Top Performers Maniacally Prepare for Job Interviews

Ramit is killing it over at his blog. In his recent post How to ace the world's toughest interviews, he says top performers maniacally prepare and hustle in order to land jobs at competitive companies. Below is a story he recounts.


A few months ago, I met a college student at a conference. He was telling me about his job search. “I have a few companies I want to go after,” he said excitedly. “I’m pretty sure I can get a job offer from all of them. Then I'll have to pick! I just have to start working on my interviews. What do you suggest?”

I asked him if he’d researched the interview process. Had he done any practice interviews with friends? What about reaching out to older friends who worked there? He shook his head no impatiently. Then he told me he’d get to all that, but did I have any “tips” to share with him?

I didn’t know what to tell him. He had no idea what he was getting into.

The companies he named were some of the most competitive in the Bay Area. He had little experience (which is fine for college students) and a competitive GPA. But his communication skills were terrible. As we talked — with him talking at me instead of with me — I compared him to a group of friends I had in college.

During interview season, this group of friends and I sat around the dining halls and shared our best interview techniques on a regular basis. We shared the craziest questions we got, the best answers we’d given, and the strategies that alumni — the hiring managers — had let us in on. My friends from this group went on to get jobs at McKinsey, BCG, Google, Goldman, and other extraordinary companies.

This isn’t meant to brag. But let me share what was happening in these dining-hall meetings. Each of us was relentlessly focused on becoming the world’s best interviewees. We studied interview techniques — for hours every week. We tested our best material with interviewers. (Many students would schedule interviews with companies they have no interest in to use as “practice interviews.” Like it or not, it works.) Then we brought it back to the group, compared notes, practiced our cadence, rhythm, and tone, tore each other’s answers apart, and systematically improved our interview skills. Over and over.

So when this random guy at a conference was telling me his interview strategy, there was a game going on around him that he didn’t even realize. Serious applicants to companies like McKinsey were practicing their case-interview techniques for MONTHS before they ever stepped foot in the interview room. These same applicants that had talked to alumni/friends currently at their target companies to get the inside scoop on what really mattered in the interviews. They’d read books and Vault Guides and had attended info sessions. By the time they got to the interview, they were absolutely ready.

And, as with virtually any other complex transaction, 85% of the work was done before these serious candidates ever stepped foot into the interview room.

And the scary thing is, this is what most top performers do.

What does this mean for you?

Am I saying that you need connections and dozens of hours of interview prep to get a job with these companies?

Of course not.

But it sure stacks the odds in your favor.

3 Responses to Top Performers Maniacally Prepare for Job Interviews

  1. It’s interesting to compare this to, e.g., the job of running 100 meters fast. There is no interview process there: “So, Mr. Bolt, where do you see yourself in five years?” It all boils down to one number. In theoretical physics, it’s not really so different – while there are interviews, what really matters is your body of work. The best interviewees stand no chance against poor interviewees, if the latter has a superior track record.

    To put it another way, a person’s interview skills mostly matter in jobs where no more objective criteria are available. If more objective criteria are available, they matter a lot less.

  2. Krishna says:

    Practice helps a lot when freshers face an interview board where questions can be more or less predictable. But so will be the answers and that could wear down the interviewers. If the candidates use more or less the same rigor and practice material, the answers would as well sound predictable and the novelty could be lost – tempting the interviewers to award better scores to candidates that are quick on their feet and respond straight from the gut…

  3. peterxyz says:

    Krishna – that’s a *big* if. I have been doing a lot of interviewing of new graduates in the last 6 months and the lack of preparation over basic questions that they should expect in the category of interview that I’m running is astonishingly poor.

    e.g. if you are going to be working with other people do you have examples of working in teams practiced? If possible a mix of both leading and being a team member.
    e.g. have a mix of sources for your examples – don’t stick to a series of class projects/assignments. Think university/sporting/social/religious/high school.
    e.g. what do you know about the department of the company that you are applying to work for?

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