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15 Little Life Hacks

How to ace the world’s toughest interviews

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It seems we’ve given up on being ambitious these days. How often do you hear the press saying, “Young people would be lucky to get a job in this economy”?

In fact, it’s almost un-cool to be ambitious: If you say “Yeah, I really want to work at [Top-ranked company] or get into [Elite college] or [Ridiculous goal like travel around the world for 2 years], lots of us would get weird looks, since we’re just supposed to be happy to have a job. Any job.

This invisible anchor of low expectations makes us give up on ambitious dreams because it would be “weird” and uncomfortable to talk about the bigger goals we have.

Compare this low-performing mentality to top performers, who are still getting more job offers than they can handle, making more money than they’ve ever made before, and living a lifestyle that would be envious to most people. But they don’t get press very often.

I think it’s cool to be ambitious. It’s great to dream bigger than your friends and parents. And if you take action to hit your goals, the critics will fade away.

For example, I had friends that used to say things like “So when are you going to get a real job?” A couple years ago, that changed to, “Man, I wish I had your schedule.”

And much of this low-expectation mentality is due to our invisible scripts.

Here’s an example from uber-entrepreneur Steve Blank, who writes about a fascinating story: Some of his former students had started a company, and while it had been successful for a few years, they were now selling merger deals and found themselves mysteriously losing deals to bigger competitors.

After Steve listened to their challenges, he said this:

“My first observation is that you guys don’t even know what you don’t know,” I suggested. “Large procurements for government agencies are being played out on level you aren’t participating in. There’s a game going on around you that you don’t even know about.

That last line — “There’s a game going on around you that you don’t even know about” — is a profound truth that most people never realize. They truly believe that if they simply try harder, they’ll get a promotion and make more money.

They truly believe that if they go to grad school, it will be the single-best thing to improve their job prospects.

They truly believe that buying a house will give them financial security, and that listening to their financial advisor will give them “trusted” information, and that choosing a marketable major in college will get them a good job.

Sometimes these assumptions work, but often not. Is it any surprise that many people are frustrated that they’ve been sold a bill of goods? That the American dream doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to?

For many of us, there’s a game going on around us that we don’t even realize. Today, I’ll share some of those games with you.

In fact, this week I’ll be covering more on “invisible scripts” in my 30-day free course on hustling your way to success.

  • Monday: Automating your invisible scripts
  • Tuesday: Examples of successfully automating scripts (bonus email if you’re on my free pre-launch list)
  • Wednesday: Expert case study on hustling
  • Thursday: LIVE webcast where I’ll do live teardowns of your invisible scripts and show you how to take action with them (keep your evening free)
  • Friday: Winner of “Take Action” award for this week, plus preview of next week’s content

At the end of this month, I’ll be launching Earn1k 2.0, a new version of my comprehensive program on hustling and earning money on the side.

Now, check out the invisible games that go on around us…without us even knowing about them.

Behind the scenes: How to ace the world’s toughest interviews

A few months ago, I met a college student at a conference. He was telling me about his job search. “I have a few companies I want to go after,” he said excitedly. “I’m pretty sure I can get a job offer from all of them. Then I ‘ll have to pick! I just have to start working on my interviews. What do you suggest?”

I asked him if he’d researched the interview process. Had he done any practice interviews with friends? What about reaching out to older friends who worked there? He shook his head no impatiently. Then he told me he’d get to all that, but did I have any “tips” to share with him?

I didn’t know what to tell him. He had no idea what he was getting into.

The companies he named were some of the most competitive in the Bay Area. He had little experience (which is fine for college students) and a competitive GPA. But his communication skills were terrible. As we talked — with him talking at me instead of with me — I compared him to a group of friends I had in college.

During interview season, this group of friends and I sat around the dining halls and shared our best interview techniques on a regular basis. We shared the craziest questions we got, the best answers we’d given, and the strategies that alumni — the hiring managers — had let us in on. My friends from this group went on to get jobs at McKinsey, BCG, Google, Goldman, and other extraordinary companies.

This isn’t meant to brag. But let me share what was happening in these dining-hall meetings. Each of us was relentlessly focused on becoming the world’s best interviewees. We studied interview techniques — for hours every week. We tested our best material with interviewers. (Many students would schedule interviews with companies they have no interest in to use as “practice interviews.” Like it or not, it works.) Then we brought it back to the group, compared notes, practiced our cadence, rhythm, and tone, tore each other’s answers apart, and systematically improved our interview skills. Over and over.

So when this random guy at a conference was telling me his interview strategy, there was a game going on around him that he didn’t even realize. Serious applicants to companies like McKinsey were practicing their case-interview techniques for MONTHS before they ever stepped foot in the interview room. These same applicants that had talked to alumni/friends currently at their target companies to get the inside scoop on what really mattered in the interviews. They’d read books and Vault Guides and had attended info sessions. By the time they got to the interview, they were absolutely ready.

And, as with virtually any other complex transaction, 85% of the work was done before these serious candidates ever stepped foot into the interview room.

And the scary thing is, this is what most top performers do.

What does this mean for you?

Am I saying that you need connections and dozens of hours of interview prep to get a job with these companies?

Of course not.

But it sure stacks the odds in your favor.

Ambition + preparation

There’s a difference between being ambitious and realistically ambitious. Anyone can say they want to be President, or work on Wall Street, or travel around the world on passive income.

But realistically ambitious people articulate their goals, then describe the action they’ve taken to achieve them.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to claim you want something…without working for it.

  • “I want to have 6-pack abs!” (But I haven’t scheduled in 3x/week to go to the gym.)
  • I want to be rich!” (But I haven’t even read one good personal finance book)
  • “I want to work at [TOP COMPANY]!” (But I haven’t done any serious research, including informational interviews, mock interviews, and investigations into how people get jobs there and what they do afterwards.)

The key difference is bringing ambition to reality through testing.

When I met with my college friends every few days during interview season, we were systematically testing our interview theories and skills. When we started, we knew we weren’t the best. But by the end, we could walk into an interview and close it like nobody’s business.

Over the next 4 weeks, I’m going to be pulling back the curtain on a different topic each week to show you what’s really going on behind the scenes. Today, we covered interviews for top companies.

  • CURRENT invisible script for job interviews: “If I do a little research and show up, I should probably be able to turn this interview into a job.”
  • REALISTIC invisible script: “I’m competing against people who are 3x as qualified as I am. The actual script

And there are more invisible scripts for jobs, relationships, earning money, big projects like writing books, and virtually every other area of life.


*     *     *

Results from last week’s test: TAKING ACTION

Last week, I asked people to list 3 assumptions and test them. Of course, once you ask people to take action, a small fraction actually do. So today, here are some actual results that people got in 48 hours’ of testing their theories.

Actual results from 48 hours’ of testing:

– “I talked to two potential customers. 1 called me back the next day to hire my service.”

– “I actually got a $1,000 raise. They completely agreed with all of my points!”

– “Biggest result so far? I GOT OFF MY BUTT AND DID SOMETHING. I’ve *finally* launched an ad campaign of some kind. Now that I’ve done it, all I have to do is tweak it. I haven’t sold one yet, but over 100,000 people will see my ad. If even *one* actually buys the eBook, I’ve done more than I have in the last nine months.”

– “I launched a web site with a few hours of work.”

– “I wrote a 23 page eBook, sent out to 15 people to test it, and got 3 response, and two pending.”

– “I wrote one paid article and applied for two job offers on a job board and it didn’t even feel like working, because I was so “in the zone” and happy about doing what I had been putting off for weeks.”

– “I was checking for vegetables when I saw this cute girl. She was obviously looking for something specific. I knew I had to make a move. I wasn’t able to do nothing. Just like that I hear your voice Ramit. You told me go for it.  I said to her are you looking for something. She said yeah I’m looking for ground corn. I could say yeah it’s over there but instead I ask for her recipe with ground corn.  A nice conversation begins. My next move was to ask her number. I was ready for a big no. Guess what? She gave it to me. I was surprised. I’m not sure I can duplicate this success but I will try it again another day.”

–  “I only ever hit on girls that I hadn’t met before, so this was an AMAZING experience for me. I started out by just approaching two girls I already knew, out of which one I had a crush on for SEVEN years! The idea that they were impassable when compared with girls I didn’t know was completely dispelled and my confidence increased TEN-FOLD. I flirted with them as I would normally do, and I expect to take them on an AWESOME date next week. You just helped me break a pattern of ignorance that lasted SEVEN years!! Thank you!”

– “I talked to the president (of the company), spent some time understanding his specific problem, and offered him a solution. I made sure to quote him a rate that I’ll be happy charging him for all of 2011, and he agreed.”

– “ALL THREE BIDS, for the three projects, at the higher price, were accepted! The customers didn’t even bat an eye! I am quick, detail oriented and efficient and I now realize that people are happy to pay a higher price when you give them results they didn’t even know they could get!!”

Not everyone had such success:

– “I also noted 3 other organizations I would like to practice my speaking skills with and sent them an email as well. Results: nothing yet.”

– “None, I was told the only fees the bank would refund are ones that are of bank errors. Since this was due to an error on my side, they have to adhere to the Terms and Conditions.”

– “I heard back from 2 companies about working with them, I failed miserably and made gross pancake type things, I was told there was no way I would qualify for the University of California San Diego and should attend another college.”

Do you see what’s going on here?

Many of these people got more done in 48 hours towards their goals than they had in years. Notice what I wrote: “towards their goals.” We can spend every day doing meaningless tasks, but if you take an honest look at what you accomplished last year, did it take you closer to your biggest goals?

Even the failures are a positive trend. While they may have tactically failed on this small task, they made an important change: taking action, instead of waiting for something to happen to them.

Negative invisible scripts

There’s a game going on around you that you don’t even know about.

How many of us go through life without testing our theories? Here are a few of the most insidious:

SCRIPT: “I could make $160,000/year if I just had a law degree.”
REALITY: Going to law school is likely to leave the average student in crushing debt — and law schools are systematically deceiving students. This is why top performers know to only go to top 10 law schools, or they don’t go at all.  (The same is true of business school.)

SCRIPT: “Why would anybody want to help me? What would they get out of it?”
REALITY: People LOVE to help people who take action. If some random emails me and tells me his delusional dreams, I’ll probably ignore him. But if he says, “Here’s my plan…I’ll email you back in 2 weeks with results. Then I’m hoping to get some advice after I’ve showed you that I can take action.” I’ll always respond. Who would be willing to help you?

SCRIPT: “I need to read more and more about investing before getting started.”
REALITY: You could set up your investment accounts by the end of the week and contribute $50/month to it — and be better off than someone who spent the next year “researching” their investments. (Note that I’m not saying you should just open up an account and dump your money anywhere. You need to do your research. But you can find out a basic place to invest, and “tune” your contribution amounts and asset allocation over time. I cover this in detail in chapters 3 and 7 of my book.)

Of COURSE there are exceptions to every one of these trends. There are huge successes that go to non-top-10 law schools and end up wildly successful, just as there are entrepreneurs who have hit it big without ever opening an investment account. But if you talk to most top performers, you’ll notice these trends time after time.

Do you have any these negative scripts do you have in your life?

Positive invisible scripts

Here are a few key positive scripts that top performers hold:

– “People want to help me, so it’s OK to ask them for advice”
– “I have a larger network than I realize..including my friends, friends’ friends, alumni, parents’ friends, and even people on LinkedIn and people whose blogs I read”
– “It’s GOOD to be ambitious”
– “I want to out-prepare the SHIT out of this interview/application”

See the difference?

Negative scripts are about holding you back. Often, they’re so deep you don’t even realize how they’re constraining you.

Positive scripts dispense with the “Should I?” and get right to the “How can I…” part.

It’s not “Should I apply to XYZ…?” it’s “How can I get INTO XYZ? What would make me irresistible to them?”

Advanced step: Automating positive scripts

Last week, we focused on identifying and testing our assumptions, which are invisible scripts that prevent us from getting what we want.

There’s one more step: automating the solutions into your life so you’re not dependent on willpower.

SCRIPT EXAMPLE: “I want to contact 5 people per week to offer my freelance services to”
– BAD implementation: “I should definitely do that. I’ll get started some time next week. Yeah, 5 people/week would be good.” (Notice loser language, including “should” and “would.”)
– GOOD implementation: “On Mondays, I do research on whom I should contact for the rest of the week. I write down the names and email addresses. Tues-Fri has 15 minutes blocked out each day on my calendar to contact and respond to my prospects.”

SCRIPT EXAMPLE: “I want to find a better job”
– BAD implementation: “I hate my job…I need to get something better…I should read some books on finding a job, and see what else is out there. I need to update my resume, too, and probably log into LinkedIn.”
– GOOD implentation: “I want to find a better job — which means it pays $5,000 more and lets me focus on XYZ area that I love — within 60 days. This week, I’m going to make a 7-week plan for finding a new job. I’m guessing I need to research my field, figure out which industries I should be looking at, narrow down the target companies to 4-5, then figure out who I know at each company. I could probably do each of these things in 1 week, but I’m going to give myself a little more time in case I have to wait on other people. By Friday, I’ll add a list of to-dos to my calendar for the next 7 weeks.”

See the difference?

Positive scripts are specific, measurable, and focused on HOW to do something…not if you SHOULD do something.

They don’t depend on your willpower: As long as you honor your self-set calendar reminders, you will know precisely when to do something.

Now I want you to focus on turning your invisible scripts into constructive successes.

THIS WEEK: What to do

I told you that each week this month I’m going to give you one specific action item to hustle your way toward your goals.

If you accomplish JUST these simple steps, you will get more done this week than you’ve done in the last 3 months.

Here’s the action item for week 1:

1. Identify ONE new invisible script of success and find a way to AUTOMATE IT into your life.
2. Leave your implementation results in the comments section of THIS post with the heading “WEEK 1 RESULTS” by WED at Midnight PST.

This isn’t just a random action item. Remember, each step in this 30-day course on hustling is designed to get you to achieve a BIG WIN. For those of you who take it seriously and take action, you will see incredible results. (Just see above for people’s results within 48 hours.)

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  1. Ramit, this article proves yet again that it’s not just about technical skills when it comes to interviewing. You really need confidence, persistence, luck, and passion. If there are one hundred people interviewing for the same position, with the same set of programming skills, the one’s that actually want the job are going to get it. Hiring managers aren’t dumb and can see through people who just want a paycheck!

    • I believe the combination you need is confidence and technical skills. Those 2 are worth more than 100 degrees and every other paper you may bring with you.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by pas, Austin Evarts. Austin Evarts said: How to ace the world’s toughest interviews: It seems we’ve given up on being ambitious these days. How often do… […]

  3. Ahhhhhhh…. damnit, why didn’t someone TELL ME that being ambitious was uncool. This explains it all. Thanks 🙂

    Script: I want to sell 81 books by Jan 31, 2011
    – Tuesday I will study good/successful email campaigns and send mine out Wednesday to my email list. Friday I will send out the same email to everyone who didn’t open my first one.
    – Mon-Sun I will write a daily blog post with an offer to buy my book at the bottom of each one. Statistically the more views my sales page gets the more books I sell that day. My goal in putting the link at the bottom of each post is to double my sales page views this week.

    • @Blake Erickson
      Instead of “send out the same email to everyone who didn’t open my first one”, e.g. instead of bugging people twice, why not ask those who did open your email and pitch them further until they take action you need?

    • @Sam @Blake

      You could do both, really, Blake. I work in the retail industry and re-sending an email is called a “re-blast” and can be quite successful. I would definitely agree with Sam’s idea to court the people who did open your email. Good luck!

  5. If you’re going to dream big, you have to be able to tune out counterproductive feedback. You’re going to get a lot of fear-based reactions and a lot of people projecting their own low-expectations onto you. Constructive feedback is great, but you have to be able to discern the different between constructive and destructive.

    I started taking action to achieve my “big dream”, and now I feel like the ball is really rolling, things are falling into place, and I’m moving full-speed toward the end result. The first few steps were small, very small even. It’s exhilarating to take on a “dream”. I feel like I can do anything.

  6. Ok then. This week’s tasks:

    1. Reach out to 3 acquaintances and set up a time to catch up with them. I think I should be doing this every week so I’m going to put a weekly reminder for myself.
    2. Devote 1 hour a day to my blogs. Will put this on the schedule so I can’t put it off. Maybe I’ll finally get to writing that guest post for you. 🙂

    By the way, I got into one of the top 10 business schools out there (Haas) by doing exactly what you said. I got my boss to put me in touch with a friend of his who was part of the admissions committee. She chatted, told me what was important and helped me through the process. Results: I knew I was accepted before the official letters even went out. People need to understand there’s a whole other game being played to get into these schools which most of them aren’t aware of.

    • I did a similar strategy when I wanted to get into Grad school. I went and did an informational interview and spoke with the decision maker. Even though she essentially told me at first that I probably wouldnt get in (potentially crushing) we continued talking about what my goals were with grad school, and the program of study I wanted to follow. After the interview I followed up, thanking for the time she took. Results – I got into the grad program and even had the DM as my advisor.

    • My nephew got into a top tier internship (RIM) inspire of attending a second tier school (Conestoga College vs UofW) by doing the same thing friend of a friend put him in contact with the person who ran the program to find out how they sorted through all the applications. Later he sought advice from my Wife on how to interview and what job to apply.

      As an aside he didn’t get the job he wanted (messed up the interview) but it turned out very well as he got a job he liked much better. Currently he’s in Israel for a year.

      BTW the reason he didn’t go to UofW is that he has a reading disability and can hardly read.

  7. Like Erin, I too have dealt with naysayers and destructive people that were needlessly holding me back from where I wanted to be in life. Now I make sure to surround myself with those who are positive and supportive, but at the same time they don’t blow smoke up my ass and will point out potential roadblocks to me.

    It only takes a spark to get a fire blazing. 🙂

  8. Excellent post. I often hear people saying they wish they could travel more. I’m proof that you can have a day job and STILL travel. I ask my boss for vacation all the time. You know what the answer ALWAYS is? Yes. He always says yes.

    I took my fiancée to London for a weekend, to ABQ for a week, I went to Tampa for a long weekend, and I’ve taken numerous other days off just in 2010 for vacation purposes. It all really amounts to action. Thinking you can never get what you want is MUCH different than knowing. All it takes is a simple action.

    Thanks again, for the post.

    • Casey, does your boss give you paid leave whenever you ask for it, or are you taking unpaid leave but the point is that you’re willing to ask for more time off than you get in PTO?

      I totally agree with your approach, I’m just curious to clarify what you’re asking for.

    • Hi Rebecca! Yes, the leave I’m talking about is paid. I do have the PTO to use, but I hear a lot of people afraid to ask to even use that. Another bit of the point I’m making is that I ask for vacation so often. I try to take a nice vacation every quarter. A lot of people (in my office, at least) seem to think that you’ll get in trouble if you take more vacation. I just make sure my work speaks for my capability and hop on the plane!

      Thanks for asking 🙂

  9. These are things that I think I’ve reasoned out for myself quite a few times, but it never hit me with the same force as you’ve so clearly put it here. It’s true, being smart and having skills isn’t enough if I don’t have a reasonable attack plan for achieving my goals.

    Thank you for the reminder!

  10. I didn’t respond to the 48 hour hustling post, but I did take action. My script: I want to find work this year as a second shooter for weddings – with someone awesome.

    On Mondays and Fridays, I will research and write to five local wedding photographers who do great work and ask them to take me on. I will do this until someone hires me long-term, even if I have good prospects from previous contacts. Last year I put all my eggs in one basket and that person fell through, leaving me with no second shooting gig.