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The Perfect Interview Answers

Farnoosh Torabi

You’ve got a polished resume, a snazzy new suit and a charming personality, but do you have what it takes to ace the face-to-face? The interview is one of the most critical hurdles of any job hunt. In fact, surveys show employers often size up candidates in less than 10 minutes. So, how to leave a lasting impression and move up to the next level?
I tapped Ramit Sethi, a financial and career expert and author of I Will Teach You To Be Rich. The 29-year-old has countless Americans on the art of the interview. His advice stems from personal experience, while interviewing with the top firms during college, including McKinsey, Bain, BCG, as well as small advertising agencies and government departments.

We discussed how to answer some of the toughest interview questions and the best ways to prepare.

How Much Do You Want to Earn?
It’s well known that you, the interviewee, should try to avoid answering this question too early on. Why show your cards first and mistakenly undersell yourself or, suggest too high a number and take yourself out of the running?

Sethi’s answer: If you reveal your numbers upfront you’ve instantly handicapped yourself. Maybe you actually undersold yourself. You just lost ten thousand dollars. Or maybe you quote way too high of a price without explaining why you’re valuable. Now you’re not even going to get the job at all! The phrase you can use if the interviewer says “How much are you looking to make?” What top performers say as they walk in, “You know, I'm sure we can find a number that works for both of us, but right now I am just interested to see if there's a fit on your end and on my end.”

What’s Your Greatest Weakness?
Seems this could be another potential question and, if unprepared, a trap for an interview applicant. How to turn this question around and have it work in your favor?

Sethi’s answer: What you need to do is understand the question behind the question. So yeah they want to know what are your biggest weakness is but what they really want to know is that you are acknowledging that you have weaknesses - we all do - that you are self-perceptive enough to identify that and that you’ve done something about it.  

Practice for Hours
According to Sethi, about 85 percent of the work for an interview should be done before ever showing up in terms of preparation, networking, anticipating questions and practicing. His specific rehearsing tips include watching yourself answer questions in front of a mirror, recording yourself so you can better monitor your pace and catch those ums and ahs, and finally, practicing with a skilled interviewer, say a friend who’s not too shy to give constructive criticism. The most valuable thing you can do is videotape yourself.

If Nothing Else, At Least Do This…

Once you’re in the room handling the face-to-face, there’s still another 15 percent of the work left. So what is the absolute number-one thing a candidate should try to do to seal the deal? Know your audience and get in their heads, says Sethi. “Before the interview, you want to really understand the interviewer’s hopes, fears and plans for the company. And think of ways you can craft your answers to address them. If you can do this, you will be remembered,” he says.

It may take a bit of detective work, but you can start by doing an online news search to see what’s being said about the company in the press, and if it’s publicly traded, you can usually access its earnings statements on its own website or via sec.gov/edgar. Finally, see if anyone in your personal and professional network –through Facebook and LinkedIn - has any ties to the company.  Tap their brains for any advice regarding the who’s who at the office and the internal culture or politics. Every little bit of information can help.

What are some interview tips you swear by? Connect with me on Twitter@Farnoosh and use the hashtag #FinFit