The Secret to Acing the World's Toughest Interviews

Last Updated Jan 14, 2011 8:02 AM EST

If you're an ambitious grad with your eye on a marquee company like Google or Goldman, you're not alone. There are hordes of ultra-talented young people trying to get gigs at these top notch employers. To stand out in an interview you'll need something special.

Ramit Sethi, author of the bluntly named blog and book I Will Teach You to Be Rich, thinks he knows the secret of success for interviews at these top-tier companies, but the less dedicated among you might not like it. Recalling a conversation he had with a clueless college student who came up to him at a conference, Sethi explains the essential ingredient for success in some of the world's toughest interviews, an insight he gained by watching his high-achieving friends win impressive positions. What's Sethi's secret sauce? Maniacal preparation.

As we talked, 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.
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.
For those of you out there with big dreams, that's the sound of the gauntlet being thrown down. Don't think you can skimp on preparation and still compete, insists Sethi. Do you agree?

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(Image courtesy of Flickr user BLW photography, CC 2.0)
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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.