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2:24 pm ET
Jun 10, 2014


Q&A: Tips From a Serial Job Interviewer

  • Article
  • Comments (66)
  • Career Advice

  • Getting a Job

  • Job Interviews

  • By
  • Adam Rubenfire
Sofia Faruqi, 28, has been on 100 job interviews.
(photo by David G. Christen)

Sofia Faruqi went through 100 job interviews so you don’t have to.

From 2007 to 2013, as she worked her way through school, Faruqi, 28, interviewed at 40 different firms in the financial-services industry. Eleven of those firms offered her a job, and she accepted four of those offers, including one for her current job. She now works as a portfolio manager at Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge, an asset management firm in Boston—and informally advises job seekers on the side.

She recently spoke with At Work for one more interview. Edited excerpts follow.

WSJ: You must have a good answer to that perennial interview opener: “So, tell me about yourself.” So, tell us about yourself.

Faruqi: I am originally from Pakistan, and grew up in the Middle East. I got a scholarship to study in the U.S. at Dartmouth, and that’s how I came here. After undergrad, I started doing investment banking at JPMorgan in New York, and then during the financial crisis of 2009 I discovered that my passion was in the stock market and investing. So, I joined the investment team at a pension fund in Toronto, and that later led me to business school at Wharton, during which I worked at a hedge fund in San Francisco. After that, I managed money for a client for a few months after business school, and then in February I started at Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge.

WSJ: What do interviewers really want to know when they ask that?

Faruqi: It depends. Some interviewers are looking to get to know you and see where you come from and the path you’ve taken. Other interviewers just want a summary of your most recent experience.

WSJ: Over the course of 100 interviews, you’ve been asked a lot of questions. Which ones caught you by surprise?

Faruqi: The ones that caught me by surprise were the ones that were either really good or really bad. Some of the best that I’ve been asked were: “What values did you grow up with? What makes you proud of who you are?” Also, “What’s the most exaggerated point on your résumé?”

WSJ: That last one is bold.

Faruqi It’s a good question, because all résumés have some level of exaggeration. It’s really good to just ask that outright.

In terms of the worst questions, one was “Your resume says you speak French. So, let’s do this interview in French.” Another horrible one was, “Will you go out with me?” That only happened once, so it’s a very rare thing to happen, but not great. You always have to keep your composure, no matter what happens.

WSJ: What’s the oddest thing an interviewer has asked you to say or do?

Faruqi: A recruiter once asked me to build a model in Excel. That is not unusual in itself. The odd thing is that I filled out the spreadsheet with gibberish, and I still got the job. The model was supposed to be of a particular consumer segment, and at the time I just didn’t know how to do that, so I just fiddled around with it and filled it in with numbers for a few minutes before closing the file.

WSJ: Wow. To get past problems like that, do you find that it’s important to look confident even if you’re not?

Faruqi: It’s about having what I would say is a humble confidence. So you never want to lie to yourself and pretend you know something you don’t. But at the same time, you don’t want to openly say that you have no idea about something.

WSJ: Body language is very important during an in-person interview. How do you maintain positive body language?

Faruqi: The single most important thing is eye contact—you want to maintain eye contact without being creepy. So, looking away every few minutes and coming back to the interviewer is good. Other than that, your body language should be responsive to that of the interviewer, because body language is always evolving, and that is a conversation that is going on in your interview.

WSJ: The rest of your interviews would have been by phone or video. What are the challenges of those mediums?

Faruqi: I haven’t done any video, but I’ve done a lot of phone interviews. I do think video would be better—you get more body language.

In a phone interview it helps to remove distractions and put yourself in a position where you are focused. Right now, my office door is closed, so there are going to be no interruptions, my computer screen is blank, so there are no pop-ups or e-mails or other distractions. This way, I can focus on our conversation.

WSJ: Do you have a go-to interview outfit? Does it change based on where you’re interviewing?

Faruqi: My go-to outfit tends to be a black suit—either a pants suit or a skirt suit—with a colorful shirt. You don’t want to distract someone by your appearance. Nothing too loud or too short or too fashionable. Just something that looks clean and professional that will allow the interviewer to focus on you and the conversation.

WSJ: Now that you’ve settled in a job, are you ever on the other side of the table? What kind of interviewer are you?

Faruqi: Yes, I’ve interviewed candidates several times. My goal is to put the candidates at ease, so I can see who they truly are. I usually start by mentioning something positive from the résumé, and I have an informal style to encourage candidates to relax and be themselves.


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