Things You Should Know About I-Banking Interviews

Posted by The Editors on June 19, 2011
Things You Should Know About I-Banking Interviews

Now here's insight from someone who has been in exactly the position you're in now. I've interviewed countless times and have plenty of stories about mistakes I made during some of those interviews. The good news about mistakes is that you learn more from them than from your successes. And what's even better is learning from someone else's mistakes and successes-that is, mine-and figuring out what works without having to run your own experiments. Here are some of my personal experiences and strategies.

Know Yourself

Before you put yourself through the I-banking interview process, make sure you know what you want to do and why you want to do it. Understand that people get into investment banking for many reasons. This is a challenging career, and it's not the right
path for everyone. Make sure you know what your motivations are. You'll be asked about them.

Think through responses for all of these questions:

  • Why do you want to be a banker?
  • What activities have you done in the past?
  • Where have you worked?
  • What kind of person are you?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What do you love and hate?

Before you begin "reviewing," make sure you know yourself.

Every Firm, Interviewer, Interviewee, and Interview Is Different
Be sure to understand the differences among the firms, including their history, culture, and business. You know this already, right? Well, be aware that it's easy to fall into traps without even knowing it-especially if you haven't done your homework.

For example: Goldman Sachs came to the University of Texas at Austin to recruit for its Dallas and Houston offices. On the day of the interviews, candidates were asked about their geographical preferences. A no-brainer, right? The answer's gotta be Houston or Dallas. However, it's not that simple. In Dallas, Goldman has two key divisions: wealth management and real estate. In Houston, however, Goldman has its investment banking division. I heard several candidates confidently say that they wanted to get into investment banking in Dallas. Clearly, they hadn't done their due diligence on the company. An immediate ding.

As you start interviewing, you'll notice differences in interviewing styles. The interview can be a pleasant experience when you meet with bankers who are outgoing and enthusiastic. But then there are those interviewers who make their lives more interesting by making ours more stressful. You will no doubt face the full spectrum-be prepared for them all.

Regardless of whom you meet, don't forget that the interviewer is not necessarily representative of the firm's culture. I've seen many students go sour on a firm because they disliked the interviewer. Don't jump to conclusions-or close out your options-too quickly.

As for the interviews themselves, the types and lengths are manifold. You might have the standard 30-minute question-and-answer interview. Or you might have an interview that focuses on your behavior or personality, or an interview that targets technical knowledge and skills. About 80 percent of my interviews were a standard mix of behavioral and technical questions. The remaining ones, however, were unique.

For example: At one bulge-bracket firm, the second-round interviewer focused solely on my life. More specifically, he asked questions about what I do for entertainment, my best spring break, and what I hate about investment banking. At another firm, I met with two stone-faced individuals-it was like speaking to a wall! At yet another, the interviewers introduced themselves and then asked me if I had any questions for the remaining 25 minutes. What it all boils down to is this: You don't know whom you're going to meet and what to expect, so be prepared to change gears at a moment's notice.

And finally, the content of your interview will also depend on your background. If you've interned or worked as an investment banker, you're more likely to get lobbed some technical questions. On the other hand, if you've never worked in banking before, be prepared to prove that investment banking is what you're passionate about.

Interviewing Is Often Subjective

At some point, you will walk out of an interview feeling confident because you feel that you've nailed it-that phone call to invite you to the second round feels like a sure thing. But then, no phone call: You didn't make the cut. What happened? Interviews are subjective, and you can never really know what an interviewer is thinking. Of course, there are certain situations whose outcome may seem unfair to you. Life isn't always fair. Don't let rejection stop you.

For example: When I was interviewing for internships, I met with an interviewer from San Antonio, Texas. The interview candidate right before me was also from San Antonio. After the interviews, I spoke to the San Antonio candidate and asked him about his interview. All they talked about was San Antonio, the high schools they attended, and so on. Nothing about the qualifications required for the job. Despite the fact that I'd felt good about my interview and was confident about getting a call back, it was the San Antonio candidate who was invited to the second round. An undeniable connection had been made, and I-the Houston native-was left out.

In another set of interviews with a bulge-bracket firm, I interviewed on campus and had friends who were also part of the interview round. Though many of us felt we had done well, none of us qualified for the second round. So who did? The interviewer selected someone directly from his fraternity, a candidate who hadn't even been originally scheduled to interview. I was furious.

The point of these stories: You will do well in some interviews and still not get selected. Don't get discouraged; just be aware that the interview process can be and often is subjective.

Stress Levels Are High
Imagine a world in which you interviewed with your top firms, received several offers, and ultimately worked at the firm of your choice. Okay, fantasy aside, it's time to come back to reality. In the current economy, getting into an investment bank is a serious challenge. If you want to break into the industry, get ready for skyrocketing stress levels, more interviews than you think you can handle, and a struggle to keep the words "I quit" from entering your daily vocabulary.

My first internship-unpaid-was in Merrill Lynch's private client group. I landed my second internship with an energy company; none of the banks that I had targeted hired me. The following year, I interviewed with more than 20 firms for another financial internship. Initially, I didn't get a single offer. Was I frustrated? Absolutely. Giving up was definitely a recurring thought, but I refused to give in to it. If banking is your life goal, know that you will travel a rough road while you're getting started. But many rewards lie ahead. 

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