It goes without saying that everything, when it comes to adjusting and improving your interview technique, is about a balance. I struggled to grasp this at first since messing up one aspect of the interview can make you feel tempted to pivot in the complete opposite direction.
For example, in one interview, I was given feedback to be more structured in my why firm response despite having planned 3 items to say. So, in the next interview, I planned on going in with a very clear 1,2,3 structure in terms of why I wanted to work for them but luckily a friend stopped me in my tracks during a mock interview because I risked sounding too robotic. This example illustrates the importance of having mock interview groups with people to ensure each other is kept in balance. Some people find it much more intuitive and natural to strike this balance, while others struggle.
The reason I include this post is that despite you potentially mastering all the 3 stages of preparation for an internship application, the interview technique might prevent you from that final, most difficult-to-get to the stage of convincing the interviewer.
Here are more perspectives as I try and help you strike that balance, just as I sought that abstract balance myself last year:
- Converse but sometimes you need to let them ask you the questions: for example in one technical interview, we were only given 25 minutes but I was convinced I needed to ‘converse’ more so I began asking questions and talking as if the interview was a networking call, which worked well until I realised we only had 10 more minutes for the interviewer to ask me technicals which regardless of the hours upon hours of technical preparation I had done, would never have been enough to convince him I had the technical knowledge.
- Be relaxed, but not too relaxed: It is true, that some of us err to the side of caution in being stern and extremely formal in an interview, which of course is important in some respects. However, it is so important to relax. My biggest weakness is that when I get nervous, I begin speaking fast (which I’ll talk about below because I don’t think I’m the only one), and this can give off a very noticeable sense of nervousness. In one interview, the interview literally said to me just sit back and relax a bit – luckily this didn’t hurt my chances too much, but they should not have to say that. Get a sticky note and write it in front of you if you are doing the interview virtually.
- Do not speak too fast: I have received this feedback not once, not twice, but over three times in interview feedback. You may be thinking how can I be so foolish? Surely something as simple as slowing down my voice isn’t rocket science. Well, mannerisms or ‘bad’ habits are more persistent than you think. I am now taking measures to reduce this weakness e.g. writing “SLOW DOWN” on a sticky note and sticking it next to my monitor, or talking deliberately slowly before important calls/interviews to calibrate my pace.
Although ‘speaking slower’ is more of a personal weakness (perhaps you relate), it is something I wanted to mention because investment bankers aren’t like YouTubers: instead, they talk slowly, very calmly and sometimes don’t have too much to say. Investment Bankers are also not too energetic (generally speaking). Perhaps me watching YouTube videos that inspire me at x2 speed didn’t help with preparing for a setting that lacks the kind of energy we see on YouTube.
Another time talking slowly is important is when delivering a presentation. For example, I got to present something at an RBC assessment centre pitching Vodafone and although I hadn’t built a DCF before (I wish I had done an M&A course last summer to have had some familiarity with building a financial model), I decided to include one.
Had I gone back, I probably would have not included the DCF as I think it did more harm than good. Why? Because subconsciously I thought the DCF wasn’t great at all and so rushed through it even faster than what is on average my already too-fast speech which (1) meant the interviewers, who were used to much slower paced talking did not follow and (2) they felt as if I was acting like I was worthy of their time.
Overall, remember to reflect but don’t go too far to the left or the right with your reflection. A remedy for a lot of the problems we face in fine-tuning our interview technique is to relax before the assessment centre or interview. Many of us think the night before or morning of the interview is the time to grind the hardest but this is untrue: take a break, go for a relaxed catch-up with friends, or simply treat yourself to a movie because the brain is not a mechanical machine unfortunately and needs to be restored ahead of such an intense, sometimes interrogative interview.