The Anatomy of an Investment Banking Interview

Over the past year I have written to over 50 investment banking companies to land an interview. Having gone through this largely unfamiliar and intense experience, I have been able to walk away with a clearer sense of do’s and don’ts. As many of you will undoubtedly be exposed to this challenge in the near future, it will be valuable to have a sense of these ‘rules’. In the following piece, I will break down the key components and patterns I noticed throughout the process, discuss my preparation, and hope to leave you with a newfound level of confidence. The advice is concluded with tips I received from seniors from J.P. Morgan, Citi Group, and more, giving you that edge in landing the desired job or internship. 

Rule 1: Dress the Part

While it may seem obvious, sophisticated and professional attire is key to your presentation and will set you apart from the rest. It is common knowledge that we make lasting first impressions within 7 seconds of meeting someone; make it count.  While not going into too much detail, avoid anything too flashy as to maintain a modest appearance.  The key thought should be aiming to “fit in” with the corporate standard, and, ironically, this will make you stand out from other applicants. 

Rule 2: The Entrance

Regardless of your skills, recruiters love to see a positive attitude. Especially in more established firms, recruiters have consistently admitted to discussing a candidate’s general impression with other employees they may have interacted with (such as the receptionist). Besides, in most cases the recruiter will walk into the waiting room or lobby to find candidates using their phones, avoiding social interactions, in an effort to relieve stress. Set yourself apart by getting to know some of the others! It shows the recruiter that you are social and allows you to network with other like-minded applicants. 

Rule 3: Prepare for Questions

Spend time beforehand looking at the most common questions asked by recruiters. In the following, I outlined the questions I got asked almost every time. In fact, I can guarantee with almost 100% certainty that you will be asked at least one of these questions. Having said this, these are but a few of the many interview questions recruiters pick from. For a more extensive list of possible questions, we recommend the following book: Breaking Into Wall Street; the 400 Investment Banking Interview Questions and Answers You Need to Know. By Leon Hagedorn

1. Tell me a bit about yourself. Out of all questions, this is the single most commonly asked question. It is also the only question you can completely prepare in advance. Aim to remain chronological in the order your story is told. The recruiter has spent no more than 30 seconds reading your CV beforehand, and probably already forgot about your cover letter. Knowing this, clarity in your story is key. Do not aim to talk about your relevant experiences too in-depth, as the recruiter will ask you to talk about the ones they are most interested in later. Aim for about three minutes. Tip from seniors: create a storyboard. Recruiters love to hear about experience gained at a young age and understand that these may not be the flashiest CV titles ever. Structure your story to start at a moment as early as possible in your career and create a logical storyboard of experiences building on this one early moment. 

2. Why this company? There are two steps you can follow to answer this question efficiently. First, you can research the company online. Go to the investor relations section on their website, closely read company reports and develop a view of the image they aim to portray to the outside world. You will then be able to use this as input for the next step.
Now you understand how the firm wants to be perceived by outsiders, start networking with its employees. Common myth: employees are too busy to help. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Approach employees (perhaps those in the very position you’re currently applying for) and start asking any remaining questions you had after step one. Tip from seniors: An easy way of approaching people is through LinkedIn. Shoot them a connection request, and attach a small note saying that you want to ask questions. 

3. Why investment banking? This is the question that attracts the most generic answers, and that’s also why recruiters love it. Generic answers quickly single out those who bullshitted their cover letters and CV’s. Key here is that good answers are honest answers. Why do you want to get involved in financial markets? Tip from seniors: the best junior applicants are those which can seem like the seniors. Positive energy is good but try not to fake an answer for the sake of making it lengthy. What you notice in senior interviews is that they clearly articulate their passion and leave it at that. This shows clear interest, but also radiates confidence in that you do not feel the need to over convince. 

4. If I give you 1000 euros now, what stock would you invest in? With this question, recruiters are looking to see if you know what’s currently playing in the world and financial markets. Use it as an opportunity to display knowledge on global trends and strong affiliation with financial markets. The question recruiters ask themselves here is: “if I let this candidate free in our office, will they be able to maintain a respectable and professional conversation with other employees?”. Tip from seniors: use this question to display a personal investment philosophy. This will show recruiters that you have not only given thought to possible investment opportunities, but went one step further and developed a personal strategy and risk-taking attitude.

5. What do you like to do for fun? While not the hardest question in terms of technicalities, this tends to catch many applicants off guard. All this portion of the interview aims to do is tick the ‘socially competent’ box. Show that you do fun stuff outside of work and have friends. Recruiters understand that different people have different personalities, and they are not going to compare you with others based on charisma. Tip from seniors: Recruiters are not looking to hear a long list of accolades you have collected with sports or other extracurriculars here. In other words, try not to frame your activities as achievements, even if you may have won that sports competition in high school. 

Rule 4: The Exit Plan

Typically, at the end of the interview, the recruiter will give you the chance to ask them some questions. Use this opportunity to further distinguish yourself from the other candidates. The key here is to develop questions that add value to anything said previously and show interest beyond the interview. Tip from seniors: use this opportunity to develop knowledge on the role specifically. Look to get information that was not available online. 

To further increase your chances, here are some questions recruiters gave me very positive feedback on:

- If I were to be accepted, what would I have to have done by the end of the period for me to be a good hire? Aside from the fact that this question is extremely unique, recruiters will be forced to think of you in positive light. It further shows that you care about your performance to the company, rather than simply landing the position. 

- I heard your company is experimenting with hot desking. How has this been working out so far? While the example of hot desking was specific to my personal interview, look to find out something specific in the company that you can ask about. Perhaps they just ordered new laptops, or maybe they switched managing style. It can be anything, as long as it is specific to the firm. This will show that you went out of your way to not only talk to people from the firm, but also that you seek out relevant information. For networking, LinkedIn is a powerful tool. 

- Obviously, management has just undergone significant changes with the head of asset management taking over as CEO. How do you see this affecting daily operations, if in any way? For this type of question, research public information to learn about significant changes that have affected the company as a whole. This builds on the previous question by showing that you do not just concern yourself with the position itself but maintain overview of the bigger picture. 

Final Adage

First of all, try to enjoy the experience. Although you will probably be caught by stress, take a moment to step back and realise that this interview is just one of many you will have in your life. Ultimately, your performance is not going to affect your long-term future. Do not take it so seriously to the point of burden and go in with a relaxed mentality. Most applicants get too fixated on delivering the perfect performance, which has an adverse effect and makes them appear overly tense. The most important thing is that you connect with your recruiter and have a good conversation. Remember, the best juniors are those who seem like seniors. Ask yourself, if I were 30 years older, with all the skills and titles in the world, how would I position myself differently? Then position yourself like that (without becoming arrogant of course). We hope you take something valuable away from this brief guide, and wish you the best of luck with any upcoming interviews you may have!

Editing by Tom Handels

Kariem HafezComment