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Interview Tips from Swiss Company’s Owner Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 6th, 2020

Information Interview

Mr. S” is used in the paper for preserving the interviewee’s anonymity.

Organizational Background

The interviewee (Mr. S) currently heads his own company called Engadine (the name of a valley region in southeastern Switzerland). He is the head of business activities such as business relations, development, and project management. He works with alternative investment managers, whom Mr. S represents and whose businesses he helps to build. At the moment, he is involved in working with ultra-high-network individuals who are looking to develop a hotel and resort on the Dead Sea in Jordan; he is managing the development project on their behalf.

His company in itself is not large; it is made up of Mr. S and several partners with whom he works. The partners are not employed directly by Engadine; however, depending on the level of the company’s activities, each partner can make significant contributions to the business. As a rule, Mr. S works on between three and four different assignments at a time and thus needs contributions from various professionals in different fields. He is planning to move to San Francisco in the next few months because his wife has been offered an amazing opportunity to work for Google. Mr. S is looking forward to the move and the new opportunities that it will create for him.

Professional Background

Mr. S grew up in New York and studied at a university in Washington, DC. Upon his return to New York, he started his career at Morgan Stanley, then joined a small private equity management firm called Seligman. He then worked for Citi Private Bank in Geneva (covering the Middle East), moved to Abu Dhabi for five years with Citi Private Bank, and then returned to Geneva and joined Coutts, where he was in charge of all of the UAE-related projects. He moved to New York three years ago and joined a company called Fargils, where he was in charge of both the Middle Eastern and the Benelux operations. Over the last year, Mr. S has set up his own company, which he named Engadine.

Approach to Interviewing

Mr. S indicated that it is always essential to prepare for interviews, no matter how expert you are in your profession. He gave an example of soccer players doing penalty kicks every day because their skill had to be maintained so it could be used when needed. Mr. S mentioned that he had always prepared himself for all interviews, encounters, and meetings because he believed that each opportunity was unique and sometimes it an opportunity like that would never come along again. Therefore, it is always worth preparing for an interview, since today there are no excuses for not preparing thoroughly; people have free access to information at all places and times. Mr. S also stated that when a person was not prepared, it could come across as a disrespectful attitude or a lack of interest.

General Description of Interviews

While Mr. S’s firm has partners rather than employees, several points relating to how he finds and approaches potential partners merit discussion. Mr. S finds partners through business connections (referrals) that he has established throughout his career.

His expertise in a specific domain leads others to contact him; Mr. S is very selective when choosing his partners. Most of the time, partners approach Mr. S themselves; if he wants to approach potential partners, he e-mails them or calls them to discuss possible cooperation. Mr. S also receives a lot of e-mails from different companies asking him to work with them, so he only reviews those requests that seem the most promising (around 10 deals a month or 120 a year) and chooses only 6 to 10 projects a year on which he will work.

There is no specific set of questions that Mr. S asks his potential partners. He instead tries to understand what the business is, what the opportunities and challenges are, what leadership efforts are needed, and what kind of character his partners have. Also, Mr. S needs to know about their previous business failures.

If a potential partner says for example that he or she has not had any failures, Mr. S questions them immediately because “everyone fails, and people who are scared to say that they failed are actually the ones who are failing the most.” Mr.S is always on the lookout for perseverance, a clear vision, and the type of character that is not afraid to fail, because failure is a part of life. He also indicated that the key question which he saw as most important was not how one could fail, but how one would react to his or her failure.

Expectations for Applications

As mentioned previously, Mr. S has high expectations when it comes to deliverables and follow-ups. He gave an example of a recent deal he had to assess for potential. The deal was for port security barriers that could have led to many opportunities in the Middle East.

Port security is of particular importance ever since a US navy ship was damaged in Yemen. Mr. S was looking at the technology that could develop be implemented in port security barriers that governments would install in their ports or oil facilities to prevent terrorist attacks. When he was approached by the security company that asked Mr. S to help them with contracts, he did due diligence on their work.

He also conducted a background check and contacted some experts in military, surveillance, and security-related fields to offer them a partnership in the project where they could contribute their expertise. There was one individual who agreed to cooperate and said that he was interested and would contact Mr. S soon. Unfortunately, Mr. S had never heard back from that person. He concluded that if that person were to contact Mr. S later, that person’s credibility would come into question because he did not follow up during their first encounter with each other. In a professional setting, Mr. S expects his partners to be responsible and treat him as he treats them; he said that not being able to follow up was irresponsible and unprofessional.

Evaluations: How Are Applicants Assessed?

Mr. S said that his style of speaking with partners and assessing their potential had always been informal. He does not like being “uptight.” His understanding of formal may be different than how other employers may see it; Mr. S does not care about formal clothing, he cares about people’s communication skills, credibility, and the information they share with others. Also, he approaches people in different ways based on the job they have to do: an intern who helps with data management is not evaluated in the same way as a vital business partner when it comes to being formal. Overall, Mr. S focuses on follow-ups, deliverables, and actionable items that can have either a positive or negative impact on business outcomes.

He indicated that there was no preset time to make decisions. Mr. S puts extra effort into checking references, reviewing the available information, and doing a background check in order to make a decision. Often, the process of gathering information is the most time-consuming, but he tries to make his final decision within one month.

Additional Information and Suggestions for the Interview Process

Mr. S does not care about writing samples or resumes; instead, Mr. S likes “getting the feel of people” when seeing and talking to them. Follow-up is a point that is important for Mr. S; he does not like when a person says one thing during a meeting and does not do it later.

General Advice for Interviewees

Mr. S indicated that interest was always a key characteristic that could influence the outcome positively or negatively. People’s interest manifests through body language, well-thought-out questions, and preparation for interviews. There is no specific list of questions that may impact the interview with Mr. S because he values partners’ interests as well as their rationale behind it. For example, if a person says “I am interested in this because of xyz…” or “My passion is… because of…,” it shows thought and preparation for the interview because it demonstrates interest. Such attitudes of interviewees are regarded as positive indicators. Negatives can include the lack of eye contact, body language, an apathetic posture, rushing through a meeting, or looking at the phone more than necessary. Mr. S calls these points “soft negatives.”

Other Advice

Mr. S stated that there were three key recommendations anyone could use for interviews: preparation (e.g., websites, reading, YouTube, social media, referrals, and other ways to prepare and research), being yourself through showing passion and preparation (e.g., “I took my time to research your company and I discovered…”), and follow-up (e.g., sending an e-mail or a note). Mr. S emphasized that there is nothing easier than sending an e-mail to a potential partner due to the free access to technology and instant delivery options.

On the other hand, he said that sending a handwritten note is another way to go because it feels more traditional or “old school.” For example, a “Thank You” note written by hand and sent through post shows that someone took the time to write it, think about what he or she was going to write and how to spell the words correctly (because when one is typing on a phone or a computer, there is autocorrect), and took the time to lick the envelop, write the address, put a stamp on the envelope, and put it in a mailbox.

Recommendations of Contacts

During the interview, Mr. S did not give any suggestions of important or valuable individuals with whom to speak. However, I expect to have another conversation with Mr. S and get a useful contact for later referral.

Conclusion: Remarks on Useful Communication Strategies

Based on the findings of the interview with Mr. S, it can be concluded that employers value peoples’ communication skills, abilities to show interest, and efforts to follow up. It was surprising to hear that a person with more than a decade of professional experience working in multiple fields values people’s attitudes more than their success.

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