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How to Prepare for an Interview

After going through full-time recruiting at Wharton last fall, I went through 20+ behavioral interviews between different companies. Not a lot by Penn standards, but I got to final rounds on all but one. Primarily, human resource and tech consulting, and then of course Microsoft. 🙂 Behavioral interviews are interviews operating on the belief that past behavior accurately predicts future behavior, and the questions typically ask for examples. They tend to lead off with: “Describe a situation when…”, “Tell me about an instance when…”, “Have you ever had to do X? How did you do it?” Many of the interviews I went through were a blend of both behavioral and traditional, including questions such as: “Why X company and why this job?”, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Be prepared for those questions as well.

To answer these questions, I prepared myself with a list of sample questions. Penn has a list of Sample Interview Questions here, and I also made a list of examples and activities to draw from for a wide range of behavioral questions. You can find a decent list of behavioral questions by googling, like this one here. It is helpful to try to frame the answers you think about in the STAR model (Situation-Task-Action-Result). For example, if asked for an example, the response would first quickly describe the situation (MGMT 101 class), the task or problem faced (Delegating work in a project), the action you took (Made a list and prioritized it with group) and the Result (Split up list for each member).

At the bare minimum, I tend to take about 3–4 hours to research for each interview. Starting from the big picture and moving on to the detail, gain a better understanding of the company you are interviewing for.

  • Datamonitor — Penn gives us access to Datamonitor reports through a resource called Orbis. It is also accessible through Factiva but in a much less readable form. Datamonitor reports provide an excellent broad overview of a company, including their full range of products and services as well as a high-level SWOT analysis and list of competitors.
  • News Releases — I use a search on Google News as well as Yahoo! Finance to get a sense of the latest developments for the company and industry overall. I like to read this as the interview nears because then you know the most recent gossip of mergers, strategic partnerships, etc to ask questions about. 🙂
  • Company Website — Skim the Annual Report and mission statement. Browse specifically to the group you are interviewing for and read anything and everything you can get your hands on.
  • Ping Contacts — Hit up relevant professors from classes or cold-email with research areas related to your job interview. For example, I arranged coffee with an accounting professor specifically interested in how executive compensation relates in to shareholder value. Other suggestions: MBAs can also be very approachable and have relevant experience, as well as any friends that you have that might have interned there.
  • Competitors — Do all of the above for a major competitor in the same industry space if you have time. Knowing what they are doing often lends many insights.

Ideally, if I have a target company that I know I want to interview, I recommend beginning to passively research a few months earlier.

  • Blogs — Especially for tech, I use Google Blog Search and Technorati to find blogs by keywords that are relevant to my industry. I wouldn’t be that surprised to find people from nontech industries blogging too. I personally love Bloglines as an easy way to read many blogs at a time. For instance, I found Gavin Shearer’s blog when I was searching for Microsoft Product Manager and he had some interesting posts describing the MLR program. When I was preparing to interview for MSN, I subscribed to blogs like John Battelle, SEW, Jay Weintraub, MSN Search, Yahoo Search, Google AdSense, Matt Cutts, etc.
  • Books — Relevant books and articles can provide good background on an industry or job. It’s also a pretty good barometer for me on whether or not I even like the job.

OK, while you are doing all of this:

  • Make a list of questions about the company and job. Lots of questions, not just about the company but also have a list of general questions (you can find lists of these online). Go overboard on the questions list because you can filter it later. Even dumb questions are OK, just focus on figuring out what you are interested in or curious about. That way, it’s easy to build rapport and create a dialogue in the Q&A section of your interview.
  • Think about whether or not you even like the company or the work. You are evaluating them just as they are evaluating you. Some of the best interview advice that I got was that I should treat it as a conversational back-and-forth, instead of a barrage of one-way questions.

Penn Specific Advice

  • Don’t overextend and drop your resume for too many jobs. I know people who end up with 7 interviews a day for a week, and I’m convinced they are less prepared because it all begins to blur together (“Hello Goldm — er, Morgan Stanley..”). You lose focus on the ones you really want if you are too distracted.
  • Don’t feel compelled by your concentration to interview and apply for one specific industry.
  • Independent job search is hard but if you’re not finance/consulting then it can be very rewarding.
  • Use the alumni network. By the time you’re a junior, you probably by one or two degrees of separation have access to a company and you don’t even know it.
  • A first job is just that. A first job.

OK, that’s all I can think of right now for interview prep!

Ada Chen