Preparing for the interview


Congratulations, you have worked hard on your cover letter and resume. The hours spent carefully creating these all important documents have paid off. You have been selected  to be interviewed by one of the giants in the financial field. If you had attended my all day seminar on writing winning cover letters and resumes you would already know that you and maybe fifteen other applicants have been chosen over five or six hundred other applicants.


To back-track a bit, a potential employer will only take 15-30 seconds to scan your cover letter. If it catches his eye he will then glance at your resume. If this is chock full of value he will place it in a pile with other potential candidates. This process is continued until the field has been narrowed down to fifteen or sixteen people to be interviewed. This means that the competition is extremely fierce.


The other men and women selected for interviews are also bright and articulate. They too have resumes that are filled with achievement and the necessary qualifications to get the job done. Three or four of you will survive and make it to the second and third interview. Only one will actually be offered the position, although if the interviewer is very impressed with your qualifications you could be considered for another position at the firm.


Rule#1 Most first round candidates are eliminated because they are dressed inappropriately.



The interview begins the second you walk into the room. First impressions, as we all know, are the most important. Men should wear business suits, shirts and ties. Please don’t embarrass yourself by wearing any thing less or any one else’s clothing for that matter. Against my advice one of my clients decided to wear his father’s expensive Ralph Lauren three piece suit to an interview. To make matters worse he didn’t bother to have it altered. The poor guy looked like some refuge from one of those third world countries. His mistake became very apparent when the interviewer dismissed him within three minutes…case closed.


Another one of my clients decided to wear sports clothes to an interview. This bright young gentleman went as far as to wear sun glasses and his new high tops. To complete the picture he had a toothpick dangling from his lover lip. He was also wearing enough after shave lotion to kill and entire nest of hornets. My first response was: “are you auditioning for a part on the Sopranos?”


Women should wear business dresses, pants suits dresses or any other appropriate business attire. Please leave the evening gowns and fancy jewelry at home. High heels work fine, but spikes don’t.


Here’s what you should bring to the interview:


  • A briefcase of leather bound folder. This adds to your professional look.
  • A wrist watch or a pocket watch
  • Carry a copy of the New York Times,  Wall Street Journal or  any other business oriented publication
  • Your dossier


A word or two about your dossier


This is actually an autobiographical sketch of all you have accomplished since college. You may add information from high school such as scholarships or your being named the top Eagle Scout of your state. That’s it. Your dossier should contain the following information:

  • Letters of recommendation
  • Unofficial transcripts
  • Honors and awards (include pictures and articles from newspapers)
  • A copy of an outstanding report you completed in one of your business courses
  • A coy of any article you had published; school articles count too.
  • A copy of your own business newsletter (very impressive)
  • Information about your internship(s)
  • Information about any business you may have started on your own.
  • A copy of your cover letter and resume.


The dossier is to be handed to the interviewer some time during your time together. I usually have my clients place all of their documents into a manila folder. This makes it easy for the recipient to place the entire package into your file.


The initial screening process is usually performed by a professional who has already interviewed more than a thousand people before you. This is a non-nonsense person. Her job is to screen potential employees in three broad areas: appearance, ability to communicate, and potential value to the company. Specifically they are looking for the following qualities:

  1. Self-managing employees
  2. People who are versatile and not afraid to roll up their sleeves and work hard.
  3. People who will be loyal to their supervisor and company.
  4. Most of all…they are looking for people like themselves. These employees are said to be “inside the sphere of agreement.”


Rule # 2 The interviewer is not a priest and you are not in the confession booth


Begin by shaking hands and thanking the interviewer for meeting wit h you. He or she will start with small talk, then they will continue by telling you about the company. You should already know enough about this firm to contribute to the conversation. If he doesn’t start talking about the company you should initiate a brief discussion. This will help to build rapport and signal that you are prepared for the interview.


Prospective employers will always be impressed by your knowledge of the company. In today’s computer age it’s easy to research any company online The Wall Street Journal and a host of other business publications can also provide you with all the information you need. A word of caution, don’t over do it. One of my clients had his interview promptly terminated when he brought up information about the president’s recent messy divorce.  Please avoid gossip of any kind.


If the interviewer, who can smell a fib a mile away, senses any dishonesty you will be quickly dismissed and sent on your way. These very unassuming professionals, as previously stated, have seen and heard it all. Don’t play games, and don’t try to out smart them. That is, not unless you want to continue working at McDonalds for another two or three years.


Several months ago my associate Jim Greico and I were interviewing a young lady for a high profile administrative position with a large insurance company. Half way through  the interview I decided to “push the envelope” by repeating several of the questions that had previously been asked. She responded by rolling her eyes and smirking at me, not much, but just enough to let me know that I was annoying her…which I was deliberately trying to do. Could you just imagine the problem this would cause if she did this with clients?


Try to keep the conversation going, but don’t interview the interviewer. Also do not repeat what you have already said. This is telling the interviewer that you lose focus when you are nervous and frustrated. Above all, communicate genuine concern for the company. Interviewers want to quickly weed out candidates who will embarrass them during the second interview.


Important note: If the interviewer decides to invite you back she will be as much influenced by your attitude and personality as your qualifications.


Here is a list of things you should never do during an interview.

  • Don’t arrive on time. Get there 15 minutes early.
  • Don’t shake hands with some one while sitting. Always get up.
  • Don’t hurry or rush while you are speaking.
  •  Don’t look at your watch unless the interviewer admires it.
  • Don’t hunch over. This is not being confident.
  • Don’t hand interviewer you card until the end of the meeting.
  • Don’t smoke on the way to the interview. It will linger on your clothes.
  • Don’t bring coffee or water to the interview.
  • Don’t be pushy or abrasive.
  • Don’t turn your body away from the interviewer.
  • Don’t linger after the interview. A hand shake signals that it is over.
  • Don’t attempt to kiss or bow at the end of the interview.
  • Don’t ever give a high five.
  • Don’t give a death grip hand shake.
  • Don’t treat women interviewers different than men.
  • Don’t speak badly about any one during the interview.
  • Don’t call the interviewer by his first name.
  • Don’t bring any one to the interview with you unless you are blind.


The second and third interview


In all likelihood you will have to go through more interviews than your predecessors for the same job, no matter what your level of expertise. Your second interview will probably be more intense. In addition to the interviewer you will also be facing the manager or supervisor who you will be working with. It is also possible that several of the senior managers will be present.


Unlike the first initial screening, which you aced, these lovely people will be sitting in a conference room with you sipping Starbucks premium gold, munching on bagels, and laying mine fields for you to navigate. For openers, you will be put to the test on your honesty, your intellect, your mental health and the toxicity of your blood.


During this second important interview you will be evaluated in these key areas:

  • Your knowledge of your subject matter.
  • Your ability to think clearly under pressure.
  • Is there any chemistry between you and the people interviewing you?
  • Are you a team player who is fiercely loyal to his boss and company?
  • Are you easily frustrated?
  • Are your personal and social values similar to theirs?


If you make it to the third interview, which I’m sure you will, you can expect to find more executives and division manages present. The field has now been narrowed down to three or four well qualified candidates. You can expect this interview to be conducted like a meeting Chances are that you and another candidate will be asked to participate in a team project during a “working lunch.”  Remember your table manners.  Don’t slurp the soup or your coffee. They expect you to be nervous. As a matter of fact these gracious people are going to deliberately turn up the heat to see how you perform under pressure.


Somewhere towards the end of this meeting or maybe after the fourth interview one of the managers will take you aside for a private talk. Either she will thank you for coming or offer you a position. Please do not discuss salary and perks before this meeting. If you do it will appear as if you are more interested in the benefits than the actual position.


How to use nonverbal communication to your advantage


Almost 55% of our communication comes through our nonverbal communication which includes facial expressions, gestures and posture. To be authentic whether talking to a friend, a new love interest or working your way through a major interview there must be an agreement between what you are saying and your nonverbal communication.


The best way to catch the “hidden information” is to turn off the volume of the movie you are watching. You can still tell if it is a comedy, love story or a horror show.  What message are you sending to the interviewer? Never forget that the person sitting across the desk from you has already interviewed an army of people. They will immediately pick up any discrepancies between your body language and what you are saying.


Here are a few ways to help you keep your verbal and nonverbal communication working together to enhance your presence.


  • While sitting during the interview lean slightly forward to speak and tilt your head slightly as in listening to the interviewer. In effect you are telling the other person that we both have something important to say


  • Avoid rubbing your eyes. This can mean distain or boredom If you must do so say: “please excuse me a minute.”  Avoid picking on your cuticles or finger nails. This is a sure sigh that you are angry or frustrated.


Last year my associate Jim and I were interviewing two candidates for a vice presidents’ position with a large international bank. Both were equally qualified and both had made tons of money for their current employers. To reach a final decision we invited both women, as it were, to help us complete an all day project we were working on. Neither of the ladies knew the other was being considered for the same position. They were both kept busy on different aspects of the same (contrived) project. The four of us were to meet in our conference room at one o’clock for a meeting and lunch.


During this second phase of the exercise Jim and I decided to turn up the pressure to see how the candidates would behave under stress. You guessed it. One of these well qualified young ladies began chewing on her cuticles and finger nails just before she was asked to make a short presentation.  At the end of the meeting she was thanked for helping us with our project. Jim called her the next day to wish her good luck in her future career.


  • Avoid crossing your legs or holding your knees. This could mean that you are not being honest with the interviewer. Instead, always keep both feet firmly planted on the ground. The message here is almost too obvious to mention.


  • During the interview(s) be sure to let the other person see your palms. What you are saying is: I have nothing to hide from you. I have no weapons verbal or physical. I came as your friend.


  • Use steepling. This is a very powerful technique that says I am confident in myself, but I am not arrogant.


  • Never frown, grimace, smirk, shake your head or use any other type of negative facial gestures while the interviewer is speaking. A gentle smile is always in order. As a matter of fact the smile should remain on your face until you retire for the evening.


How to become “in sync”


As previously stated, corporate people identify to those who are like themselves. Our spouses, friends and many of the other people we deal with on a day to day basis are in a “general sphere of agreement” with us. This is not an accident or casual arrangement. We thrive on trust and compatibility. This is why many of us join fraternal and social organizations. There is a commonality about these groups that tell us that we are with like minded people that can trust and count on in time of need.


If you are serious about advancing your career you’ll want to employ the following strategy. Being “in sync” literally means to be in step with the other person you are talking to, Hey look at me. I’m just like you. We can work together or golf or we can even sit back and discuss yesterdays’ football game.


Here’s how to “be in sync” without being obvious


Begin by mirroring or copying the other characteristics of the other person. For example:

  • How he or she sits in a chair
  • How he holds his arms and legs
  • The volume and t one of his voice
  • Tack into his rhythm system without being obvious
  •  Mirror their facial gestures
  • How she holds her pen or cup of coffee


What message are you sending here? I am just like you. We can do business and be friends. The beauty of nonverbal communication is that it provides you with information you can use to build meaningful communication. I have just scratched the surface with a brief discussion of “patterning” which is another name for “being in sync” One of my next publications will cover this all important topic in detail.


Practice these techniques before your interview. Friends, relatives, and coworkers can be used to test your new nonverbal communication skills.  Several of my clients have  told me that being” in sync” has helped them to develop deeper relationships with one or more of the people in their life.


Last year one of my seminar students told us a very interesting story about his experience with “being in sync.” He had been practicing the technique for several weeks when he decided to use a complete stranger in a restaurant as his intended target.  Fifteen minutes into the exercise the young man at the other table walked over to my student and asked if they had previously met.  “You seem so familiar to me. I’m sure I know you.”  Of course the answer was no, but this proves a very interesting point.


What you should know about yourself


Rule # 3 You must be prepared to talk about yourself


Who are you? This one of the first, and by far one of the most important questions the interviewer will ask you. “Please Mr. Barlow tell me something about yourself.”  Believe me the future of your career will depend on how well you answer this seemingly innocent question.


The sad fact is that most job applicants are not prepared to talk about themselves properly. Sure, any one can provide a brief autobiographical sketch about themselves, but what will it say about your ability to become a productive employee and leader?


It’s time to get acquainted with you. Begin this process this process by doing a complete background check on yourself. As previously stated, you are going to build a dossier on your accomplishments in college and in your personal life. Again let me remind you that the sole purpose of these documents is to sell you to the interviewer.


The person interviewing you is not going to be impressed that you hit three home runs in one game while you were playing for the Brooklyn Bobcats, not unless he is the coach.  Nor will he be impressed by the fact that you can beat any one at paint ball or Nintendo.   And by all means never mention that you and your friends like to spend the weekend drinking shots at Applebees or any other drinking establishment. With this kind of background the interviewer is quite likely to see you as a man/child who refuses to grow up and take on the responsibility of a demanding full time career. 


Here is a sample autobiographical sketch that is focused on the future of his career.

During my senior year in high school I was hired by an accounting firm in my neighborhood to run errands, answer phones, and work in the stock room with the bosses’ secretary. During tax season I would often work evenings and weekends. It was here at Mitchell and Schwartz that I realized how much I enjoyed working with numbers.


As an accounting major at St. Johns’ University I decided to minor in finance rather than marketing or management. I believe that to be a competent accountant I should have a strong working knowledge of the financial systems that I will need to best serve my company and clients. In today’s society a B.S. in Accounting is not nearly enough training for a professional. True, I could eventually sit for the C.P.A. exam, but I would feel under qualified if I did not complete a M.S. This is one of the main reasons I have decided to enroll in the universities’ dual BS/MS accounting program.


To gain valuable experience in accounting I began working at the Atkins Accounting Firm last March, and last July my friend Steve and I started our own tax preparation service. This experience is providing me with the knowledge I’ll need to help my future    employer attain their goals. Since I am pretty much on the go most of the time I spend what little spare time I have reading the Wall Street Journal and several accounting and financial journals.


Last fall I started a modest accounting newsletter so I could share my knowledge and experience with other accounting and finance majors at St. Johns’. So far I have distributed over a thousand copies on our campus and to several of the other colleges in the area. There is no charge for my newsletter. The next edition will have several feature articles written by two other accounting majors who are helping me with this project. Note: At this point the young man removes a copy of his newsletter from his dossier and hands it to the interviewer to reinforce his story.

My plans for the future include: working for a large accounting firm such as yours, passing the C.P.A., completing my masters’ degree in accounting, and continuing to learn more about my profession.


This is the type of response the interviewer wants to here. This young man is not some adult/child looking for a job to support his Nintendo and drinking habits. Every aspect of his autobiographical sketch says: I am serious about my profession. I am a hard working, forward looking accountant who is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get the job done.


Rule # 4 Shape all responses to the position you are applying for


Here are some screening questions to help you prepare for your interviews


Q Why did you finish college with less than a B average?

A. This is a very tricky question. Do not crack jokes or try to be clever. “Well, every Friday night my friends and I got wasted at Gilligan’s bar.”  No stand up comic routines here. Be as honest as possible and remember that the longer you are in the work world the less important your college index becomes. If there were problems at home that kept you from devoting more time to your studies discuss this with the interviewer. This could further your case by proving just how mature and responsible you are.


Q What is your greatest weakness?

A  My greatest weakness is procrastination. I know this is a problem and I am working on it. I have decided to eliminate my procrastination by outlining projects that I must complete. Once one task is completed I  move on to the next…then the next. It is taking time, but I know that I must break this bad habit.


This is a good answer since the candidate admits to a problem and has a plan in place to correct it. This is the mark of a mature, honest person. Please don’t give trite answers such as “I try too hard” or I’m always on the move” The interviewer will believe that you are always moving around because you a have attention deficit disorder problem or you are keeping some thing from her. Either way you are out of the running. By the same token don’t tell the interviewer that you are recovered from some type of drug or alcohol dependency. Your past is over, and you are now a productive member of society. You will only reveal this information if you are directly asked the question about a prior addiction. Again let me remind you that the interviewer is not a priest and you are not in the confession booth.


Q. How would you rate yourself on a scale of 1-10?

 A. If you rate yourself too low 3-5 the interviewer will see you as a loser who has a low self-esteem. On the other hand, if you give yourself a 9 or a 10 you better be able to substantiate this with some real value. I personally suggest that my clients rate themselves {8}. “Yes, I am an 8, but I’m striving to be a 10. Maybe some day I’ll make it.” The message to the interviewer is quite clear: I’m always trying to improve myself.


Q What can you do for us that some one else can’t?

A. This is a very thought provoking question that you should begin working on weeks or perhaps months before you begin interviewing for a job.  You may see this question in different forms, but it the interviewer is still asking “what makes you unique?” Don’t quickly blurt out some smart response. During a practice session one of my students responded to this question by stating: “I can press more weight than any one in my gym.”  Another bright star was quick to discuss his sexual abilities.


You may wish to begin this all important question by stating: “I can help your accounting department reach its’ current and future goals by”: Here is where you are going to provide benefit after benefit.  Your well planned out answer is going to be based on your knowledge of the company and its’ needs plus your own unique highly polished    skills as an accountant. There are no outlandish promises or flowery language in your response to this question whatsoever.


Q How do you stay current?

A You stay “current” by reading Time Magazine, the Wall Street Journal or any other trade journal that is pertinent to your career. You should also include a few well-known self help books you have recently read. It is my experience that interviewers are impressed by your desire to improve yourself professionally. Chances are that the interviewer has also read several of these books as well. A word of caution, don’t overdo this question or the interviewer is likely to think that you spend the bulk of your time reading rather than working.


Q What color is your brain?

A. Don’t dare to smirk, laugh or look puzzled. This “cute” little question is there for a reason…a very important one at that. Are you creative and clever enough to give this lovely lady interviewing you the correct answer? Your answer should be something like this: “My brain is red because I have a burning desire to become one of the best accountants in the city. Passing the CPA exam and completing my masters’ degree are just two of the methods I am using to reach this goal”. Do you notice how this candidate is repeating his qualifications while answering this question?


Here are several other thought provoking questions you should be ready to answer.


  • Why do you want to work here?
  • How resourceful are you?
  • If hired what would you want to accomplish first?
  • What do you do to relax? Hint: (you don’t hang out with friends)
  • What are your strengths?
  • Tell me what you know about this company?
  • Why do you want to be in this industry?
  • What is your greatest achievement to date?
  • What interests you the least?
  • What interests you the most?


Rule # 5 You may never know why you weren’t hired


Why didn’t I get the job I aced all three interviews?


One of the professional search firms my associate and I do consulting work for had this to say about candidates who were qualified but not hired for the position they interviewed for:

  • The candidate lacked all of the necessary qualifications of the job.
  • There was a sudden change in the hiring practices of the company
  • The candidate performed poorly during the interview.
  • The candidate misrepresented himself on his resume.
  • The last, and by far the most common reason you not being hired has absolutely nothing to do with your performance. The person interviewing you is constantly being bombarded with resumes, phone calls and unannounced visits from hopeful candidates. She is swamped, and for some unfortunate reason, you were lost is the shuffle.


Rule # 6 If you aced one interview you will ace several others until you find the right position.


Here are several final tips to help you ace any interview:


  • Your success on the interview depends on your level of preparation. Do not fly blind. Research this company online, and prepare a list of questions to ask the interviewer.
  • Be sure to research the person who will be interviewing you…if possible.
  • Please be sure that every thing on your resume is absolutely true.  Don’t fudge employment dates, military service, recommendations or any thing else for that matter.
  • After each interview send a short thank-you note to the interviewer. Be sure to include one or two of your strong points in this correspondence.
  • Never call the company after the interview. If they want your. They’ll know where to find you.


A publication by:

James R. Weiss


Copyright by: C+B+R Publications

Staten Island NY