Interview Advice from a Banking Associate

This week, we interview an ex-investment banking associate from a bulge bracket firm to get his perspectives on interviewing and breaking into investment banking. A lot of times, in order to crush an interview, you need to know what the interviewer is thinking - here's one of them!

1.   What is the hardest part about recruiting for investment banking for you and how did you overcome it?

The most difficult part was the lack of opportunities. There are not as many opportunities in banking, and the chance is probably less than 5-10%, which is pretty low. In addition to that, there are so many different options and alternatives that you can pursue, so even if you have the offer, you’re not sure if that is something that you truly want.

2.   Was there was there anything you did that was out of the ordinary in terms of breaking into banking? Did you network? Were there any tricks that you did back then?

First of all, I understood the job through speaking with current and ex-bankers from the company which I was trying to recruit for. Speaking with ex-bankers were especially helpful, as I understood the bank / team environment a lot better given their more straight forward & honest opinions. I also knew that I needed to not only understand the bank and team but also the types of deals that they would work on. For example, I was able to understand that the group did primarily M&A deals in addition to convertible bonds, and that they do not typically work on IPOs – so I made sure during the interviews, I was able to relay that message and convince them that I knew specifically what they did in terms of both the product and industry.

Secondly (and more obviously), I made sure that my technical skills were solid. This included reading up on all of the technical guides and making sure that you complete all of those drills and practice problems out there.

Last but not least, when I spoke with the managing director, I really showed him my dedication. Whenever I speak with a senior person, I know that the key is not to persuade them about technical skills and such but rather about me as a person. I was able to show my dedication through first letting him know that I can do all types of jobs. Given that I started in the military, I know what discipline is and I am capable of doing the hard work. Once I was able to prove that I have the ability, the second part is to convince them that I have the willingness – and that is something that you need to express by being yourself. Once you really convince yourself about the willingness, your subtle actions will show, whether it is through the way you talk or through your gestures.

3.   When you interview candidates, what are some of the mistakes you’ve seen in interviews and what impresses you in interviews about interviewees?

Right, so when I was an associate, I would often interview junior level candidates. After a while, everyone starts to look the same and they all provide the same types of answers. The ones who really stood out were the ones who came in with different stories than the rest of the students. There is only so much that you can differentiate yourself in terms of technical skills and such, so the way to get someone to really remember you is to have a genuine but different story. Stating something like you developed your passion for energy from growing up near a wind-farm or incorporating how you were one of the few to climb a certain mountain can not only make you stand out but carry the conversation away from additional technical questions (which may get more and more difficult).

In addition, the ones that impressed me were also really well prepared – they were well prepared in terms of the questions that they can answer, but more importantly even when they were unable to answer a technical question, they can somehow show that they will get back to you or that they have the ability to reason through them / research them. So in a way, even when they were unable to get you the answer right away, they have the big picture to proactively look for answers. I think that’s very important because it’s not about showing that you know everything (as we all know you don’t – and it’s also impossible), so I think that some of the mistakes of interviewees would be trying too hard to impress you. It's to show that you have the confidence and capability to be prepared, but able to calmly and confidently reason or conduct additional research once you’re thrown some questions that you don’t know as much about.

4.   In terms of the questions you’ve asked historically, are there some that you always ask in order to judge a person or to see if a person is the right fit?

I like to begin by asking basic questions like how the three statements flow together. After that, I will probably ask harder questions like equity-method investments. In terms of accounting, what is the difference between equity method and full consolidation? If they can still answer this, I will then ask about cash and equity deals. It’s basically to go from easy to difficult. To see at which point they kind of break – and how they would respond to it. Obviously, if they cannot answer the basic questions, there may be an issue as well.

5.   Do you have any additional advice or suggestions that you would give to students trying to break into investment banking?

Besides the basics such as reading the Wall Street Journal, it would be talking to bankers (or ex-bankers!). If you want to go into TMT, then you should talk to a TMT person. If you want to go into industrials, then talk to an industrials person. I think that talking to people is much more helpful to me, in terms of understanding your job and understanding the types of people who are in it, because at the end of the day, it’s the people who you work with that will define your satisfaction with the job.

*This article was written without any collaboration or affiliation with third-party universities / corporations.



If you have any specific questions for this person, feel free to email us at (and we'll pass along the question).

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