The magical three words: how to describe yourself in an interview?
I once had a banker friend who told me about his three magic words on his characteristics and qualifications for a banking position:
1. Good Attitude
2. Attention to details
3. Team player
And the next day, I randomly found a blog post by Investment Banking Interview Prep coming up with EXACTLY the same three qualities.
I was amazed but at the same time very disturbed. I wonder if these are really the answers an interviewer would be looking for; I wonder if it’s just for banking; I wonder if it’s THAT typical, and I wonder if these are really convincing enough, because I had a hard time being convinced!
I never held a position in banking, so I am not in a position to comment on this but a few of my close friends who claimed to excel in all the three above qualities have either left banking already, or have constantly complained about the long hours, the hierarchy, the shitty work they were dumped upon, and the criticism they got from their Associates/VPs. Yes, maybe as Seth nicely put it in his recent blog post: It’s unreasonable to treat your colleagues and competitors with respect given the pressure you’re under.
People still kill to get into banking, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong about that; but this is not a situation in which I want to put myself, and although I believe I am decently good with the three above qualities, I don’t think they really differentiate myself from anyone else and to some extent these three qualities don’t really address the fundamental issue of who I am as a person. So I came up with the three words below and let me explain why they are profoundly more powerful:
People hire smart people, regardless of major and prior experiences (as long as you can tell a story how you connect the dots), especially at entry level. It will help if you are friendly to people and you respect others, but if they can they want to hire people who have the sheer intellectual curiosity and are motivated by any sort of intellectual challenges. Just think about it, you teach a smart person once or twice he/she is all set with getting the job done. You teach someone who have amazing attitude but ask you some dumb questions again and again, with all the work you have to do yourself, I will be very surprised if you would not be even slightly annoyed.
And how to find a smart person? A smart person is usually curious about problem solving, are articulate with words, knows how to defend themselves without being defensive, always welcome challenges, and can understand other people’s perspective easily and swiftly. And this is someone you definitely want to have on your team!
These are the type of people who see things that may not be obvious or even noticeable to other people. Attention to details means you pick up errors, you don’t mis-spell, you don’t send the emails to the wrong people, but it could also mean you take a long time to do anything, because you are bogged down by all the details and you may lose sight of the big picture. These people may be okay for a really junior role, but I can see them easily get frustrated and they probably lack the critical thinking skills and leadership potentials.
Being observant is fundamentally different though. Being observant means you see the patterns, you identify the connections, and you learn not only by doing things yourself but also by noticing others: it’s almost like you are able to take a “free ride” to anywhere and with anyone, yet you can find the hidden links to come back to your feet and re-connect experiences from others and apply them to your own situation and yourself. It is an art, and it’s a very precious skill.
We live in a competitive world, and the competition is probably getting more fierce every day in every walk of life. Yet a few selected numbers of people are striking sharing with the even limited information and resources they have, and they go out of their ways to help other people, and they thrive to bring happiness and benefits to the people around them, and they are not afraid of other people surpassing them. They see the world not in a selfish way, not exactly in a self-less way either. But they see the world in a mutually progressive and inclusive way, and they understand the importance of creating Win-Win situations, joint happiness and memories, and they are firm believers of: helping others is helping themselves indeed.
Would you like to work with someone who is a team player because HE HAS TO BE? Or would you like to be associated with someone who is fundamentally sharing and proactively helpful. To me, it’s a no-brainier.
THE POINT IS: If you are curious, observant, sharing, and you really have a passion for what you do and WANT to do a good job, you are naturally and almost inevitably positive (with good attitude), pay attention to details, and behave like a team player!
So what do you think of my three magical words? How about your own three words? Promise that I’ll let you know what I think about them if you share in the comments below!