The most important thing to remember for your case interviews

Polar bears chill outIt’s recruiting season, and a lot of you are interviewing over the coming weeks.  Firstly, well done on getting this far – it’s a very competitive field! Now that we’re in the thick of it, the question I’m getting again and again from candidates: what’s the most important thing to remember for my interview?

When I ask the question back to candidates, the most common responses I get are content-related:

  1. To put a logical framework around my approach
  2. To not make mistakes on math
  3. To make sure I clearly understand the objectives up front

These are definitely important, but not the most important thing for you to score the offer.

Interviewers are just people.  And people are happy to do things for other people they like.  Give them a lift if they don’t own a car.  Help them study for exams.  Give them relationship advice.  Make friends with them.  Marry them.  Offer them jobs.  Yes, offer them jobs.  Interviewers are much more likely to pass people they like. So how do make sure you are likeable?

Think about someone you really like.  What is it about them?  Do they smile a lot?  Are they good listeners?  Do they make you laugh?  If your answer is yes, you are in good company. Research has shown that across relationship types, the top three qualities that determine likeability are warmth and kindness, expressiveness and openness, and a good sense of humor.  Of course it doesn’t hurt to be good-looking and well-groomed too, but these fall much lower on the list.

What can really hinder you from showing off these qualities is being overly focused on the case challenge ahead of you.  While it is critical to crack the case, the interview is primarily a conversation. And if you don’t relax and enjoy the conversation, your interviewer won’t enjoy the conversation either. Many of the candidates I’ve interviewed appear to be fun, easy-going and likeable people in the waiting room chatting with other candidates, but once they enter the interview room they are intense, rigid and expressionless.

So the most important thing to remember for your interview: go out there and enjoy the conversation.  Have fun!  Don’t be so focused on your critical-problem-solving-business-loving-creative-profit-making abilities that you come across as creepily intense and not very fun to be with. Not only do interviewers have to like you to hire you, they also have to deal with the longer-term consequences of having to work with you.

Some of you are thinking “Is he crazy? The most important thing is to have fun??”

Here’s the kicker.  Research featured in The New York Times has shown that when stressed, the brain is less able to think creatively and make decisions.  Instead, the brain starts relying on habit.  Dr Nuno Sousa of the Life and Health Sciences Research Institute at the University of Minho in Portugal says “behaviors become habitual faster in stressed animals than in the controls, and worse, the stressed animals can’t shift back to goal-directed behaviors when that would be the better approach.  I call this a vicious circle.”  This is exactly what you want to avoid in case interviews.  By getting stressed and relying on memory, you stop thinking about the specifics of the case at hand and start regurgitating approaches and conclusions from mock cases.   Interviewers hate this.  And they won’t like you, either.  Alternatively, if you set out to have fun and enjoy the conversation, not only will you be more likeable, you’ll also be more able to think creatively and differentiate yourself with some original solutions.

So for your interviews this week, if you only remember one thing: Have fun and enjoy yourself.  Both you and your interviewer will be better off for it.

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