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Interviews: It’s all about the spin

Rachel Serwetz
Rachel Serwetz
February 2, 2016
Interviews: It’s all about the spin

It’s not what what you say, it’s how you say it

I’ve spoken about connecting the dots into a personal story as one of the three basic requirements for landing a job, but there’s something that sits nicely on top of this layer. Without it, it’s like a cake without frosting: unfinished. Who would buy an unfinished cake? Unfortunately, it probably is just as tasty! The way you tell your story(ies) is the frosting.

First step’s first: learning “professional speak”

Informational interviews arean absolutely beautiful way to kill tons of birds with one stone (sorry birds):

  • Learn how to speak professionally (in general, by listening to the other more professional individual on the phone, reciprocating in a natural way, and getting feedback on the same)
  • Learn how to speak about your experiences (note the phrase has the word interview in it….it is basically a practice interview…)
  • It is a no-risk way to have multiple practice sessions — The more you do it, the better you will get
  • Ask tons of questions about a role/industry you may be interested in
  • Learn the pros AND cons of jobs
  • Gain professional connections
  • Get connected to even more helpful individuals through the person you speak to
  • Learn about career paths in the industry and what your potential future may hold
  • Learn about how other people got to where they are and what tools they used (and steal them)
  • Get advice on your specific situation from people who have been around the block
  • Potential to have your resume passed along to HR (…and get a job)
  • There’s probably more…

The first on the list, however, is SO UNDERRATED. Let me repeat. SO UNDERRATED.


Learning how to speak professionally, in some cases, can be the major key to landing an interview. Even if that informational interview doesn’t land you a job itself, it is putting you in a much better position to land the next one.

Who to talk to?

  • Just To Practice:
  • Career center (I find that the objective parties are the best critics, with the best advice and who you will likely listen to)
  • Friends/family
  • Mentors
  • To Practice & Network:
  • As mentioned in prior blogs, leverage your alumni network like it’s your lifeline (it basically is)
  • Friends of friends
  • Search friends’ Linkedin contacts
  • Other professinal connections


It should be a continuous process, ongoing throughout your entire career. Get used to the idea, because you should be constantly looking to find more and more people to ask questions to and to help you along with your career growth. I am still doing this…3 years after starting my job…and I will continue to do so, probably forever.

Until you have your absolute dream job, don’t stop!


Like I stated earlier, if you can get people’s email addresses (alumni), great. If not, message on LinkedIn or ask someone to introduce you via email if it is a live connection.

Other ways to get professional connections/informational interviews:

  • You could“cold email” or cold call companies you are interested in to ask HR to see whether anyone would speak to you to learn more about the company
  • Go to industry events near you, take people’s cards, and follow up!
  • There are so many ways to be creative and continue to find connections, the key is do not be afraid — IF YOU DON’T ASK, THE ANSWER IS NO.

How do I secure an informational interview?

Via text intro: Introduce yourself, state your background (college/job) briefly in 1 sentence, then state what you’re looking for (“I’d love to hear more about your experiences and career path in the field and any advice you may have for me.”) A LinkedIn intro would be much shorter whereas an email introduction can be slightly more extensive.

Live/Virtual meeting: Introduce yourself and review your brief background, state the intent again of your meeting (what you hope to cover/hear) and ask them to review their career path with you. Once they do as such, you should have some questions prepared or once you’re experienced enough (have enough info about your field of interest), you’ll be able to have a fluid conversation without any prep and simply ask questions based on their brief introduction. It is best to know their background beforehand if possible so you can look up the company and ask specific questions regarding their current firm and prior experiences.

You can even practice before the practice! (And you should). Google the top behavioral interview questions and simply write them down on a sheet of paper. Then put three blank bullets down below each question. Each question will have three pieces to its answer: Background, Action, Result. This is the best way to start figuring out what stories you should pull into your conversations. Then, try to speak those stories out loud in a short 45 second-1 minute story. This is when you should have someone help critique you (not just once… many times) to ensure that the way you are framing the stories have a positive spin (always), follow a clear structure, and most importantly, end in a way that shows the impact you made.

You want the interviewers to grasp everything you’re saying, and utilizing such a structure will make it easy to follow, to engage with you in a conversation, and to potentially remember your stories to relay back to others (HR).

Choosing your stories

Think from big to small. Some work situations you may not think are impressive, but it was how you handled the situation that was impressive. Truly think about the questions being asked and what will best represent your strengths in certain situations.

I have heard about someone interviewing who had worked at a hot dog stand but had such creative ways to make sales, that it was an extremely memorable story.

What is this really all about?

But what exactly IS professional speak?

1. It’s virtually speaking in vague terms, all the time.

We call this “high level.”

  • This does not mean you cannot include specifics, but as you do more and more informational interviews you’ll learn the jargon of your industry. Spit those terms back out and intertwine them into your stories, then your interviews feel like you already belong — another key to the interview.
  • Example: “I reached out to this one company to see whether they could do it better than us.” versus “We analyzed our processes and concluded that several of our non-core functions could be strategically outsourced to vendors and save enormous cost.”

2. It also generally means being able to give a short summary.

You have 45 seconds to give a story that probably took a few months in real life to play out. Once you begin working, you’ll have to do this on the spot, but the beauty of an interview is that you can have it all practiced beforehand.

  • The caveat is that it still needs to sound natural and not rehearsed. Please (I beg you) still make it sound natural, and know what any jargon means if you use it; this is why you practice.

3. It is the verbiage you use, and what areas of the story you focus on.

Please note the difference between the below, same story with a change in the way it is explained:

  • “I worked five days a week, selling hot dogs to the people on this one street in my town. They really liked the quality of the dogs so they came back to my stand a lot.”
  • “This was a full time job requiring only 8 hour days but I would work 10. My strategy was that I was exceptionally personable with anyone who walked by and was able to creatively use social media to bring in other customers who were not just walking by the stand. People told me that because I was such a bright part of their day and such a helpful salesman, they even ended up hiring me for catering parties.”
  • Regarding stats: It is okay to generalize to a reasonable degree. “I worked two and three quarters days per week selling to 37.5 individuals per day.” VS. “I worked three days a week because I had a second job on the side, but I was able to sell to double my quota.”

Last but not least….

Whether it is an informational or a classic interview format, let your personality and authenticity shine. This is what makes you unique and a valuable hire!

Ensure your stories show your growth, your work ethic, challenges you have overcome, your values, etc. Your stories will also show your decision making skills; it is a representation of who you are. Besides meeting the job requirements to a sufficient degree, your character is the crux. Your very downfall will be not being able to represent this properly. This is precisely where practice makes the baker great, the frosting beautiful, and the cake bought.

Interviews: It’s all about the spin

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Rachel Serwetz’ early professional experience was at Goldman Sachs in Operations and at Bridgewater Associates in HR. From there, she was trained as a coach at NYU and became a certified coach through the International Coach Federation. After this, she worked in HR Research at Aon Hewitt and attained her Technology MBA at NYU Stern. Throughout her career, she has helped hundreds of professionals with career exploration and for the past 4.5+ years she has been building her company, WOKEN, which is an online career exploration platform to coach professionals through the process of clarifying their ideal job and career path. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Binghamton University and has served as a Career Coach through the Flatiron School, Columbia University, WeWork, and Project Activate.

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