Jessica Pointing knows how to interview.
The Harvard University junior received internship offers from companies including Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, McKinsey, Bain, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley.
A computer science and physics major, she has received offer letters for roles in software engineering, data science, product management, consulting, investment banking, trading, and quantitative finance.
How does she do it? She credits being prepared and relaxed with her string of successful interviews.
Pointing published her best interviewing tips on her blog, the Optimize Guide, which features educational and career advice for high school and college students. Business Insider has shared her tips below, with permission.
1. Do your homework
Pointing made sure to hit the books before interviewing.
"I treated the internship interviews as a class — I studied material from books and did practice problems before the test (aka the interview)," she said. "There is usually a go-to book for each industry." These books help prepare job candidates, covering likely interview topics and even featuring practice problems.
For example, for software engineering interviews, she recommends "Cracking the Coding Interview" by Gayle Laakmann McDowell, while people going for consulting gigs should brush up on "Case in Point" by Marc Cosentino.
2. Develop a structure for problem-solving
The stress of interviewing can make it pretty easy to blank when you're speaking to a hiring manager.
That's why Pointing says it's important to adopt a problem-solving mindset.
Here's the structure she used for answering questions in her software engineering interviews:
-Repeat the question to make sure that you understand it and have all the relevant details.
- Clarify the function input and output.Check assumptions.
- Give an approach to solving the problem.
- Discuss the tradeoffs of the approach.
- Code the solution.
- Test the solution with a normal test case.
- Test the solution with some edge cases.
She also broke down the approach she uses for consulting interviews:
- Repeat the question to make sure that you understand it and have all the relevant details.
- Explain the objectives of the case and ask if there are any more objectives.
- Ask any clarifying questions.Generate ideas and a solution.
- Organize and structure the answer.For calculations, give insight into what the calculated number means.
- Summarize the case at the end.
"These structures ensure that I hit almost everything I need to mention for a successful interview," Pointing said. "In consulting, giving insights into a number you just calculated separates a good candidate from a great candidate."
3. Practice and strategize
"It is very important to practice in an interview setting before the interview," Pointing said. "If your college offers mock interviews, take them! Some companies offer mock interviews, too. There are other services out there, such as Refdash, that give you free mock interviews. Do a practice interview at every opportunity."
If at all possible, Pointing recommends scheduling your "dream interview" last. That way, all of your interviews before can serve as practice sessions.
4. Have a backup plan
So how can you keep your cool when the stakes are high?
Pointing advises having a backup plan in mind. You should always have an alternative path to pursue if your job or internship opportunity falls through.
"If you are interviewing for the summer and you go into an interview with no plan for the summer, then you will probably be way more stressed," Pointing said. "Instead, if you already have an offer or a vague idea of something you would do in the summer (e.g. travel), then the stakes for the interview aren't as high. The more options you already have, the more relaxed you will be in the interview and the higher your chances are for the job."
So take some pressure off yourself and make sure to sketch out a backup plan.
5. Invest time
The interviewing process isn't just about setting time aside to talk to a bunch of hiring managers. You'll need to devote time to reading, practicing, and perhaps even traveling.
"I traveled across the country more than six times in 12 weeks for my interviews and spent approximately 80 hours in planes," Pointing said. "Make sure you have enough time in your schedule to invest in your internship search process. You should dedicate a few hours each day practicing for interviews. I scheduled time in my calendar for interview practice for every morning (after my regular morning routine)."
6. Create a question bank
Pointing recommends that after each interview, job candidates write down interview questions and solutions, as well as their own strengths and areas they could improve on.
"In one of my software engineering interviews, I missed a particular data structure that would have allowed me to have given a more efficient solution, but I made a note of it, and in another interview later on, I ran into a question where I could use that data structure," she said. "After doing enough cases and problems, you will start to recognize patterns, and you will become more confident and quicker in solving problems."
7. Don't skim over behavioral questions
Don't just focus on industry-specific questions. Pointing says that interviewees must also come prepared with answers for common behavioral questions.
"Behavioral questions usually fall under several categories: leadership, teamwork, challenges, and successes," she said. "You should identify stories in your life that fall under each of those categories. You should also write down those stories and all the details. Writing down your answers to behavioral questions before the interview is important."