Back to School Season: 5 Tips to Excel in Your Next Interview
By Julie Feng
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Dig deep into the company’s background
“Know the organization you are applying to” seems like a no-brainer and an unduly obvious tip, but if you wish to truly impress interviewers, you ought to do as the title suggests — dig into their history, register their past achievements, understand their future goals. This goes so far as acknowledging what kind of software they use, whom they have partnered with, and recent news in which they have featured. Though all this research and hard work may seem overwhelming for many, being well-equipped with an extensive range of knowledge about the company will help you excel in an interview. Here are some valuable platforms to facilitate your research:
Google: Ah, the pool of information we all reach for when in need of help. This also may come obvious, but ultimately, Google is there to lay a basic foundation for research about the company. In this case, you will want to have an overview of the company — what they do, how it all started, and who their competitors are.
YouTube: YouTube may be one of the platforms that are often overlooked and underestimated when initiating your research about the company. It offers valuable insights into what the company is looking for from working professionals and past interviewees. Often, the company itself will post a video showcasing its employees and what it is like to be working at the organization.
Linkedin: Linkedin serves as a platform to provide you with more detailed and personalized information about the job position you applied for. This is because, with every employee that works for the organization, the description of their responsibilities may differ — some more general, while others, meticulously specific and thorough.
Job descriptions: Job application websites, such as Indeed, Glassdoor, and Monster, provide you with a formal description of the position’s requirements and expected responsibilities. Sifting through these job applications will give you a general understanding of what you are expected to accomplish at the company.
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“Whether it is practical or interpersonal skills, you will get better with practice.”
Understand the job application’s requirements
After getting a better understanding of who you are applying for, it is only natural for you to know what you are applying for — no, simply looking at the job title might not be sufficient enough to answer classics like “why are you interested in this position?” and “what are your job expectations?”. Mastering this shows that you’ve completed your research, and if done properly, these questions are really just free bonus points. Still oddly enough, many neglect the importance of the job description. Going through the job description a few times and fully grasping what each bullet point means will avoid any unwanted/unsolicited awkward moments and ease your discussion regarding the job with your interviewer. Hint: it is common to see terms you are not familiar with, so go in-depth in understanding, for example, what building a financial model or running a valuation analysis involves.
Go through your own CV
Have “proficiency in x skill” in your CV? Make sure you can list a few ways you have used or can use this skill during your interview. This could be knowing how to format data in Excel using conditional formatting, use VLOOKUP freely, or scrape data from websites using Python. Once again, having a prepared list of what you are able to accomplish with your set of skills will avoid long pauses.
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Back up your answers with concrete examples
When it comes to behavioural interview questions, there is no doubt that you will face the challenge of needing to demonstrate your social skills. Before jumping onto the topic of supporting your answers with concrete examples, it is important to understand that not every employer is looking for an applicant with exceptional leadership skills or the desire to constantly get out of their comfort zone to accomplish new and different tasks. Logically speaking, a team cannot be composed of leaders without any followers. With an overbearing emphasis on bringing in the best leader possible, there is a lack of attention put on the significance of followers. Do not worry about lacking leadership experience; being a follower is an attractive asset and is just as important as followers reassure and maintain the structure of a project.
“Not every employer is looking for an applicant with exceptional leadership skills or the desire to constantly get out of their comfort zone to accomplish new and different tasks.”
Moving onto the focal point of this subject and arguably the most effective tip for interviews: support your answers with examples. In fact, two applicants can come into the interview having the same set of qualities or strengths; however, it all depends on how they express themselves. Let us break this down into a real-life example:
Interviewer: What are your three greatest strengths?
Interviewee: I am hardworking, organized and self-disciplined.
Here is a template to give you an idea of how to support your answer:
Firstly, I believe that I am [strength #1]. Through my experience [at organization X or company Y/during my project for course Z], I got to demonstrate this skill by [how you put your skill in practice or how you got to develop this asset]. In addition, I am also [strength #2]. For example, [time + place where you have exhibited this skill]. Lastly, I am [strength #3]. In fact, [time + place where you have exhibited this skill].
The objective here is to give your interviewer explicit examples of how you have built or used these strengths in the past. Ultimately, you want to be as specific as possible, transforming this somewhat intimidating process into an enjoyable conversation.
The value of group projects and personal projects
“What if I don’t have any work experience?”. Surely, during your degree, you have accumulated experience through group or personal projects, event participation, or volunteering. Think about a project where you were asked to give concrete solutions and strategies to hypothetical problems or companies through research and analysis. I’ve personally completed interesting projects, even in my prerequisite courses such as COMM210 (Contemporary Business Thinking), COMM205 (Business Communication) and COMM215 (Business Statistics). Specifically, through COMM210, I applied theoretical business concepts to real-life situations and firms, whereas through COMM205, I learnt how to communicate formally. Finally, through COMM215, I had a chance to thoroughly use Excel to analyze a firm’s financial performance and find critical key performance indicators that would affect its future success.
Of course, these projects will only get more and more engaging as you further your degree. For example, in my FINA385 class, I used Excel to sort large amounts of historical data on various stocks in order to maximize an investor’s portfolio.
To conclude, instead of narrowing your experiences to solely professional ones, you can consider your own personal projects. Interestingly, if you are really blanking out in this aspect, Concordia offers its students free Udemy classes, which I have been taking full advantage of by signing up for courses in Investment Banking and Excel tutorials for financial analysis. These are all ways to demonstrate your relevant experience in the field without even working at a corporation.
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Interviews are not easy, and they can be quite intimidating and stressful at times. However, whether it is practical or interpersonal skills, you will get better with practice. With that being said, being fully prepared and well-equipped with information about the company and the job position will certainly give you a head start in the race to getting the job of your dreams. Nonetheless, keep the research going and all the best of luck.