Archive for July, 2008

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

Tuesday, 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.

 

 

Expert Advice Brought to you by The Resume Girl

 

 

Like these tips? Want more?

 

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

Visit www.theresumegirl.com 

 

Expect the Unexpected: How to Handle Interview Brainteasers

Thursday, 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

Like these tips? Want more?  Visit my website www.TheResumeGirl.com to schedule your free initial consultation!

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

Monday, 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

 

Like these tips? Want more?

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

Visit my website www.TheResumeGirl.com to schedule your free initial consultation!