Every year, undergrad and graduate students across the United States gear up for recruiting season. Legions of recruiters from thousands of companies dot university campuses, exchanging pleasantries with career placement officers, professors and students. Undoubtedly, the number of initial employment paths for each student will be daunting as recruiting brochures and company propaganda compete to tug students in various directions.

But once you've set up some solid interviews, how do you make sure you'll impress your potential employers? For the job seeker, it's not just about getting a job, it is also about finding a company that's a good fit. In this article, we'll show you what skills you need to put your interviewer to the test and help you decide whether a company is right for you. 

Know Yourself
The biggest variable guiding whether you will thrive in your chosen, albeit initial, path: Do you know yourself? This is not merely a trite platitude. Consider what you really enjoy doing. Even if you were not paid, would you still choose that role? Why? If you knew you could not fail at an endeavor, what would you attempt? If you do not truthfully face the brutal questions of who you are and what you want, you run the nasty risk of going down a path that doesn't suit you and at which you are less likely to succeed. 

If you are an undergraduate student, temper your expectations for your initial role. It is not advisable that you go into your finance interview expecting to land a job where you would be making multi-million dollar decisions. What most employers are looking for is someone who has integrity, who is willing to learn, who will prove him or herself to be very dependable during crunch time, and who has the potential to be molded into roles of increasing responsibility within the department. It is fine to share your personal and professional goals in the short and long term. If you want to stand out, don't present yourself as a hotshot, but as rather as proven hard worker who is passionate about the field and who is ready to jump in and get his or hands dirty. As Thomas Fuller, noted English churchman and historian, said, "Don't let your will roar when your power only whispers."

Start Small
Eliminate the ego. It's very likely you won't be doing anything high level when you begin. A vast majority of entry-level roles will be sheer grunt work, if not downright clerical. Find a brutally honest former classmate or friend with a few years of hard experience in the working world to confirm and validate this view. These vast legions of hired "analysts" conduct mindless data entry on Excel, audits of senior bankers' calculations, addition and subtraction on Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, schedule meetings, spell-check presentation slides and mail tax return documents. The first few months in an entry-level job are meant to test your reliability in such tasks and therefore, you should approach your interviews with the mindset that you will prove yourself in a competitive environment. 

Impress upon the interviewer(s) that you will make the best out of your situation, and attempt to exceed your employer's expectations. Make it clear to your interviewer why he or she should take a risk on a recent graduate. Approach your interview knowing that you can and will deliver, even on non-finance, administrative tasks.

You should also assure your employer that you are a giver and that your actions in this role will make their star rise. Why not secure fulfillment knowing that you have helped to make someone else's career better? Finance departments are too often filled with hot heads and egomaniacs; show up with a great attitude and willingness to work hard to prove yourself and people will be drawn to you. That's leadership!

What's Your Role?
Finance can mean many things. You may interview for a role to:

  • help audit financial statements
  • help a senior associate conduct valuation work for specific assets or for entire organizations
  • email external contacts to remind them to send updated cash flow statements
  • update quick ratios and do comparables for various benchmark companies

Whatever your grade-point average, know that you have the skills to succeed in almost any entry-level role the company assigns you. A large number of people in the world, including those without the benefit of a college degree, are more than capable of executing your initial assignments. If you are carrying an ego to your finance interview, know that it is truly unwarranted. What really counts is whether you bring the intangibles: the sensibilities of emotional intelligence, the willingness to give and the humility to learn and work hard. Otherwise, you may just be another Wall Street wannabe who falls prey to burnout and attrition in corporate finance.

Interview Your Interviewer
Pepper your recruiters and employers on how they see the role you are applying for. You can be tactful and polite while still being frank. Do not settle for sugar-coated responses; if you have it in you to become successful in business, you must begin to develop the internal fortitude, assertiveness and candor to ask tough questions and get the answers.

Any company that you interview with will probably learn as much as it can about you. If you want to score points in the interview - and find out whether you like the company - you should do the same. In other words, conduct your due diligence. If the company you are interviewing with is such a great company, why hasn't it found the right person to fill this job yet? Is the company hiring because the department is growing, or are people leaving for negative reasons?

The Bottom Line
Even at an entry level, you can aim for the best, so before you walk in to your interview, know that you are willing to not accept the job if it is not right for you. Interviewers are most impressed with a person who does not settle.

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