Saturday, June 23, 2007

Describe your role in this group, focusing on the people management

I noticed that here at Stanford Business School, you currently serve as
the co-president of the student association. I wondered if you could
describe your role in this group, focusing on the people management
(rather than the project management) component of your job. If I spent
some time here on campus and spoke to students who worked with you
in this organization, what would they say that they liked (and perhaps
disliked) about working with you? Do you think that you were an
effective manager?
This question is a hybrid between an interpersonal aptitude question and a self-awareness
question. As we mentioned earlier in the guide, interviewers often ask associate candidates to
describe and assess their own managerial style. If a candidate’s response suggests that he’s
either a rigid taskmaster or a spineless pushover, then the interviewer will probably question
his ability to assume an effective managerial role on a deal team. Unlike their analyst
counterparts, associate candidates must demonstrate the ability to manage both upward and
downward; in your responses, be sure to present yourself as someone who can effectively give—
as well as receive—direction, guidance, and both positive and negative feedback.
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Bad Answers
Candidate 1: Well, I think I would characterize my position as more of a
leadership role than a managerial position. I was elected by my peers into the
co-president spot, and as an elected student leader, I oversee eight committee
heads who plan and execute various student initiatives. They’re really the
“managers” of the organization, whereas the co-presidents are really responsible
for setting the overall vision of the association, speaking at various student
events, and basically representing the business school. That said, I think the
student association members would say that I’m a very effective leader. As an
organization, we’ve been very successful so far achieving all of the objectives
that we set for ourselves at the beginning of the academic year.
It’s unclear whether this candidate’s distinction between leadership and management is intended
to be self-congratulatory or self-deprecating. In either case, this response is ineffective. This
candidate doesn’t provide any insight into how he motivates and inspires people to be
productive; in fact, he doesn’t even really answer the question of how the association members
would describe him. His answer is so general and evasive that it almost undermines the value
of an otherwise impressive extracurricular achievement.
Candidate 2: If you spoke to any Student Association members, I’m pretty
sure they would tell you that I’m a very effective manager. As a manager, my
first priority is to recognize that I’m working with extremely competent people.
My management style is very straightforward: I tell the committee chairs what
needs to be done, and then I basically get out of their way. I don’t believe in
micromanaging people.
This candidate obviously doesn’t believe in providing a detailed response to the question asked,
either. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again; pay attention to the question that the
interviewer has posed. In this case, the candidate was asked both to characterize his management
style and assess whether his colleagues would consider it effective. Also, you should be
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wary of coming across as too hands-off; if you’re interviewing for an associate spot, you’ll be
entrusted with supervisory responsibilities over the analysts on each of your teams. As such,
it’s important to come across as a manager who’s truly invested in the success of his junior
Good Answer
Candidate: Well first, let me give you a little bit of background about the
organization. The Student Association (or SA) is the business school’s student
government. Students serve as officers, senators, and committee members on
the SA. Basically, the SA is organized around various committees that focus on
different areas of the business school experience: For example, there’s an
academic committee that focuses on interaction between professors and
students, as well as an alumni committee, social committee, and so on. In total,
there are eight committees, each with its own committee co-chairs and student
representation. Basically, my job as co-chair is to oversee the committee chairs,
ensuring that the association as a whole addresses students’ needs.
Unlike the first two candidates, this associate hopeful gives a brief overview of the organization
to give the interviewer some context. In addition, it’s clear that this is a high-profile
leadership position within her business school community. In a recruiting context, student
leaders are basically the number-one draft picks of the investment banking universe. If you’ve
assumed a meaningful leadership role on campus, don’t minimize its importance! Understating
your accomplishments won’t win you any points here.
Candidate: I think if you spoke to the committee chairs that I’m currently
working with, they would probably say that one of my strengths is my teambuilding
capability. So far, I think I’ve been able to create and maintain a team
dynamic in an organization that had previously been perceived as highly
fragmented—each committee chair basically did its own thing and provided
valuable services to students, but there was very little collaboration among the
various committees. When I took over as co-president, one of my goals was to
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create an environment where people were motivated by a strong sense of
affiliation, not just with their individual committee, but with the association.
Aside from introducing a team-oriented culture, I’ve also made a real effort to
be very approachable regardless of my own schedule or workload—I don’t
think any of my committee chairs would say that they don’t feel that they could
ask questions or look for guidance on the projects they’re working on.
These two managerial strengths—team-building and approachability—are certainly valuable
ones to highlight. Still, we might suggest that the candidate substantiate her claims with
specific examples. For instance, how did she go about encouraging collaboration among the
various committee leaders? When you’re preparing for interviews by considering how you’d
respond to questions like these, make sure you’re armed with specific details that will convince
the interviewer that you’re not all talk. Your interviewer may be satisfied with your general
overview, or he may just as easily probe for more detail—don’t let him call your credibility
into question by coming to the interview unprepared.
Interviewer: Okay, that’s what you think they would say about your managerial
strengths. What do you think they would suggest you improve about your
approach? In other words, if I asked your committee chairs for some constructive
feedback, what do you think that they would say?
This is an important point to remember: No interviewer is going to let you off the hook
without asking you to come clean on your managerial shortcomings.
Candidate: I think that some of the committee chairs think that I’m not
always specific enough when I provide my input on an event or initiative. When
we’re discussing an alumni dinner, for example, I’ll provide the alumni committee
chairs with very clear expectations about what the end result should look
like: the theme of the event, the types of student-alumni interaction we’re
trying to achieve, the number of people that attend the event, and so on. But
because my co-chair and I are overseeing eight different committees, my
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perspective necessarily has to be big-picture. I don’t go into too much detail
about the specifics of each event with each co-chair: how to recruit volunteers
for the event, what the invitations should look like, that sort of thing. I leave it
to them. I trust their judgment to make any event-specific decisions and resolve
any committee-level issues that come up.
But some people really want more guidance than that, and I think they sometimes
become frustrated that I give them so much latitude and don’t always give
them enough specific feedback. I think they’d say I needed to work on developing
a more detailed understanding of the particular issues that each committee
faces so that I’m better prepared to give the committee chairs actionable advice
if they need it.
This response is effective because it’s both credible and trainable. Remember, you can be honest
about your shortcomings as long as you demonstrate both an awareness of your development
areas and a commitment to continuous improvement (provided, of course, that the underlying
“development area” doesn’t suggest that you’d self destruct if you actually got the job).
Interviewer: It sounds as though you have a sort of “anything goes” approach
to management—unless they ask for help, you pretty much get out of people’s
way and are pretty hands off. Are there times where you’ve had to really roll up
your sleeves and pitch in so that a committee chair could accomplish a
particular task?
Keep this in mind: Although you should certainly highlight any leadership experience you
bring to the table, you don’t want to give the impression that you consider yourself too
important to do the truly unglamorous work behind the scenes. Interviewers definitely look for
evidence of leadership potential in associate candidates, but a willingness to slog through the
trenches of Excel models and pitchbooks will be equally important.
Candidate: Oh, absolutely. I get involved in the nitty-gritty details all the time.
For example, the career management committee (which acts as an intermediary
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between students and our career management office) recently planned to offer
a “mock interview day” here on campus. Because it’s been such a tough year
for recruiting, the career committee wanted to give students a chance to practice
their interview skills in advance of the recruiting season. They collaborated
with the alumni committee and contacted alumni at companies that regularly
recruit here, asking if they could take a day to come out and conduct oncampus
mock interviews with current students. This was a great idea, and one
that students were incredibly enthusiastic about, but the logistics were a little bit
difficult to execute. Basically, the project team underestimated the time it would
take to secure participants, and 3 weeks before the event, we still didn’t have
enough mock interviewers to accommodate student demand. So I came in over
the weekend with the rest of the project team and started making phone
calls—hundreds and hundreds of phone calls targeted to the alumni most
willing to participate in the event. Those types of things just happen
sometimes, and I try to help out wherever I can.
Good answer! Notice how much more effective this candidate’s response is as a result of the
example she provides. She’s probably resolved any lingering doubt the interviewer may have
about her ability to advance a collective effort as both a manager and an individual contributor.
As this dialogue illustrates, it’s not enough to simply assert your strength in a given area.
When you’re preparing for your interviews, think of specific instances in which you’ve
demonstrated those strengths in your professional, personal, or extracurricular pursuits.


Padmanaban said...

Managing a career is ongoing. It's always up to you to judge where you want to go with your career

diegoforlan122 said...


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