The Senior Year Job Hunt

Lessons from over 40 interviews in one semester

Posted by Leo Lu on July 31, 2017


This was the number of first-round interviews I went through during the fall semester of my senior year, landing 11 final-round interviews and 3 offers.

With plans to graduate early, I had four months to find a full-time job or else I'd graduate unemployed. Faced with this prospect, I managed to balance taking six classes and managing the finances of a school club as treasurer with full-time recruiting. Yes, it was a grueling ordeal, but I remain thankful. Not just for the opportunity to travel out of New York City 7 times to 5 different states (with a short stop at the beach near Tampa, Florida) but also for my learnings on process, story, and perseverance.

It's About Process

Learning from my mishaps during my junior fall semester in missing several application dates for summer internships, I took a proactive approach in applying to 5-10 different positions using my school's career website weeks before the interviews began. Receiving my first interview for a position in sales and marketing at a boutique investment manager, I enthusiastically began preparing, taking one step to contact an alum from my school currently working there and speaking with her about her experience. Armed with several insights, I stumbled through the interview with choppy delivery and low confidence levels - it had been quite a while since I had to do an interview!

Unsurprisingly, I did not advance to the next round. However, rather than spend too much time sulking about the verdict, I began to reflect on the interview, which lead to the creation of my interview spreadsheet. I figured that my responses could be improved both in terms of content and delivery through better anticipation of the questions I'll be asked as well as research on specific company information that could be used in these responses. I created a word document listing points of preparation as well as points to emphasize. Furthermore, I included a section at the end of the document to document what I could do better for next time.

In turn, my single document became documents for every interview I completed, along with the same process for each position: every night, after finishing my schoolwork, I would apply to 5-10 positions, tailoring my resume and cover letter for each position. Upon getting notification of an upcoming interview, I'd create a Google Doc to prepare, focusing on points such as my story, relevant professional experience, and job-specific technical questions. After interviewing, I would then document how the interview went, what I had trouble with, and main takeaways. Despite a shaky start to the recruiting process in September, I came to perform much better as the weeks went by through many iterations of this process.

It's About Story

Job hunting is extremely competitive. For every position, there are many people vying for the spot - in order to stand out from the crowd, there must be a point of distinction: story. The interview process typically screens for three types of fit: behavioral, technical, and cultural. I interviewed for a wide variety of positions, from investment banking to consulting to fund operations, and while I can't change my background, I can change how it is viewed, further emphasizing the importance of crafting a compelling story.

Behavioral questions seem to me to be an equalizer, allowing candidates to start from a level playing field. They are meant to show a candidate’s projected ability to do the task. Examples would include “tell me a time when you failed” and “how do you work in groups?”. These questions involve reflecting on prior experience to deal with a new situation, and responses reveal an individual’s ability to present information in an organized manner. I came to respond better to these as my confidence grew. Leadership training programs at corporates focused heavily on these types of questions as they didn’t look for a specific background, just people who could do learn quickly - oftentimes, technical skills could be taught but other qualities remain innate.

However, in such a competitive environment, companies can often find candidates with the exact set of experiences they are looking for. It was important for me to highlight the transferrable skills I developed throughout my professional experiences, but the lack of specific technical knowledge oftentimes proved too much in various circumstances.

For example, at tech companies and investment management companies, it was easier for them to pick the person who had taken computer science classes over someone like me who showed entrepreneurial spirit but did not have that training. They also wanted to see skill alignment, meaning having worked directly in a similar position - investment banking m&a positions would go for students who interned in the same group, even at a smaller bank, as opposed to someone like me who interned in capital markets. I’m surprised I even got interviews to a bunch of companies, especially consulting positions, given the differences in my background to what they were looking for. Positions involving extremely technical work with derivative securities and even one requiring a CPA eventually gave me interviews, and obviously I did not fit. The best course of action would be to study up on the technical questions using the wide amount of freely available online resources related to the subject matter.

In addition to hiring a person who is able to do the work, employers also want to find people they would want to work with. This is the social aspect, making the pre-interview networking sessions, Q&A part of the interview, and any other time to make a better impression vital to getting an offer. When I went to the meals or engagement activities (such as going to a lounge where they served alcohol) after the interview, I knew that it was also an important part of the process. I’d make an effort to get to know those who were there in a casual way, trying to have fun. It felt like rushing a fraternity - you’d want to have other things to talk about than just work. I took time to get better at making this small talk, a skill I continue to work on. It was also a matter of temperament. High-activity positions of investment banking ultimately became sales functions requiring a certain personality. Quantitative positions required a certain attention to detail, and all of these traits would be reflected in the people I met during the interviews. I had to think to myself, “would I fit in with this group?” because they were surely thinking that question in deciding whether to give me an offer.

It's About Perseverance

At the end of the day, job hunting can be a complete crapshoot becuase both the employer and the candidate are operating on limited information. Oftentimes, the most qualified individual is NOT the one hired for the job - disheartening, yes, but not enough of a cause to give up. To put it into perspective, there are many positions out there and all it takes is one offer to achieve the next level in career advancement. This requires perseverance, which I was aided thoroughly in through my daily process, one which lasted a total of four whole months.

To my great relief, I received a phone call one day in mid-December of 2015 after taking an exhausting final exam. A company brought me the news of an offer! And that was not the end of the good news - as I still had several more interviews lined up, I gained a newfound confidence with the backing of one offer, which lead to two more offers before the school year ended.

In my journey to land the full-time job, I made my way through 46 first-round interviews and 11 final-round interviews to secure 3 offers. Along the way, I gained insights not only into several different industries, but also about myself. But the journey continues. I am working a full-time job, but the learning does not stop there and I encourage everyone to push themselves. Once you find your direction, put forth all effort into getting to that destination. Forge the success story, behind which lies a process filled with perseverance.