Wall Street Prep

The Investment Banking Interview: Everything Matters, But Fit Matters Most

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If you are completely new to the investment banking recruiting process, you are probably wondering how summer analysts and full-time analysts are picked given the vast analytical, academic, and technical talent that exists.

As someone who has actively recruited for J.P. Morgan’s Investment Bank, I am going to shed some light on what really goes on. Your alma mater, grade point average and work experience represent the primary filters. If you attend a top tier school, have at least a 3.5 G.P.A. and/or are one of the lucky few that managed to obtain a competitive summer internship after your freshman/sophomore year, you will more than likely make it to at least a 1st round interview. If one or more of those elements are missing, then landing an interview becomes even harder and networking becomes even more important.

But the real question is how do people successfully go from getting an interview to the final offer?
Keep in mind that after you’ve received a 1st round interview, you have likely  passed most of the “academic tests.” What this means is that you’ve already proved that you are smart, hard-working, and capable. You will surely receive technical questions in the remaining part of the process, but that is not the true focus. The true focus is on who you are as a person.

What does this mean? What this boils down to is are you the kind of person that the group wants to be working with late into the night? Can they stand you at that 96th hour in the 7 day work week? Are you the kind of person that someone in the group could be on a long flight with and be able to have meaningful, interesting conversations with? Are you the kind of person that someone in the group would invite out on a weekend / to a party? If the answer is no, unfortunately, you probably will not get the gig.

Questions that test fit:

1. Tell me what you like to do for fun when not working?

When answering this question, be careful.  You don't want to give off the vibe that you are a complete party animal, but you also don't want to make it seem like you are the world's most boring person. The key to answering this question is to provide answers that show you are outgoing and interesting, but not irresponsible.

2. What extracurricular activities are you involved in as an undergraduate?

When answering this question, be sure to focus answers on leadership activities.  To say "I am member of so and so club" is great, but not as powerful as describing activities where you took initiative and served as a leader.  And, it doesn't matter what type of club.  Banks want analysts who can run with projects and get things done without hand holding.  Giving leadership vignettes provides that sense of confidence.

3. If you could go on vacation anywhere, where would it be and why?

No right or wrong answer.  Just be honest and passionate in your response.

4. [If you are at a university with a nationally recognized sports teams], How is [insert team name] doing this year in [football/basketball/hockey/whatever]?

The key to answering this question "correctly" is to show that you are loyal.  The bank wants you to get involved with recruiting (like I did) and wants you to remain a loyal "alum" if you decide to leave the bank at a later time to pursue other ventures.  Knowing how your sports teams is doing shows that you are loyal to your school.  If you don't follow your school's team, be honest and direct.  If you have no school spirit, subtly direct the conversation to something (non-finance related) that you are passionate about (e.g. "Football never actually resonated with me.  I think it had to do with being terrible at it.  I spend a lot of my off-time running and biking, it is a major passion of mine and I just completed the Ironman in San Francisco.")

5. Tell me more about your study abroad experience.

You want to show that your study abroad experience has helped you mature and has helped shape your global views since these days business is global. Discuss unique experiences you had abroad and why they are meaningful to you as a person.

6. Describe your ideal work environment.

Be cognizant of the position you are interviewing for.  If it is investment banking, you want to make sure you balance your answer to mention both a passion for analysis and working in team environments.  Most people want to work with team players. Remember the saying, "more hands lighten the load." You can also mention other things like you want a "work hard, play hard" environment.  If the position involves less working in groups and more technical analysis, modify your answer accordingly.  ultimately, you want to strike a balance by being genuine and broadcasting that you understand what is expected of the position.

The key to the process is do not force it. Don’t forget that your interview is a two-way interview and you want to make sure that your personality doesn’t have to change to fit the group’s culture. It should be a symbiotic process that is completely natural. If you find a group that embraces you for who you are, you will ultimately have a much more rewarding experience.

Happy hunting!

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