September 24, 2012

Show Confidence in a Job Interview

Nigel Morris: “Would you bet the interview on it?”

Screwing up a big job interview taught me how important it is to show confidence.

In spring 1992 I was a university senior scrambling to find a job.  I had several interviews with credit card company Capital One.

At that time Capital One was a small bank with innovative new ideas on how to segment credit card consumers.  Twenty years later, Capital One is the most profitable credit card issuer in the USA.  They have made obscene amounts of money.

Capital One liked to conduct live white-board case interviews with job candidates.  The cases were basically mathematical word problems that required you to calculate a break-even.  For example, if Capital One spent $X on a marketing campaign, what is the minimum number of new customers necessary to make the campaign a profitable one?  I found the cases pretty easy and solved them all quickly and correctly.  I met with about eight people and did at least eight cases.  After crushing one case the interviewer smiled and said, “You’d make a great fit here.”

I was on my way to a job!

Nigel and Rich were the founders of Capital One.  They interviewed all candidates last and their approval was required before giving any offers.  Since Rich was out of town I met with Nigel alone.

It was a tricky case.  I worked through it by talking out loud and writing on the white board as Nigel watched.  Occasionally he would ask a question.  My throat was dry, my hands clammy with sweat.  I annnounced my conclusion.

“I say ‘go’ on the campaign.”

Nigel leaned forward.

“Really?  You’re sure?  Would you bet the interview on it?  If you’re right you get the job.  If you’re wrong we’ll thank you and send you home.”

He crossed his arms and waited for my response.

I swallowed and turned back to the board again.  I checked my logic and retraced my steps.  It looked right, but Nigel had spooked me.

“Erm….I’m not sure.  It depends on my analysis of the the open rates.  B-b-but yes, I think so….yes,” I stammered.

Nigel narrowed his eyes.  He saw I wasn’t confident in my analysis.

“Thanks for the interview.”

I didn’t get the job.

It wasn’t until months later that I realized that Nigel wasn’t really serious about his bet.  It didn’t matter if I was right or not.  He just wanted to see if I would stand behind my analysis and show confidence in my conclusions.  At the critical moment I hesitated and failed his test of confidence.

The lesson?  Stand behind your convictions.  Always show confidence.

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