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What Do Hiring Managers Want?

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You’ve been invited to interview for a job. Congratulations! Take a moment to savor this small victory. No matter how well the stock market indices have come up from their crisis lows, it’s still a challenging job in itself to find a good job on Wall Street. In this article I am going to ask that you put aside the jobseeking mindset and concentrate on the interviewer’s perspective. We are going to examine what an interviewer needs (to feel) from you before extending you a job offer.


Managers focus on identifying and inspiring the best talent they can find to accomplish specific tasks. Interviewing is a vital step in that ongoing process, but it’s not always the most enjoyable one. It means investing hours of time which could be dedicated to other projects, and both good and bad interviews often lead to disappointment. The best-case scenario for hiring managers is that they will extend an offer to someone they are optimistic will work out; still, managers know only time will tell. It’s also common for people to job shop or come in not really that excited about the position. Jobseekers frequently express frustration with how few interviews go anywhere, but let’s empathize with the interviewer too: not all candidates are dreamboats. A candidate might not have the skills alluded to on the resume. He or she could be missing necessary interpersonal skills to succeed in the job or thrive in the work environment. The candidate could be so overqualified for a job he or she will inevitably be unhappy after a couple of weeks. And some people are just so uncomfortable interviewing they either completely clam up or push so hard that the interview’s end feels like a coup de grace.


I am sorry to say this, but most interviews are dominated by candidates’ nervous chatter. Managers are often condemned to sit politely and listen while an applicant lists all the reasons he or she is unique, brilliant, valuable, or just plain desperate for a job with that company. The person that walks in to talk about the job the manager needs to fill will be a welcomed relief. Instead of overselling yourself, respond to interview questions with answers that pinpoint how you specifically fit the position. You were invited in because you might address a challenge the employer faces right now. If you’d like to be king or queen of the world, do so, but at a time other than a job interview. When you maintain a laser-like focus, the interviewer will be more confident about a fit. At an appropriate moment, ask the interviewer why you were invited to interview instead of others. Then ask if he or she has any questions about that specific quality you possess. Answer by referring to examples of what you’ve done in the past.


As I stated in my last NYSSA article, interviewing is like dating. My wife and I didn’t suddenly click. It was more of a case of being so comfortable with each other that getting married seemed obvious. Seven months after we first met, we agreed we wanted to marry each other during a casual conversation in a crowded Long Island Railroad car. Of course, just like any responsible CFA® charterholder, upon receiving an indication of interest I provided her a balanced presentation of the risks and potential rewards of marrying me. She did anyway. Even though, like my marriage, a lot of opportunities develop from getting to know people over time, sometimes you will walk the plank into the office of a complete stranger. Your odds of receiving an offer will skyrocket should the two of you “click.” This can’t be forced. But it may happen and you can miss or prevent it if you are busy trying to be someone other than yourself. Both you and the interviewer want an interview to click.

You want a new job you’ll enjoy and the manager wants to be done interviewing and finally hire a likeable person who will do the job well. When I interviewed for a portfolio manager job, I’ll never forget when I said to the division head: “If I was in that job I’d be looking at information ratios.” There was another portfolio manager in the room leaning against the wall of the office and out of the corner of my eye, I saw him literally slump with relief. After interviewing twelve other people, they finally found someone who they could hire. That was not a subtle click. That was more like a loud wham.

Thomas Orecchio, CFA, CFP®, ChFC®, CLU®, AIF®, a principal and portfolio manager of Modera Wealth Management in Westwood, New Jersey, described a recent successful hire as “something we saw quickly. We knew within 15 minutes that [the candidate] fit the culture of the firm and she could work with clients from day one.” When there’s a click, you may see a very brief nonverbal expression of surprise, such as eyes widening, maybe a hand clenches on a chair, or even a slump against the wall of the office. If the tone of the conversation then becomes warmer or the body language opens up, it’s a click. Enjoy it, respect it, and permit yourself to respond in kind because you can bet some serious cheddar you will move forward in the interview process.


My very hazy understanding of Einstein’s general theory of relativity tells me the closer you get to a black hole, the slower time progresses. A potentially attractive job offer is similar to a black hole (not the most comforting image, but bear with me). When you are interested in a new job, time also stops. Experienced jobseekers anticipate that extended wait in the middle of the first interview once they become excited. That will inevitably lead to pressuring the manager too hard. Remember that hiring someone might be a priority for the company, but there are often many other competing priorities. Companies usually have a hiring process that involves many steps and much deliberation. It’s more productive to accept you can’t force someone to hire you. But you can try to find out whether you have a chance or not. At the end of the interview, you can close by saying something along these lines:

“Thank you. You’ve invested your valuable time and I appreciate that. Is there anything else I can answer? No? Well, I am excited about the possibility of working here and if at any time you decide there isn’t a good fit, I will accept it, because the heart that is broken earliest mends the fastest. Can I hope to progress to a next step?”

Giving people permission to say "no" shows respect to them and indicates your self-confidence at the same time because the flip side of allowing someone to say no is that you are confident you’ll find a good job regardless of their decision. You may also get an answer right away or learn something that will help you the next time you interview. In closing, by this time you’ll (hopefully) be more sympathetic to the poor interviewer’s plight and more prepared to address that plight a little better. You’ll also have a new way to encourage a quick response after your interview. In my next article, I’m going to cover how to address unique challenges you may face in your personal job search—for example, fat fingers or, Heaven forbid, viral videos.

–Sam Levine

Sam Levine, CFA, CMT is the managing partner of the Buttonwood Group, LLC, an executive search firm specializing in investment management. He was a 2007 NYSSA Volunteer of the Year and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Market Technicians Association.

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