What NOT to do in Job Interviews

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.

What NOT to do in Job Interviews

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.)

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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

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David J. Merkel, CFA, FSA — 2010-present, I am working on setting up my own equity asset management shop, tentatively called Aleph Investments. It is possible that I might do a joint venture with someone else if we can do more together than separately. From 2008-2010, I was the Chief Economist and Director of Research of Finacorp Securities. I did a many things for Finacorp, mainly research and analysis on a wide variety of fixed income and equity securities, and trading strategies. Until 2007, I was a senior investment analyst at Hovde Capital, responsible for analysis and valuation of investment opportunities for the FIP funds, particularly of companies in the insurance industry. I also managed the internal profit sharing and charitable endowment monies of the firm. From 2003-2007, I was a leading commentator at the investment website RealMoney.com. Back in 2003, after several years of correspondence, James Cramer invited me to write for the site, and I wrote for RealMoney on equity and bond portfolio management, macroeconomics, derivatives, quantitative strategies, insurance issues, corporate governance, etc. My specialty is looking at the interlinkages in the markets in order to understand individual markets better. I no longer contribute to RealMoney; I scaled it back because my work duties have gotten larger, and I began this blog to develop a distinct voice with a wider distribution. After three-plus year of operation, I believe I have achieved that. Prior to joining Hovde in 2003, I managed corporate bonds for Dwight Asset Management. In 1998, I joined the Mount Washington Investment Group as the Mortgage Bond and Asset Liability manager after working with Provident Mutual, AIG and Pacific Standard Life. My background as a life actuary has given me a different perspective on investing. How do you earn money without taking undue risk? How do you convey ideas about investing while showing a proper level of uncertainty on the likelihood of success? How do the various markets fit together, telling us us a broader story than any single piece? These are the themes that I will deal with in this blog. I hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University. In my spare time, I take care of our eight children with my wonderful wife Ruth.