How To Approach An Interview – Tips From Aspect Ratio CEO Shivram Apte

It is that time of the year again when we start visiting Engineering colleges and Business Schools for the pre-placement talks.

One of the things we work very hard to communicate to the student body, and with only limited success I am sad to say, is that students need to revisit how they approach job interviews.

On most campuses, students seem to think of the job interview as one more exam to survive or one more hurdle to overcome. They go into the interview chamber expecting to be asked some random questions to which they will either happen to know the answer and thus make it to the next round, or be unable to answer and therefore flunk out of the process.

Having been on the recruiter side of the table for a few years now, and I believe I speak for a large number of recruiters, I can confidently say that recruiters are not looking for candidates who have the answer to every question. What recruiters are looking for are people who demonstrate a certain ‘aliveness’ when it comes to handling situations or solving problems.

The best interviews from the recruiters’ point of view, and that alone makes it sufficient to qualify as the best interviews from the candidates’ point of view too, are those where the two parties have an interesting, engaging conversation.

Having said that, two cricket buffs could have a very interesting and engaging conversation about cricket and that has nothing to do with the candidate’s suitability for the job. The sad fact is that recruiter bias dictates that people want to hire people like themselves, and hence the cricket buff interviewer is likely to hire the cricket buff candidate for a position that he is not at all suitable for. The point to be noted though is that the hiring decision, though imperfect, would still have been made on the basis of the interesting conversation.

Presuming, without admitting, that the recruiters are a little more diligent and therefore unwilling to hire cricket buffs with no other skills for say a sales job or a finance role, and are indeed seeking to gauge relevant skills during the half-hour interview, how could the candidate prepare for the job interview?

My solution might seem Machiavellian to some, but with that disclaimer in place, allow me to present it here.


(Reproduced with permission from Shivram Apte. Originally published at AptReflections.)


The best way for a candidate to prepare for an interview is to figure out a way to gently steer the conversation during the interview to an area or topic of his or her comfort. The best way to take the conversation to such topic is to plan ahead on what questions would provide the best platform for the candidate to shine and then to seed such questions during the conversation.

Imagine for a minute that the candidate has come back from a fulfilling summer internship working at company ABC and that the candidate found the experience a great learning opportunity. Let us also presume that a chance to speak about the work done during the summer internship would show this candidate in very good light to the interview panel.

There are a number of ways to direct the conversation so that one could get to talk about the experience during the internship. Any open ended question is an opportunity to steer the conversation there. A few examples…

Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
A: Apart from what is on my CV, I would like to believe that I am a very curious person and that quality helped me tremendously during my summer internship at ABC Company.
Q: Tell me about your internship at ABC.


Q: What was your favourite subject at B-School? (Or at engineering school)
A (B School): I really loved Marketing (or Finance or Operations) and a couple of cases we did helped me tremendously to understand the perspective that my summers guide was trying to bring to the marketing (or finance or operations ) initiatives at ABC. I learned as much from my summers guide as I did in class for that course.
B: (Engineering): We had a great prof for Database Management and her classes were very engaging. The stuff I learned in that course helped me do much better during my summer internship at ABC
Q: Tell me about your internship at ABC.


Q: What do you think about the economic climate in the country this decade?
A: I truly believe India is the land of opportunity post 1991. I know they used to say this about the United States for the post-war (World War II) period, but I think the place is India right now. I used to think that some industries are sunset industries, but my experience during my summer internship at ABC co showed me that even that industry can offer so many opportunities for growth…
Q: Tell me about your internship at ABC.


Q: Tell me about your hobbies.
A: I have played X Sport at inter school level and it has taught me the value of patience and perseverance. It was these qualities that helped me tremendously at my ABC stint during my summer internship.
Q: Tell me about your internship at ABC.

Notice that the answer to the first question has pretty much decided what the second question is going to be. Similarly, the answer to the second question can pretty much decide what the third question can be. For example.

Q: Tell me about your internship at ABC.
A: I worked in the Marketing / Operations / Finance department at ABC and there was one piece that I worked on with my guide that taught me to see the function in a completely new light. I used to think that this functions only involved XYZ, but my guide showed me how JKL is equally important
Q: Tell me more. OR
Q: How was JKL relevant?

If the interview panelists can go away from the interview realizing that the candidate was really passionate about learning during the internship, or better still, if the panelists can go away thinking that actually learned something new from the candidate, they are going to find it extremely difficult to pass this person over. If nothing else, making the short-list for the next round of interview is a reasonable expectation of outcome.

If you can come out of the interview conversation having left the panelists feeling that there batteries were recharged, you have had a great interview. Needless to say, this is far better than a scenario where, because the conversation is stunted or stifling, they feel the need to ‘test’ the candidate. Then of course, the interview is indeed one more exam to be passed or one more hurdle to be overcome. Even if one passes the exam or overcomes the hurdle, one would still be competing with the person who the panelists enjoyed conversing with.

No prizes for guessing which candidate makes it to the next round.

– Shivram Apte




Reproduced with permission from Shivram Apte. Originally published at AptReflections.

Shivram is the Founder and CEO of Aspect Ratio. He is an alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad. Aspect Ratio is hiring – Apply here


One comment

ramji yahoo

useful article, but same way lets advise to the companies/firms on how to conduct interview. Let the HR manager/ DGM finance/ Super Senior VP Sales, to treat the candidates as friendly, let them not behave like Military Generals. The DGM”‘s age is 52 and the candidates age is 21-26, but treat them friendly and professionally. dont conduct the interview as verbal war or who is better intelligent or who has much moire facts-filled mind. (I did not mention recruiters from start-up because they know how to conduct an effective interview in a coffee shop or express train coach and they wont conduct interview on 7th floor corporate office corner cabin)