I have made my share of mistakes in interviewing. I’d like to share them with you. I have many faults, but the one that applies here is overconfidence. Confidence is a huge part of interviewing. They want to see a strong candidate confident in his skills.
I remember when I interviewed with a prominent mutual insurer, and the interviewer asked what I knew about the company. I have a good voice, so I sang the theme song from the company as I remembered it. He looked at me and said, “That theme song was discarded 20 years ago; it is astounding that people still remember it.” (Note: they should have kept the theme song; it worked. Marketers get tired of their advertising long before clients do.)
With another large mutual insurer, I regaled them with tales of what I did at a smaller stock life insurer. I spent a lot of time talking about the company as a whole, also. What was going right, wrong, etc. It convinced them that I would not fit their culture, because no one had that kind of authority in their large firm. I seemed to be a “wild man” to them. They wanted someone to be “another brick in the wall,” whereas I was more of a businessman, liking big projects that were multidisciplinary.
Avoid musing about novel ways to modify the industry – I remember suggesting to a credit card company that it should provide additional services to those that pay in full each month, such as a high yield money market fund, or other sorts of investments. Why not make more money off of those who have more money? After all, that’s valuable client information.
Then there was the time that I had recently discovered the game “Set.” The game has three attributes in four dimensions – a great game for the mathematically minded. So I showed to another actuary at lunch during an interview, that couldn’t have harmed my chances, right?
At another interview, an older guy asked me what I would find interesting in investing. I gave him an honest answer, “Buying broken insurance companies, fixing them, and selling them for a profit.” He said, “Ah, merchant banking.” In hindsight, I know he dismissed me at that point.
That brings me to another point, beware big guys. I often impressed the guy who would have been my boss, but ended up losing on his boss, who was looking for a conventional hire.
What can I say? I’ve always been a threat to badly run hierarchies.
One more note: in the early days, I always had a bright tie color; this worked against me, as insurance companies generally did not like those who were certain in their views. I was visually too bold.
Last point: when I knew I didn’t want the job, I would give them free consulting. I would tell them where their strategy was wrong, and what they needed to change. That never got me a job, but it scored points for me regarding honesty.
I am glad I did not get many of the jobs to which I applied. I would have been smothered by the bureaucracy, and would not have liked it. My weaknesses helped to expose the culture of the firms to which I applied.
And so I would say, unless you are desperate for work, be yourself. Inquire into the culture of the firm to which you are applying to see if there is a good fit. Don’t work somewhere that will be constant pain for you unless you have no good alternatives.
By David Merkel, CFA of alephblog