Placement Interview : From Many Angles

Recently a student sought a meeting with me to discuss the dos and don’ts in a placement interview. Here is a record of my discussion with her – you can easily make out that the name is changed to prevent identity; but this record of our discussion is true.
I then circulated the draft of this post to some of my students for their comments. Yashaswini and Naveen responded with brilliant observations. Those are insightful. [I am reproducing their views with their permission.] I trust this entire post will be useful to many. Do not hesitate to place your comments; I am sure that you must have a point or two to add.

Madhuri: Hello Sir, I am going to appear for a placement interview and I have a lot of questions on my mind so I sought this meeting.
Vivek: Tell me what those questions are, let us discuss.
M: I am quite nervous about facing the panel in the first place.
V: You should not be nervous about it, all MBAs get placed and surely those with your talent get placed on the first day. And nobody stays in the organisation till his or her retirement, so joining a good company is only a good head-start.
M: yes, but I get nervous facing the panel....
V: It is natural for a young person to be nervous at that stage, but there is a simple trick that you can follow. When the interviewer asks you a question please hear him carefully and then repeat it in your words.
M: Why?
V: If the interviewer knows that you have understood the question well, it reassures him that you are an active listener. But this can’t be applied to small and direct questions when he asks about your hobbies.
M: So give me an example.
V: If the interviewer asks you as to how you will increase market share of a certain product by 2%, please say “I heard you say that I should talk about the strategy I will use to improve market share of product X by 2% in next one year, right?” This is a simple trick that does two things, firstly it allows you some additional time to prepare your answer simultaneously, and secondly it reassures the interviewer that you got the question right.
M: Interesting.
V: How will you answer it?
M: Well, I will talk about increasing number of dealers......
V: Stop there. The interviewer is interested in knowing how you think more than specifics of the answer.
M: So?
V: The way to answer such questions is to disclose your thinking....first talk about what the drivers of market share are, and then talk about how you will handle each one....share of preference, voice and distribution. Remember to move from basics to specifics. That will tell an interviewer how you think.
M: May be I must practice answering such is interesting. Tell me how should I answer when they ask “what are your strengths and weaknesses?”
V:  As an interviewer I was always amused by answers to this question. Students know this question will be asked without fail, so they come very well prepared. They tell strengths disguising them as weaknesses – “When a job is given to me I become very impatient and cannot rest unless it is over” is passed as a weakness! Ha ha!!
M: I too feel that it is so funny. How should I answer it?
V: I have always felt that a good many people do not know their own strengths and weaknesses. I too fall in that category. Moreover there are people who believe that strengths and weaknesses are context specific.
M: Yes....
V: The interviewer wants to know you as a person to come to a conclusion whether or not you are suitable for a job he has in hand.
M: Yes....
V: Then why no tell him how you have changed over last six or seven years; let us say since you passed your 12th.
M: You mean how I have developed as a person. And I should lead the discussion to my development ....
V: Yes. That is the point. Tell the interviewer that it may help him to understand you better as a person. Then tell the interviewer that you have a greater awareness of social problems as a result of your training in the last two years, or that your interactions with union leaders made you aware of different reality, or that some books have made a mark on your mind. And there is a technique of telling this to others.
M: Really? Tell me.....
V: Make a statement first, give example and then explain the point you made. Three steps.
M: Tell me how.....
V: Hmmm.....For example, you may say that a certain book, say Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead, or Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning or the famous book Tuesdays With Morie, - and I am naming these books because these are read by a large number of students – left a mark on your mind. Then step two – explain which book you read and what is the subject of the book  – and then step three - tell the interviewer crisply what it did to you or what appealed to you most. You can do this mentioning an event too.
M: I am now clear about how I should prepare for an interview. One more question....What is one thing I must avoid.
V: Just be your natural self, authentic. Any mask that you put on is easily seen by others and it does not make a good impression. Do not be anything but authentic.

Dear Sir,

It was a very good read. Infact it took me to my interview preperation days. I loved the paraphrasing bit.

As far as a critique is concerned.

          If you want your conversation with Ms.M to be posted, you can surely go ahead and post it.  However, if you are thinking of posting something which will be useful for students to prepare and attend interviews, then you will have to add some more bit.

For me, The Interview is like a movie, the interviewer is the audience and interviewee is the director. For the movie to be impressive, efforts director puts behind the screen is as important as how he presents it to the audience.

  I was hit hard in my summers because I did not prepare for it. I did not want to make the same mistakes in finals. I had devised a plan for my preparation. I hope my preparation helps you in helping other students in preparation.

There are three types of questions any interviewer might ask.

1. General Life and Self questions
      eg. Tell me about your self, Strengths and weaknesses, Achievements etc..
2. Resume Based questions
      eg. Projects done, people met, competitive participations, key achievements on resume.
3. Academic questions
      eg. Questions related to Law, Comp and Benifits, PMS, OB etc....

The strategies for answering these three types of questions is quite different.

1. General Life and Self questions

These questions are usually asked to find more about the person. Most of the questions are already known. Tell me about yourself is surely a starter question. However, the difference one can make is through his/her clarity of what is said and the effectiveness of the tone and the speed at which we say. The answers for these questions should not be too long neither too short. There should be a clear message at the end of answer.

One key point is to make the answers our own. If I dont feel that something is my strength then I can never feel comfortable saying this to others. Hence, even though we say something, We would  have told them I didn't really meant what I say.

When I started my preparation, I collected few of these questions (First got a collection of 20 questions from the net). Selected, 5 questions out of it (Considering my laziness at that time :P). Wrote answers for each of the questions. Got it vetted by my mentor (Snigdha our senior). Incorporated her inputs and rewrote it again.

When I started practicing it,  I could find that it was not easy to put things written in spoken. There was a lot of tweaks that had to be done. I virtually used to go on a walk with the paper with these answers written in it in my hand. Imagine a interviewer, Imagine his reactions when i answer each one of the question and practiced my tone, facial expression, speed and even body language.

Finally, when I was in a position to answer all these 5 questions. I could find my self to have understood me better. I was more confident and clear in what I said.

2. Resume Based questions
      eg. Projects done, people met, competitive participation, key achievements on resume.

These questions are asked to understand what the person has done in past. Indirectly saying I want to know What you have done not who you are or what the company is doing. I spoiled couple of my interviews in summers with these kind of questions, by mixing things up and not answering the what part properly.

Resume preparation(which includes preparing yourself based on resume) becomes the most important trick. Everything in our resume and every word we say based out of that resume should be known to ourselves. {am hinting that if we don't know something or not confident about something, we should not put that on resume.}

       1. Make sure redundant data is not part of your resume
       2. Make information as specific as possible.
       3. Structure resume based on your strength [Highlighting is a way to invite questions...]

I had framed answers for each and every project I did. A simple trick here is to relate each project with something which you have read or worked on. During my fieldwork days, I used to apply leadership theories, in a training model I created. I used expectancy theory in the Summer project working on compensation restructuring. Relating things builds a lot of confidence and gives the interviewer a taste of our application orientation. In other words we tell the interviewer, I not only know things but also can apply based on requirement.

3. Academic questions
      eg. Questions related to Law, Comp and Benifits, PMS, OB etc....

I was weak in this section, These questions are asked to test the knowledge level of the candidate. Usually the consulting company prefers these questions. FMCG might be more concentrating on law questions.

all my days in TISS, it was more of a experiential learning. So, I had to really sit with the books. My approach was to take project i have done in the past. Read all the theory related to the project, so that I can relate each other. Once that is done and feel confident I used to read other chapters of the subjects.

Say, If interviewer asks what is expectancy theory, then I will tell him the definition, how i used it, how is it useful otherwise. With this approach, I had selected only few subjects (Law, Comp & OB) I had taken a risk by not reading all the subjects, however I thought my resume which is in front of them will rule the interview more than the subjects which I have read. Even if they had asked something on which I don't know or I have not worked on, I was prepared to say "Sorry I don't know" {After all you also got to tell them that you are honest ;) }

Sir, hope it helps.

Naveen Keshava

Dear Sir

This was a great read... got me reflecting on my days as an interviewee, dreading the campus placements. And then in the last 2.5 years have been on the other side of the table. I have been to a couple of campus interviews, watching as student after student comes in each carrying so much hope.

There are some things that struck me in this...

The first is your last statement about authenticity. I have been in interviews where I have said “I don’t know” so many times and yet got selected. Where I have been pulled into a discussion where I took a stand and eventually had in the course of the discussion was made to see a different point of view and say “Yes you are right and I am wrong. Your way makes more sense”. But I still got through. I never understood why till I actually stood on the other side and was a listener. I realized it doesn’t matter what u do or don’t know today. What matters is how transparent you are. You need to stop thinking about what they want to hear and think more about what you need to say. I find that the more you think about the former the more you tell yourself that that IS YOU. And then you end up coming across very strange in the interview. The Pen picture of you that an interviewer draws up is incomplete.

So I was glad to read about that piece on authenticity. I don’t know if it is possible for you to elaborate on that further. But it would be great if you could point out how. Everyone tells a student to “be themselves” but it is so hard to capture how.

Also that thing about weaknesses. So many interviewers ask that. The most charming one I have heard (we hired this girl) was “Oh I get so angry at times with people. I have a nasty temper, very low tolerance and can get extremely impatient and when that happens I am highly ineffective and very displeasing to be with”. I wish people would just say it – I can’t plan my time or I am not a good multi tasker or I am not a very good team player, I like to work on my own… an organization that can’t accept or allow weaknesses can’t be a very real place to work in can it?

Finally, almost every time I go to campus, this happens – we interview someone, find him/her highly unsuitable. But we hear in a bit that some other company (usually quite a good one) has picked him/her up. I always used to wonder in the beginning how they could have done so when the drawbacks were so obviously clear. Today, reading this post, it came to me. That one interview with Nokia is NOT who the person is. Nor are the many “bad” interviews. Every interview is a confluence of the moment and the person and the panel and then the biggest of all – chance! All four come together to make the interview a good one. The moment might be wrong and the student may be nervous and trip up. The panel might be a particular kind and not like particular kinds of students. You might have revised Pay for Performance but they asked you about Employee Engagement surveys. Someone told you they grill you on acads but you faced what was an out and out behavioural interview. You never know and no matter how hard you prepare you can never foretell what might happen in that room. So at some level, students need to stop over preparing for interviews and learn to go with the flow. When you go with the flow there is no good or bad interview. This is so much easier said than done and often can only be said by someone NOT going through the process themselves.
I would really like to know your thoughts on this too...

Warm regards

Yashaswini Vishwanathan