Forget about conquering your interviews and fixing all your mistakes.
Sometimes it’s fun to sit back and laugh at how badly you failed.
Or at least to engage in some schadenfreude.
Story #1: Holla Back, Office
This one took place when I was interviewing for every single position under the sun: banking, sales & trading, hedge funds, consulting, and reality TV hosting.
I had something lined up with a well-known hedge fund, and went in for my interview.
I had been flying to random cities and going through a dozen interviews per week, so I wasn’t paying much attention to the details of this interview or what the position even was.
The conversation went like this:
Interviewer: Walk me through your resume.
Me: [Do the 2-minute walk-through, then explain how I'm moving away from the engineering side and into business.]
Interviewer: Oh, ok, well just to let you know, you’ll definitely learn about business here but I’m not sure this is exactly what you’re looking for.
Me: Really? I thought this was a hedge fund.
Interviewer: Yes, but you’d be doing “support work” for the traders rather than actually trading.
Me: What do you mean by “support work”?
Interviewer: Writing scripts, programming new trading tools, fixing compatibility issues…
Me: Ok, I’m not really looking for that.
Interviewer: No problem – we can finish up now if you want.
Me: Sure thing, nice meeting you.
And just like that I left 5 minutes into the interview.
Whenever I tell this story to friends they say, “OMG that was so baller of you to just walk out of an interview like that” – but it felt pretty natural at the time.
Lessons Learned: If something sucks worse than The Matrix: Revolutions, cut your losses and get out.
And if you’ve already put in 500 hours of study into something, don’t feel obligated to continue just because you’ve already spent a lot of time on it… think 80/20.
Oh, and make sure you read the job description before walking into an interview…
Story #2: Chronic Back Pain
I wish this were one of my stories, but I’m not so lucky: it comes to you from a reader, who wrote in about his experiences interviewing for an internship at a bulge bracket investment bank.
“I was applying for internships at bulge bracket banks, and somewhere along the line I had learned that the ‘Please introduce yourself” question was similar to the ‘Tell me your strengths and weaknesses’ one.
Anyway, I had trouble thinking of weaknesses that were legitimate but which were also not overly negative.
But finally I thought of one that sounded more realistic, and rehearsed it a couple times before going in for my next interview…
…and here’s what happened:
Interviewer: Can you introduce yourself and tell me about your background?
Me: You mean my strengths and weaknesses, right? My strengths include my analytical aptitute and my ability to learn quickly. My main weakness is my chronic back pain.
Interviewer: Um… so are you able to work at a desk?
Me: Yes! No problem.
[Awkward silence ensues]
Miraculously, I still landed the internship offer.”
- Make sure your “weakness” doesn’t involve a physical attribute.
- Learn how to tell your story.
- Even if you screw up, it’s not necessarily the end of the world – 1 really bad answer won’t always sink you.
Story #3: Equities in Tokyo
This one started when I was running around applying for as much as humanly possible… first mistake.
Somehow I got an interview at Goldman Sachs’ Private Equity Group in… Tokyo.
At this stage I didn’t even know what private equity was, and there’s no way I was qualified to read 100-page financial documents in a language other than English.
But I said, “Well, Japan is cool and living there was fun, so I might as well just go in for the interview and see what happens!”
I had to drive from campus to San Francisco for the interview, which normally takes an hour – only it was a Friday afternoon and I hadn’t taken into account rush hour traffic.
The interview was scheduled for 3 PM, but I was so late that I had to call them and ask to change it:
Me: Um, I’m scheduled for an interview with you at 3 today but… um… my car broke down and I can’t make it. Can we push it back?
Interviewer: Uh…. ok, but I’m booked the rest of the day – I could stay late and do it at 6 today.
Me: Ok, sounds good… see you then. Sorry to trouble you.
Things were already pretty bad, but then they got even worse when I arrived and met the interviewer.
She saw that I had lived in Japan and that I wrote “Advanced” or something silly in my “Language Skills” section – so she decided to test me.
Interviewer: [Switching to Japanese] So can you explain what you did in your internship?
Me: [Explained it, I was pretty used to talking about it so no issues here.]
Interviewer: Ok, now let’s test your knowledge of finance. Can you explain why a company would want to use debt rather than equity?
Me: Um… um… uh I don’t know the words for any of these concepts…
After I stumbled around for 5 minutes and explained that I didn’t know the words for WACC or amortization, the interviewer switched back to English and started asking the same questions.
Interviewer: Can you explain why a company would want to use debt rather than equity?
Me: Well, equity could be… more risky?
Interviewer: So is it only about the risk?
Me: Actually I’m not really sure…
So I completely failed the same set of interview questions in 2 languages, while making the interviewer stay late on Friday after interviewing people all day.
“Equities in Tokyo” was not in my future.
1. If you ever find yourself not sure of WHY you’re interviewing for something, cancel the interview.
You might be using the “scatter-shot” approach to landing interviews, but it’s better to be more targeted and not apply to 20 different industries.
2. Don’t be an idiot with logistics.
Even if you nail all your questions, showing up 3 hours late to an interview, forgetting to dress appropriately, or interviewing for the wrong position are all enough to sink your chances.
3. Seriously, don’t exaggerate language skills.
While you can exaggerate other skills without consequences most of the time, languages are easy to test – and being able to order food at a restaurant or argue with your parents does not make you “fluent.”
Unless you can read business newspapers flawlessly and understand 100% of the financial news, don’t even think about writing “Advanced.”
If you have embarrassing interview stories – and who doesn’t? – send them along or share them in the comments below.
Maybe we can turn this into a regular feature.