Master Interviews With Little Preparation

By March 25, 2016HACKing Interviews
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How do you crush an interview when you feel underqualified for the position? Many college students experience nervousness leading up to an interview, particularly when they feel inadequate for the position. Here’s why the interview will go much better than expected and how you can dominate as a result.

When You Know You Don’t Know

A college sophomore recently asked me how to best prepare for an upcoming internship interview. He was a business major, interested in working for a financial firm, but didn’t know much about finance. Obviously, that’s a problem.

But I believe the best way to learn is to actually do the thing you’re trying to learn. Employers know this, too. That’s why employers favor college students with relevant work experience. The issue for this inexperienced student, however, was “how do I obtain relevant work experience, if every job requires work experience?” Considering his lack of work experience, landing this internship would be huge.

Impressively, this student had already locked up an interview (through a friend), so now he just needed to convince the interviewer to hire him.

“How much technical financial understanding do you have?” I asked.

“Not much,” he responded. “I’m only a sophomore and haven’t learned much of the technical side. How should I prepare?” he asked nervously.

Knowing What to Say Is More Valuable Than Knowing It

One option would be to try to cram several semesters’ worth of technical know-how during the weeks leading up to the interview. Not only is this approach stressful, it’s also futile. That’s why I suggested he simply concede knowing the technical aspects of finance for the interview. We needed to find a work-around.

“Memorize the buzzwords,” I said. “For example, know what ‘S&P 500,’ ‘AAPL,’ and ‘bull market’ mean. Then just use these buzzwords as much as possible during the interview.”

Why did I recommend using buzzwords? Because memorization is the easiest and fastest form of learning. And when you’re like this student—with homework to do, class to attend, and exams to pass—there is little time to learn additional technical skills. Buzzword usage provides an incredible bang for the buck during an interview.

Watch this video to see what I mean:

“But what if I am asked technical questions that cannot be deflected through the use of buzzwords?” you object.

Why You Won’t Be Asked Technical Questions During Interview

First, consider that frequently technical mastery is not a perquisite for employment. Instead, technical competency will do. Sure professors often construct their exams to test for technical mastery. But that is not indicative of the real world.

Plus, even if technical questions are asked, they will often not be difficult. Why? Consider the people with the technical know-how. Who are they? The people within the department in which you’ll be working. That means HR personnel (the department that usually conducts interviews) are not equipped to ask you technical questions.

So that leaves it to your prospective boss and his or her coworkers to ask you technical questions. But yet again, the technical questions are likely to be limited. Why? Everyone at the office is busy. People don’t want to take an hour out of their day to interview a college kid. As such, interviews are typically short—often no more than 20 minutes. Long, drawn-out interviews are rare, which means intense, technical questions are also rare.

Start HACKing with Buzzwords

Suppose you were the student who came to me for advice. You are in an interview and are asked, “How would you invest $1 million for a client?” If you merely respond, “I would buy stocks,” your answer does not demonstrate you know anything about finance. A tenth graders knows that. But what if you used buzzwords to formulate your answer: “I would search for assets capable of generating a high return on investment but include a low risk premium.” See how the response gives you so much more credibility? That’s why this approach is called the Buzzword HACK. You can compensate for you lack of understanding just by simply appearing to understand.

Notice, however, there is a difference between industry-specific buzzwords and person-specific buzzwords. Industry-specific buzzwords are good. Person-specific buzzwords are bad. It’s like your friend saying the same joke over and over again. Great the first time; not bad the second time; but annoying the fifth time. That’s often how interviewers feel when they hear a candidate say, “I am a motivated, driven candidate with extensive experience tackling strategic objectives.” Barf. Avoid using these person-specific buzzwords.

So how do you discover the most common buzzwords for your prospective position? Just Google “top 10 [insert industry] terms.”

Using the Buzzword HACK can help you secure highly competitive positions, even positions in which you’re underqualified. It’s a way to crush your interview when you’re short on preparation time.

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