, the questions you ask speak volumes about your thought process. So once you outline the framework, explore possible answers and alternatives out loud. With this strategy, you’re taking the conversation approach one step further.

This method also gives the interviewer a chance to help you out. If you do get off track, he or she will know it right away and can redirect you. That gives you a second chance to try again — and at least save face. And who knows — that redirection just might help you come up with the right answer!

While you can’t know what to expect from a brainteaser, you can at least have a strategy for handling them. Next time you’re at a bookstore, why not pick up a book of brainteasers and practice with your friends.

Above all: remember to relax. Be open-minded and creative, but rational.

About The Résumé Girl

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Three Good Ways to Answer the “What’s Your Weakness?” Question

July 21st, 2008

It’s the most dreaded question in any job interview. “What’s your greatest weakness?”

Everyone fears it, and no one knows how to answer it. Plenty of us have tried to pass off canned answers like “I’m too much of a perfectionist” or the always popular “I’m a bit of a workaholic.” If you haven’t found out already, these just don’t work.

Chances are your interviewer has heard them before. So she’ll probably turn around and say, “Well, that sounds like a strength to me. Can you give me another weakness?” And then you’re back where you started from.

So, what is the best way to respond to this question? The key is to understand why hiring managers ask it in the first place. More than anything, they want to see how you’ll respond how well you maintain your composure under pressure.

With that in mind, here are a few ways to tackle the dreaded “what’s your weakness?” question.

Tip #1: Only admit to a minor weakness 

Cop to a small weakness — but one that could also suggest an upside. Instead of trying to pass off a blatant strength as a weakness (e.g., the perfectionist line), go ahead and confess a small weakness that more subtly hints at a positive flipside.

Admit, for example, that you are impatient. That’s a weakness, yes, but it also indicates that you’re high-performing (i.e., not lazy).

An even better way to present that weakness: “I work at a fast rate and find that I need to be more patient with those who don’t.”

Tip #2: Admit a weakness that can be fixed

With this tip, we take that advice a step further. After acknowledging a weakness, explain to the hiring manager what you’re doing to address it.

Let’s use the “impatient” example again here. If you admit that as a weakness, follow up by adding that you’re working on communicating expectations with your associates to help make sure everyone is on the same page. Under the right circumstances, this  strategy can really pay off. Because it not only shows the employer that you’re actively trying to improve, it also shows that you take initiative and have leadership skills.  

Tip #3: If you do confess a real weakness, make sure it’s not a red flag

You don’t want to be that candidate who blurts out potentially damaging information by revealing a real, serious weakness. We all have our flaws, but we don’t need to shout them from the rooftops (especially in a job interview)!

The key is not to disclose anything that can make you seem like a problem worker. Saying things like, “I’m not a team player” or “I’m typically late” will set off serious alarms in the mind of the interviewer. Maybe those are obvious. But what if you say essentially the same thing in less direct words?

If you’re frequently late, for example, or you procrastinate, you might dress it up by saying, “I need to work on my time management.” Sure, that sounds a little better than words like “lazy” and “procrastinator”, but your interviewer’s going to reach the same conclusion regardless.

So if you do decide to disclose a real weakness, choose one that is irrelevant to the position you’re up for (e.g., if you’re working with numbers all day, you could say that you’re not a fantastic writer).

Coming up with one answer is hard enough, but I recommend jotting down four. Why? Because I’ve often heard the “what’s your greatest weakness” question come in the form of “tell me your top three greatest weaknesses.” Scary, but true!

Prepare for the worst-case scenario, and hope for the best. And do not forget: practice, practice, practice. Rehearse your answers out loud so you can breeze right through the trickiest question without breaking a sweat.

Expert advice brought to you by The Résumé Girl

 

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I’m here to help you with résumés, cover letters and professional interview coaching.

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References ?

June 19th, 2008

Many candidates and professionals ask, “Who should I use as references when I am actively looking for a new position?”  The simple answer is any professional who can effectively communicate to your future employer four main points:

1.       Your work experience – your present and past responsibilities

2.       Communication skills  - both written and verbal, public speaking ability

3.       Personality – your drive, ability to handle stress, quick learner, etc.

4.       Work successes and professional goals  - promotions, awards, employee rating

This person should have first hand knowledge of these areas and ideally be your manager, client,  or work peer.  The tough question becomes, “Who to ask when you do not want anyone at your present employer to know that you are actively searching for a new role?”

In this case you must rely on your previous managers, clients and co-workers to act as a reference on your behalf for your potential new employer.  Ideally your relationship with these previous contacts has been maintained by you even though you no longer work with/for them. Ideally you would have worked with these individuals directly within the last five years. 

Of course the best and most powerful reference usually is from a present manager, client or work peer and you should look hard at your present relationships to see if there is anyone who you may trust with providing a reference while not informing anyone else of your intentions.  Your manager is usually the last person on this list but in many cases a co-worker or client can be a good resource. If you are applying for a client service role, an excellent reference from a present client can seal deal for you.  Also think about anyone who has recently left your present firm who may be able to provide a reference for you?

 

I highly suggest that you always contact anyone who you may desire to put on your reference list and ask for their permission before doing so.  This provides them with an easy out if they either do not want to give you a reference or would give you a bad reference.  Follow up with those individuals on your list and let them know if they should be expecting a call and from whom. If they are expecting a call they will be prepared to talk about you and will also be keeping alert for the call which in today’s business world can be very important.

Students and Recent Grads  Two quick points:

 

 

  1. Your parents and family members are not good references unless they have a pre-existing relationship with whomever you are interviewing with

 

 

     2.  Excellent references are Teachers, Coaches, Summer Employment Managers, Internships Advisors, Mentors, and Present Managers

 Conclusion

In today’s litigious world many companies have policies against providing references to other employers and therefore getting people to provide references except by their closest working relationships has gotten much harder. Many firms specifically tell managers to not provide references and if the managers are found to have provided references this can have an adverse reaction to their own professional career.

To be honest, the truth is that in today’s world many employers do not put a ton of value in references unless they are coming from their own associates or established business relationships, but you must always be prepared to provide a list of references.  Furthermore it is your job to make sure the list is active and correct. 

 

A New Hedge Fund Strategy Emerges – With Amazing Perks

June 18th, 2008

As has been discussed and hypothesized in this Blog for the last few weeks with the success of Big Brown (and yes I know he did finish last at Belmont) there has emerged a new Hedge Fund strategy based on the success of future race horses.  We have mentioned in the past, Big Brown’s owners International Equine Acquisitions Holdings have planned to start marketing a horse based Hedge Fund this coming fall with the hope of raising $100million. 

Just a week ago it was announced that another collection of Horse Racing Legends were in the final stages of creating a Hedge Fund based on the future earnings of race horses.  The team for this new fund includes Nick Zitto, D. Wayne Lucas and Bob Baffert; all successful professionals in the horse racing field.  The fund Thoroughbred Legends Racing Fund is looking to raise around $100 million as well and will focus on identifying high potential horses early in their life span.

As with a traditional fund the fee structure is believed to be 2% and 20%.  Although this fund will look to make investments in horses as early as possible, hoping to avoid high cost bidding wars at the auctions, their entrance into the space will still cause the prices paid for these horses to increase.  As these prices increase so will everything else about the horse racing business.

Since both funds hope to own numerous horses and hence spread their risk out over as many as a hundred horses, even less pedigreed horses will have to be added to their stables.  These long shots will be where the real alpha could be produced even if the horses do not make it to the Breeder’s cup. And more importantly, to assure the funds return positive numbers these horses will compete in races throughout the country and a more operational/business management component I believe will become a greater part of the horse racing industry.

As I discussed in earlier Blogs I believe these funds will probably be able to raise the AUM they desire for a few main reasons:

1. The strategy has no correlation to the more traditional investment benchmarks. 

2. The assets behind the strategy can be traded and sold off at any point of the investment.

3. Although the goal is for your horse to win, this is not necessary to make a return on your investment.

4. A winning horse can offer a profitable revenue stream for many years; hence enabling the fund to show a consistent non-correlated alpha producing return for many years.

5. What other investment allows you at the next Kentucky Derby to raise a Mint Julep in the owner’s box to your horse. And if your horse wins, allows you to celebrate down in The Winner’s Circle - no other hedge fund investment has those perks!

7 Ways to Get Ready for Your Phone Interview

June 16th, 2008

Got a phone interview? Congratulations! This is your big chance to make that all-important first impression.

Yes, there is some pressure. Just because it’s a phone call doesn’t mean it’s any less crucial to you getting the job. You don’t need to stress out over it — you can do this! — but you do need to prepare.

Want some help? These seven steps will get you ready to ace your phone interview.

1.       Set a Time in Advance  You may think you’re being flexible or courteous by telling the interviewer to call you whenever it works for them, but it’s truly better for everybody if you arrange a date and time in advance. That way, you’re both available, prepared and can give your full attention to the other person. Most interviewers prefer this option over a never-ending game of phone tag.

 

Setting a time also gives you the chance to gather your paperwork, collect your thoughts and find a quiet place to take the call. Speaking of which…

2.       Choose a Good Location

Be choosy when selecting a location for your phone interview. Make sure it’s a quiet, tranquil place, free from distractions. Pick a spot you know well (so you won’t be surprised by unexpected noises or people).

If you’re job-hunting while currently employed — and your boss doesn’t know you’re looking — don’t take the call at the office. No matter how quiet it is, or how careful you think you’re being, the office is out of the question.

 

 

 

I recommend a home office (if you have one) or any room with a door that can shut out most of the noise and traffic around you.

3.       Gather Your Materials

Just because you’re on the phone doesn’t mean you won’t need the usual interview materials. Have a pen and paper handy to take notes, and keep your résumé within reach (if you draw a blank on a question, your résumé probably has the answers).

 

Your résumé is also a good reminder of how you’ve presented yourself to the person on the other end. Be consistent in how you describe your experience and qualifications, using your résumé as a guideline.

For my clients, I take it one step further. I have them complete my Interview Cheat Sheet ahead of time and keep it in front of them during the interview. (Want your own cheat sheet? Stop by my site http://www.TheResumeGirl.com)

 

 

 

All that talking, coupled with good old-fashioned nervousness, might leave you parched midway through the interview. Keep a glass of water on hand in case you need to whet your whistle or quiet a coughing fit.

4.       Answer the Phone Professionally

Answering the phone is the employer’s first live impression of you — it’s like the in-person handshake — and you must make it count.

 

I recommend answering “Hello. This is {first name}.” It’s not only professional but it also eliminates the awkward guessing game. The interviewer will know she’s talking to the right person right away.

 

If you have a shared phone line, let everyone know you’re expecting an important call and that you want to be the one who answers. Now is a good time to make sure your voice mail greeting is professional, too. Because while your friends might love calling your voice mail just to hear that one quote from Zoolander, employers won’t be impressed.

 5.       Dress to Impress

What? You’re on the phone, right? The interviewer can’t even see you!

 

True, but multiple studies have shown that people who dress professionally act more professionally. Think about it: if you’re lounging on the couch in your jammies, you’re not going to feel like — or speak like— a polished pro.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to bring out your three-piece suit and tie. Find something that’s comfortable without being too casual.

 

 

6.       Actively Listen and Talk

Because the interviewer can’t see you, you have to use your voice and listening abilities to communicate your professionalism and interest.

A great way to showcase your communication skills is to use active listening techniques like repeating questions back to the interviewer, and referencing earlier points in the call throughout the discussion.

 

 

 

7.       Land an In-Person Interview

In the simplest terms, the phone interview is just a low-cost way for the company to figure out if you’re worth the time to bring you into the office for a face-to-face interview. So to make the cut, you need to give your interviewer a reason to want to meet you in person.

For instance, if your interviewer asks if you have any questions or comments, let them know that you have some ideas you’d like to share. Tell them you’d love the opportunity to talk more about these ideas in person!

 

 

 

About The Résumé GirlLike these tips? Want more?
Visit my website www.TheResumeGirl.com to schedule your free initial consultation!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview Tips Part 2

June 12th, 2008

Here is the second half of our Interview Tips:

1.  When you arrive at the office make sure that you treat everyone you meet with respect and consideration. You need to make a positive impression on everyone for you never know who has a say in your candidacy.  I actually know one firm which will question everyone who meets the candidate from the receptionist up, and all of their input has value.

2.  When you meet your interviewer make sure to look them in the eyes and greet them with a firm hand shake.  Remember your manners. In today’s world they can set you apart from your competition.

3.  When you meet your interviewer make sure to look them in the eyes and greet them with a firm hand shake.  Remember your manners. In today’s world they can set you apart from your competition.

4.  Show your passion for the investing.  People want to hire people who have the passion for the same things.

      5.  Always remember to write a Thank You note and yes they can be emailed, emailing the note does get it to the recipient much quicker then any other method which can show passion and keep you fresh in their mind. A hand written note goes very far in today’s world if it is received within 24 hours and is readable. Try to write a thank you note to everyone you meet with for at least 10 minutes, so make sure to get business cards.

Private Equity Paths

June 10th, 2008

Not all Private Equity firm are alike and it is these differences which intelligent and professional candidates need to identify to be successful in obtaining a role with a Private Equity firm.  Although this is a somewhat broad brush stroke the argument can easily be made that there are two main types of Private Equity funds: transactional and operational.

For candidates interested in making a career in the Private Equity space they must first understand the nature of the business so they can know not only who to apply to for  a position but more importantly how to properly position themselves with each firm.

A transactional fund looks for deals where they can pay below book value or the smallest premium possible for an entity and then resell the entity in a few months to a competitor/partner or perhaps a few years for larger premium.  These funds are looking for an entity that may be out of favor at the present time but within a couple of years “at most” they believe will be highly desired.  Furthermore they look for an entity which they believe may be worth more money broken up into smaller pieces, rather then kept whole.

These firms are looking for people with strong investment banking experience accompanied with solid transactional experience.  They want financial modelers and individuals who can identify value within the different parts of the capital structure of an entity.  These transaction oriented firms typically hire from the major investment banks and in a down market such as the present one, they may hire senior investment bankers. 

An operational fund looks for deals where they can acquire an entity which they feel is being mis-managed or run inefficiently by present management.  Or they may be looking for deals where a company is searching for additional capital or operational expertise to perhaps increase their product line or build a new factory to increase production.  

Since this value is predominately achieved by streamlining operations and enabling the firms to run more effectively these Private Equity funds look for individuals who possess operational experience. These funds recruit heavily out of the management consultant ranks and other operating companies. They value candidate with real life experience and in many cases either proven operators or individuals with a strong operational foundation.

Since there are two types of funds it is very important for candidates to not only understand the value their experience offers the funds, but also which funds will properly value this experience due to their firms investment strategy.  Furthermore it is very important for candidates to know what type of work they enjoy performing. Obviously there are big differences between these two strategies and the professional career paths that are associated with these two types of firms. 

Interview Tips Part One

June 5th, 2008

For today’s recruiting focused Blog I wanted to offer some Interview Tips which in today’s market seem to be even more important because you need to set yourself apart from the competition in order to get that exciting new job.

  1. Always be prepared for your interview.  Prior to your interview visit the firm’s website and carefully review the entire website. This also includes reading the papers the morning of your interview or searching the web to see if any articles have come up regarding the firm where you will be interviewing.  If you have access to a Bloomberg machine I would suggest looking up the firm right before your interview.  In the case of most Hedge Funds this will require you receiving a password from the firm prior to the interview.  Most firms are very open to providing you the password if you ask, so ask!

  2. Plan to arrive 5 to 10 minutes early to any interview.  This provides you some extra time if something should go wrong.  As well if the firm requires you to fill out an application this will enable you to start the process earlier and not be rushed.  If an application needs to be filled out complete it to the best of your ability at that time, if need be send a follow up email with additional information.

  3. When reviewing the firm’s website make sure to read the bio of the individual who is interviewing you if available.  Your goal is to find a commonality between the two of you which you can offer during the interview. This shows that not only have you reviewed their website, i.e. done your home work, but also when you leave he will have something meaningful to remember you by.

  4. Try your best to be properly dressed for the interview; this has become much harder in today’s more casual marketplace.  Some firms still wear suits while other have gone business casual.  If you can identify the environment of the firm feel free to wear what ever is the firms environment but otherwise I would always suggested wearing a suit.  If you are worried a suit may be too formal, put a fun tie into the outfit, this will show your personality, and most likely one of your passions.

  5. Ask well thought out questions, questions which show you have prepared yourself for the interview.

Tip’s 6-10 next week!

Hedge Fund Blog

June 4th, 2008

In response to a recent email I received I decided to list a few of the Hedge Fund Blogs that I know of out on the web.  For the most part these are blogs that I visit on a regular basis to receive different perspectives regarding events occurring within the Hedge Fund space.

Depending on the specific blog a wide range of issues may be addressed from recent legal changes affecting the hedge fund landscape, to prime brokerage recommendations, to technical analysis, to editorials on investment ideas, to comments about street rumors and major fund implosions and defections.   

 

As I am sure that I do not know of every blog on the web if you can think of any other Hedge Fund blogs I would be very interested in learning about them.

Here is my list in no particular order:

Richard Wilson - covers a wide range of topics but is focused purely on Hedge Funds

Alphaville – covers a wide range of topics and news worthy issues in the investment space including Hedge Funds

Information Arbitrage – written by a Wall Street alum, includes postings on Hedge Funds 

NYT Deal Book – covers a wide range of topics including Private Equity and Hedge Funds

Equity Private - This blog is not focused on Hedge Funds but rather Private Equity but I include it because it can be very funny!