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Harvard Business School’s (HBS) recently released study on competitiveness stands apart from traditional academic studies: It has the aim of getting directly into the hands of politicians to pull them away from finger-pointing and petty politics.

Why the business school decided to conduct the study

HBS Dean Nitin Nohria told Yahoo Finance that ever since he was appointed to his position in 2010, he has been constantly pressed with questions about the recent recession, with many wondering if the crisis reflected something fundamentally wrong with the US.

“A lot of people were beginning to ask the question, ‘Is this something that’s cyclical or is this something that’s structural? Are we gonna recover from this?’” he said. “That conversation had occurred in so many places that I felt it was really important for us at Harvard Business School to investigate that carefully and deeply.”

The Competitiveness Project, which has spanned five years and issued key economic recommendations throughout, has called on top professors at HBS to study this problem while also surveying alums, current students and the general population.

Five years on, key economic problems still persist

Since the project was launched in 2011, Nohria said many of the same problems prevail.

“In some ways, it’s depressing to think that even though there’s a sense of urgency that we all feel, that America needs to do better, that so little has really occurred in these last five years,” Nohria said.

Nohria added that while we should take some comfort that the financial crisis did not end up totally melting down the global economy, we didn’t do much to address the underlying structural issues plaguing our economy, including poor K-12 education, a disadvantaged tax code and outdated trade policy.

What’s the reason? Politics.

“What we are finding in this study is that the political gridlock that we all experience in Washington, D.C. right now, particularly at the federal level, does end up being systemically one of the major reasons why we can’t seem to address these structural issues,” Nohria said.

The global impact of the US competitiveness study

Importantly, the lackluster survey results could have broad implications beyond the US to the global economy.

“When the US grows at 2%, it means that there is no growth opportunity for everybody else who also wants to sell into the US market,” Nohria said of the largest economy in the world. “America is so deeply intertwined in the global economic system that if America has a bad time, then you can literally see it.”

Nohria added that in his recent travels, the US doesn’t seem to be the envy of the world in the way it once was.

“Now you’re often asked questions, ‘What’s going on? Why can’t Washington seem to get its act together and get things done?’ So there is a real sense in which the admiration for the American political system has come into question,” Nohira said.

Perhaps, though, the fact that these problems can be discussed and studied in the US via avenues like the competitiveness project—as opposed to in places like China where there are stringent censorship policies—means solutions await.

“On the one hand, you can feel a little discouraged that in the last five years not much has been done,” Nohira said. “More fundamentally, I still believe that in a country in which there’s free speech, in which you can in fact do the kind of work that we’re doing, over time it creates the foundation on which you can respond.”

For more on the US competitiveness study, please see below:

Harvard economist never thought his new study would take him where it did

Harvard professor identifies the ‘worst nightmare’ in America right now

Harvard study singles out a game-changing economic opportunity: TAX REFORM

There’s a silver lining behind the dark clouds hanging over US businesses

Harvard Business Dean: The post-crisis monetary policy is ‘running out of runway’

How improved infrastructure could end America’s vicious cycle of poverty

Some companies have taken the next obvious step to filling jobs that sit vacant

There’s one piece of tax reform that would have a real impact with little resistance

America’s outdated education system isn’t producing the workers companies need

Revitalizing small businesses is key to drive America’s economic growth

(Preparation is key, says Harvard student Jessica Pointing.Jessica Pointing)

Jessica Pointing knows how to interview.

The Harvard University junior received internship offers from companies including Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, McKinsey, Bain, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley.

A computer science and physics major, she has received offer letters for roles in software engineering, data science, product management, consulting, investment banking, trading, and quantitative finance.

How does she do it? She credits being prepared and relaxed with her string of successful interviews.

Pointing published her best interviewing tips on her blog, the Optimize Guide, which features educational and career advice for high school and college students. Business Insider has shared her tips below, with permission.

1. Do your homework

Pointing made sure to hit the books before interviewing.

"I treated the internship interviews as a class — I studied material from books and did practice problems before the test (aka the interview)," she said. "There is usually a go-to book for each industry." These books help prepare job candidates, covering likely interview topics and even featuring practice problems.

For example, for software engineering interviews, she recommends "Cracking the Coding Interview" by Gayle Laakmann McDowell, while people going for consulting gigs should brush up on "Case in Point" by Marc Cosentino.

2. Develop a structure for problem-solving

The stress of interviewing can make it pretty easy to blank when you're speaking to a hiring manager.

That's why Pointing says it's important to adopt a problem-solving mindset.

Here's the structure she used for answering questions in her software engineering interviews:

  • Repeat the question to make sure that you understand it and have all the relevant details.
  • Clarify the function input and output.
  • Check assumptions.
  • Give an approach to solving the problem.
  • Discuss the tradeoffs of the approach.
  • Code the solution.
  • Test the solution with a normal test case.
  • Test the solution with some edge cases.

She also broke down the approach she uses for consulting interviews:

  • Repeat the question to make sure that you understand it and have all the relevant details.
  • Explain the objectives of the case and ask if there are any more objectives.
  • Ask any clarifying questions.
  • Generate ideas and a solution.
  • Organize and structure the answer.
  • For calculations, give insight into what the calculated number means.
  • Summarize the case at the end.

"These structures ensure that I hit almost everything I need to mention for a successful interview," Pointing said. "In consulting, giving insights into a number you just calculated separates a good candidate from a great candidate."

3. Practice and strategize

"It is very important to practice in an interview setting before the interview," Pointing said. "If your college offers mock interviews, take them! Some companies offer mock interviews, too. There are other services out there, such as Refdash, that give you free mock interviews. Do a practice interview at every opportunity."

If at all possible, Pointing recommends scheduling your "dream interview" last. That way, all of your interviews before can serve as practice sessions.

4. Have a backup plan

Interviews can be pretty stressful.

So how can you keep your cool when the stakes are high?

Pointing advises having a backup plan in mind. You should always have an alternative path to pursue if your job or internship opportunity falls through.

"If you are interviewing for the summer and you go into an interview with no plan for the summer, then you will probably be way more stressed," Pointing said. "Instead, if you already have an offer or a vague idea of something you would do in the summer (e.g. travel), then the stakes for the interview aren't as high. The more options you already have, the more relaxed you will be in the interview and the higher your chances are for the job."

So take some pressure off yourself and make sure to sketch out a backup plan.

5. Invest time

The interviewing process isn't just about setting time aside to talk to a bunch of hiring managers. You'll need to devote time to reading, practicing, and perhaps even traveling.

"I traveled across the country more than six times in 12 weeks for my interviews and spent approximately 80 hours in planes," Pointing said. "Make sure you have enough time in your schedule to invest in your internship search process. You should dedicate a few hours each day practicing for interviews. I scheduled time in my calendar for interview practice for every morning (after my regular morning routine)."

6. Create a question bank

Pointing recommends that after each interview, job candidates write down interview questions and solutions, as well as their own strengths and areas they could improve on.

"In one of my software engineering interviews, I missed a particular data structure that would have allowed me to have given a more efficient solution, but I made a note of it, and in another interview later on, I ran into a question where I could use that data structure," she said. "After doing enough cases and problems, you will start to recognize patterns, and you will become more confident and quicker in solving problems."

7. Don't skim over behavioral questions

Don't just focus on industry-specific questions. Pointing says that interviewees must also come prepared with answers for common behavioral questions.

"Behavioral questions usually fall under several categories: leadership, teamwork, challenges, and successes," she said. "You should identify stories in your life that fall under each of those categories. You should also write down those stories and all the details. Writing down your answers to behavioral questions before the interview is important."

NOW WATCH: The right questions to ask during a job interview — according to an expert

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