RFP: Diary of an institutional salesman, part 34

Will prepares his sure-fire interview tips for the fund executive.

They talk a lot about the concept of ‘face’ here in Asia.

You have to ‘give face’ to make people feel suitably important and valued. You should stay amicable in conversations in negotiations, regardless of how much of an asshole the other guy is, in order to ‘keep your face’. And, on no account, especially in front of subordinates (or cute girls), do you ever want to ‘lose face’.

Well, dear diary, that is exactly what happened to me: lost face, big time. Passed over for the CEO job, not considered right for the head-of-sales role and now, to cap it all, I have to re-apply for my own job. Yep, my face is not just lost, it’s in the wilderness with no compass, no GPS and down to its last few drops of fresh water. It ain’t looking good.

But, folks, William T Fitzgerald is not from around here. And where I come from, you fight fire with fire.

So, to layer cliché upon cliché, I’m not taking this lying down, no sir. At a time when the job market in this region is going gangbusters; at a time when LinkedIn just IPO’ed and is worth $4.3 billion; at a time when the region’s headhunters are so busy that their sage advice is that I become a headhunter myself: this is no time for a man of my stature to interview for his own #*&!ing job.

Don’t get mad, get even, they say. So I’m totally going to smoke this interview!

I’m outta here anyway. I’ve got nothing to lose. On my desk right now are two job descriptions for roles I could walk into tomorrow, so this ‘refresher chat’ with the HR lady from Switzerland will be a useful warm-up for the real event. Frau von Brochwitz had better watch out.

Maybe you’ve seen these other jobs too. The title of the first one – Head of North Asia Intermediary Sales – tells us a bit about the role, and the firm. The scope narrows with each word in the job title, but we all know what this one involves: kissing private-bank ass.

Well, at a push, I could do that for a couple of years – can’t be so tough. It’s with a firm new to the region, one nobody has really heard of before – hiring me would really put them on the map, and then the job is whatever I want it to be.

The second sounds more promising – Executive Director, Senior Business Development Executive. I’m not sure why but I think it’s an executive position. No geographical restrictions, no channel constraints – limited accountability. Sounds ideal, right? It’s with a huge, well-known firm, and this would be an easy way in before working my way on to bigger and better things.

We all know the old saying about failing to prepare means preparing to fail, so I’ve been doing some homework for these interviews. They always ask the same dumb questions, so I’ve prepared some brief notes for each:

How would your colleagues describe you?
(Subtext: a classic self-analysis question. How would you want your colleagues to describe you?)
-       Initial self-deprecation: patient for putting up with this nonsense (remember to laugh a lot, to convey humour and put people at ease)
-       Serious answer: a leader, a friend, someone who gets things done
-       A natural communicator, with all levels, especially those many ranks beneath me.

What are your main strengths and weaknesses?
(Subtext: demonstrate self-awareness, humility, turn weaknesses into strengths.)
-       Strength: deal-closer, rain-maker, results-oriented.
-       Strength: mention the Rolodex – people like me! I ‘get’ the Asian psyche.
-       Weakness: work too hard, expect too much of staff underlings subordinates
-       Another weakness, you ask? Pause and stroke chin when considering weaknesses…

Tell me about a time when you went the extra mile for a client.
(Subtext: Going the extra mile for your employer.)
-       <joke> There was this time I went to Urumqi on a fund roadshow <haha> (explain where Xinjiang is)
-       Persuaded our product ambassador to live in Bangkok for six months to win business from the Thai government. I knew the client and that this would make the difference. I had to feed the ambassador’s cat here in Hong Kong for half a year, but we won the business!

Describe a time when you had to learn quickly in order to complete a project.
(Subtext: your capacity to learn, ability to delegate)
-       In 2007, I learned quickly what is a CDO, and spent the next two years selling anything but CDOs!
-       My job is not to be technical, my clients don’t want me to seem smarter than them, so better to draft in the geeks for the tough stuff.  (Make it clear you understand it all, and are just playin’ the game.)

Why should YOU get the job instead of anyone else?
(Subtext: You gotta tell them something they don’t already know – like how you can step up.)
-       I’ve already done it for 2.75 years! Continuity, if nothing else…
-       I have some great new ideas for new market entry if I get the job (worry about details later, don’t get drawn in).

How far is too far, when it comes to winning new business?
(Subtext: A simple ethics question. Call them on it: there is no limit.)
-       (If interviewer is a guy) “Some of those consultant chicks are quite cute.” <wink>
-       “As long as you go farther than the next guy, all’s fair in love, war and sales.”
-       “I’m not saying Rupert Murdoch’s not a bad guy, but he’s a billionaire and his guys just made good use of technology after all…”

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time; in 10 years’ time?
(Subtext: A trick question. It seems to be about ambition, but it’s really about whether you would challenge your interviewers’ positions.)
-       Five years: Having built something successful and made money, I will create options for the next step. (Be humble.)
-       10 years: Hint at a CEO-level job, but don’t sound arrogant. Try: “I want to be starting my final job in a decade, based on the experience gathered from this awesome role we’re talking about today.” (Avoid using ‘stepping stone’, it makes it sound like you can’t wait to get out of the job you’re gunning for now.)

After this tour de force of interviewing kick-assery, they’ll have to offer me my old position at the very least. Maybe they’ll even reconsider me for the CEO role.

But it will be too late. I will have saved my face, and I’ll be out of the door with their heads in my genuine calfskin briefcase, en route to my next executive-level appointment. Time to get serious out there on the ice, folks, it’s face-off time.

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