Interviewing for a SA or Analyst position? Here's what I'd want to hear as a VP.

For years now, I've read these forums and rather enjoyed most content - whether or not it's actually useful information or a "Day in the life of an FT Partners analyst," I'm always glad I stopped by.

One thing that keeps reappearing on these forums is the question and often wrongly answered, "How should I prepare for an interview?" As my (hopefully helpful) gift back to the forum, here is what I can say sitting in the VP seat and having sat through countless cycles of on-campus recruiting:

Gents and ladies, it all comes down to you answering enough questions that makes the other side come to the conclusion that hiring you makes MY life easier

You may be thinking, "how do I do that?" You may also be thinking, "oh, no problem. In the bag." Well if you said the later, you likely fall into the "insufferable" camp and chances are you aren't going to make anyone's life easier, regardless of how talented you may be. 

Making the associate and VPs life easier is the golden gate to acceptance, my friends. Here is how:

1. Demonstrate pristine knowledge of Word, Powerpoint, Excel and Outlook

While this may seem obvious, I don't think people realize that you live in these programs. You draft memos in word, build CIMs and weekly updates in powerpoint, build models and all-else in excel and with the e-mail traffic you are going to get on deals, knowing how to keep a clean inbox is paramount. Know how each program links with each other. If you can get get your hands on macros, know short-cuts, and be as good as possible day 1, it will help. 

2. Be so good at financial modeling I tell my friends about you

Pretty plain and simple, I want you to be able to crush this skill. I mean, be so good that everything from the formatting, to the links, to the footnotes, to the print screen, to the formulas would make a TTS instructor weep. In no particular order, by the time you hit the desk I would ideally like you to be able to: 3-statement model, perform a DCF, perform an accretion/dilution analysis, perform comp and precedent analysis, and be able to tie it all together in a tidy power point.

Yes, your analyst training course will get you up to speed on this. Evermore, there is so much out there to help you learn these skills prior to the interview (I highly recommend the Adventis bootcamp and CFI FMVA course). Yes they cost money, but if either or both of those certifications show up on your resume, I know you've got the bolts and self-interest to hit the desk running. While others factor in other aspects of what makes a good analyst, this to me is the most important part.

When you're running several deals at once, you've got to have the numbers hammered down in a clean and concise fashion. If your senior associate or VP is running late to a call and a sponsor/buyer asks a specific question about the model and you can speak to it for us, boy does that put a gleaning smile on your senior's face and a token in your bucket. If you can demonstrate this via the questions you're asked in the interview (i.e. technicals, but really expound upon it and tell us how good you are), you're going to be in the driver's seat going forward. 

3. A genuine interest in being an investment banking ANALYST

When we meet for 15-30 minutes, I don't know whether it's been your life's dream to become an IB MD, whether you're just pulling into the station for 2 years before PE, or if you're doing this because you saw Wolf of Wallstreet. However, what I do want to know is that you want to be an investment banking analyst for the next two years. That means you are interested in not pretending to be an MD, but are someone who is genuinely curious about the deal process, committed to making the time sacrifice to be one, and are going to be a reliable person to work with for the next few years. 

Being an analyst can be a lot of fun. Seriously. Some of the best friends you'll have going forward are the folks you'll meet in the bullpen. You'll ask questions to each other, go drinking together, and even cover for each other when a fire drill happens and you're 3 sheets deep at the end of the world. 

But beyond that, you are a person who knows what the analysts job is to do both fun and un-fun. I get pulling together a PIB is not that stimulating. I get putting together 6 slides of a comp analysis can get a little glazy as well. However, to be able to talk to it, you need to be able to do it in your sleep. Express to us you know what an IB analyst does (prepare pitches and explain what's in one, different types of analysis, managing data rooms, managing buyer lists, etc...) and talk how your both technically and mentally in to do just that. 

4. The airport beer test

This is usually the part of the interview where you get asked something softball like, "what do you do in your free time?" At this juncture, this is where we can see to some degree whether or not after a 3 day sprint to get together a pitch, you're worth spending another 2 hours in the sky lounge with drinking a few beers. Are you genuine? Humble? Mildly interesting? Can you take a freaking joke? Out of all the things candidates can fake, this usually isn't the one, and if it's a tie between candidates (and there usually is one), this is the tie-breaker. 

So how do I prepare?

  • Know your technical questions. 9/10 these are the softballs from WSO or Wall Street Prep

  • Demonstrate your skills to hit the desk as if you were going to start in 48 hours. It may be overkill to some, but if I think you pump out a nice first draft of a pitch already, you'll be good to go

  • Practice financial modeling and spend the money to attend courses. Not only will you actually get an idea of what you'll be doing as an analyst, you'll inevitably be able to answer any "drill-down" questions with ease

  • Ask yourself "why do I want to be an IB analyst?" and frame the answer as if you answering it in an interview. It should hit: (1) What you know the job entails, (2) Why you have an interest in it, (3) Why you'd be good at it, and (4) What steps you've already taken to get good at. You answer this correctly and you'll give yourself a great chance. 

  • Practice your answers in a mirror. Seriously, it works. You're going to sound so much more confident. 

I'm sure some of this is somewhat repetitive to what others have posted on this board, but I've yet to see it aggregated. Hopefully this helps, and know that like anything else, the proper preparation is what will give you the best chance. 

Good luck!

Comments (58)

Mar 7, 2022 - 9:42pm
Mumbles, what's your opinion? Comment below:

#2 made me giggle.

  • 1
Mar 10, 2022 - 1:32pm
Outsiders, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Asked this below specifically about HF but was hoping you could provide color around LO shops also.

Can you talk a bit more about the recruiting structure at most funds? Assuming semi-experienced hire with 3-5 years of buy-side experience.

How much are you dealing with a hiring manager before you talk to a member of the investment team? Are you doing case studies or behavioral questions prior to talking to an analyst/PM on the team? What are the best ways to get through these "thinning" processes for candidate pools prior to talking to investment team members?

I'm confident in my ability to develop investment ideas and pitch them/field questions but want to maximize my opportunity to get to this stage.

Mar 8, 2022 - 11:54am
Ferris Bueller, what's your opinion? Comment below:

From a HF perspective, it's going to depend on the fund, but the big thing always comes up is an ability to be trained and your thought process. Is it methodical, or all over the place? A new deal comes across you, where do you start? What can influence returns? What should be inputted on the sensitivity analysis? What does the macro market look like and what should be analyzed? Idiosyncratic risks? You may have interviews at shops were all they ask is technical and market knowledge. Some may only be asking behavioral and structural questions to see how your mind works. It just depends. At the end of the day there, you'll most likely be given autonomy and responsibility off the bat. You can always ask questions until your blue in the face, but they care about your reliability and product. They want to know that when you present something, they know you've thought about it from every angle.

The places I've been have had unique approaches and styles, so being able to learn, and learn quickly, is important. Might get some case studies and excel tests. Case study is 100% how you think about the prompt, and can you defend your ideas? Can you take the criticism well? They don't care what your answer is, just how you got there.

If there's anything that is more particular you'd like to ask feel free to DM or comment and ill do my best to answer

Mar 10, 2022 - 1:31pm
Outsiders, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Thanks for the clarity. Can you talk a bit more about the recruiting structure at most funds? Assuming semi-experienced hire with 3-5 years of buy-side experience.

How much are you dealing with a hiring manager before you talk to a member of the investment team? Are you doing case studies or behavioral questions prior to talking to an analyst/PM on the team? What are the best ways to get through these "thinning" processes for candidate pools prior to talking to investment team members?

I'm confident in my ability to develop investment ideas and pitch them/field questions but want to maximize my opportunity to get to this stage. Thanks for any help.

Mar 8, 2022 - 7:44am
TorontoMonkey1328, what's your opinion? Comment below:

+1 SB. Great advice: "make my life easier" - true for any level. A bit surprised to see #1. Don't disagree that it's a great (and under appreciated) skill in interviews, but how have strong candidates convinced you they are strong here in an interview setting? Curious on your approach. I might borrow.

Mar 8, 2022 - 9:29am
TabernacleHouse, what's your opinion? Comment below:

It really comes in the narrative. Instead of, "I use Excel and PowerPoint really well," it's inferred and even more impressed upon the interviewer if you said something to the degree of developing materials where it's obvious you had to use both in a feature rich manner. For example, "… part of my time spent in the investment club was putting together both a full-scale LBO model and investment thesis presentation that was structured much like a CIM."

Unless you're working on Mars, it's pretty much inferred that you had your hands dirty in the necessary software in the Office Suite. 

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Mar 8, 2022 - 8:06am

are you allowed to use third-party softwares such as Macabus on work computers?

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Mar 8, 2022 - 12:31pm

are you writing this because you're finding a lot of new analysts DONT posssess these qualities?

Mar 8, 2022 - 12:43pm
TabernacleHouse, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I'm writing this because I think a lot of people don't know how to go about preparing for interviews. I want to let people know what we want candidates to come in prepared to know and how to relay that information. 

The worst thing in the world for a bank would be, plainly, we miss quality candidates because we didn't get a good read on them during the interview process. I want everyone who is qualified and wants the job (and I'm assuming if you're reading this - you are at least the latter), to put themselves in the best light possible. 

As a general observation, I do believe analysts are not as good as they have been but I truly do believe a lot of that has to do with the virtual work environment. 

WFH is an absolute heaven-sent phenomenon and I do think that a perfect structure for in-office/WFH would be: (1) MD/D: 1-2 days (2) VP: 2-3 days (4) Associate: 3-4 days (5) Analyst: 4 days. 

The reason is, analysts working from home miss so much - and this coming from someone who bangs the desk hard for heavy WFH. The first 12 months on the job are really such a big deal in terms of enjoyment and benefit from the job. "Face time" is a worthless metric. But being an analyst and having the ability to sit in a conference room with a VP and MD as they hash out a pitch structure, walk-through a model, or discuss deal terms in real-time is something you can't simulate as well virtually. There are also the obvious inefficiencies of asking questions. Popping into someone's office is always going to be easier than teams/slack/phone tag. Also, I know I've said this before, but analysts need to network and make friends with other analysts. You have no idea how many great friendships and lifetime connections you'll make in that 12-36 month period of time together. 

Mar 9, 2022 - 10:44am
marketMergerMaddie, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I have to add that during my time in IB, I definitely felt like I missed A TON with WFH. Everything from general attention to detail to networking with my colleagues to getting advice from other analysts were things that I felt I completely missed that I would've probably fared much better with in an in-office environment. That said, I think the vast majority of people disagree with me on this one, so I maybe I'm the odd one out here. 

I'll agree that "Face time" is not worth keeping track of, but I can appreciate not having to email/put time on people's calendars for a quick comment. Also, you never learn how to present. You never learn the value of printing things out to look over them. You never learn what it's like to look over an analyst's shoulder to see how they model. There's definitely a lot of loss there on the learning side that I think is pretty important for success on the job. 

It's also worth mentioning that I found the above not to be isolated to IB but my current work in AM (where I started in person, went to virtual, and now finally have the option to be back in person). 

Mar 8, 2022 - 1:00pm
spark-pool, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Thanks for making this thread.

Could I ask - how would someone go about showing that they are proficient in the MS office programs in an interview? Are there any specific certifications?

Most Helpful
Mar 8, 2022 - 1:29pm
chihayafull, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I personally don't agree with this at all, and I think a lot of freshman hardos might start panicking and buying some scam $7K piece of shit program to help them "model in their sleep."

You're fucking 20-21 when you interview, I don't think there is any reasonable expectation that you are good at anything whatsoever. It would be an absolute travesty to spend your college years learning how to do this bs work when you have so much other shit you could be doing. Perhaps explore an industry that you can be passionate about, so that you have interesting perspectives and folks can see you in their coverage group, for example.

As long as you know your technicals, then I would agree about demonstrating interest in the Analyst role and the learning opportunity, and here you can tie in industry interests, M&A, etc.

Like, if you're not a goddamn retard I *think* you could pick up on-the-job stuff during training, and putting in a lot of effort your first 3 months will work wonders.

Also, I've interviewed a ton of kids, and I will say the hardos that "know how to model in their sleep" are the fucking worst. Typically they have way less EQ, don't pass the airport test, and have spillover arrogance from being "better" than their peers at college which makes them a pain in the ass to deal with when you're trying to teach them because they actually fucking suck, because everyone fucking sucks when they start. I wouldn't trust a kid at all who's said they've done an LBO, or that they've created some sort of PPT pitch, etc. They've likely picked up bad habits and we'd have to start over anyway. I would SOOOOO much rather have a smart, humble kid who learns quickly, because THAT makes my life easier to train you. Your job as an Analyst is to make everyone's life easier. Your job as an intern / kid who just hit the desk is to learn how to become a real Analyst.

Just another opinion, feel free to MS

Mar 8, 2022 - 2:09pm
TabernacleHouse, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Fair points. However, I think you missed the gist of what I was saying.

1. In regards to modeling, it doesn't require a $7K course. It requires $150-$400 for really good online courses. 

2. I don't think knowing how to 3-statement model, DCF, or public comps analysis before graduating makes you any sort of hardo. If you do it during your free time (and I've been to college, everyone's got plenty of that), it's something you can do easily without affecting your social life. 

3. The kids that come in and brag about how they model in their sleep, you're right. They suck. Fortunately, there are only a few hundred slots in investment banking analyst classes each year in the country so the ability to select both sides of the "cool" and "technically sound" ven diagram isn't impossible by any means. This guide was meant to help those who were interested and wanted a leg-up some general guidance. 

4. You touched on humble and smart - I don't think coming in prepared (especially in a technical sense) deters one from proving either. So long as they don't come off as someone who hums and beats their chest in the bathroom stall, I wouldn't ever ding someone for taking the time to learn a skill in their free time. 

5. I do think that a lot of people can get jobs by just knowing the verbal technicals. However, I think most of those kids probably come from feeder schools/programs. If you aren't at one of those schools, the above is likely more applicable and can really separate themselves in an interview process. 

Mar 8, 2022 - 2:22pm
chihayafull, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I get where you're coming from, and I guess it's a mindset shift, since I tend to hyper focus on efficiency of time utilization.

I'm not dinging a kid who does shit in their free time, but I absolutely would not advocate that as an efficient use of time to secure an offer, as the marginal gain on that is minimal. Because you have to bring up your "skills" WITHOUT sounding like a total hardo, that means you have to subtly incorporate it in your answers. You understand where I'm getting at right, like most interviewers will never pick up on that subtlety nor give a fuck. You might, but on average they won't.

So much advice on here is akin to a bullshit banker ask of boiling the ocean until there's nothing else left, and the mindset of "well it doesn't hurt to do just one more thing to give you a leg up" should be done away with, because there are a vast number of things you could be doing in your free time that would make you a much more interesting and well-rounded candidate.

Mar 11, 2022 - 8:50pm
Ayo98, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I completely agree. I think OP owns one of those course companies lmao. Doing all that to live in NYC with three roommates and call yourself a "Finance Bro". And that last part is a self roast as well

May 1, 2022 - 1:58pm
timeout.prop, what's your opinion? Comment below:

completely agree. literally memorize the technicals from BIWS or WSO and then just learn everything else on the job. I think the only pre-requisites are effort and interest.

Could be smartest kid in the world but if you dont have those two down, youre done.

  • Analyst 3+ in IB - Cov
Mar 8, 2022 - 5:14pm

These types of posts always crack me up.  I've said it before but 80-90% of an interview is whether or not you win the "interview lottery" and connect well with your interviewer.  Yes, definitely study technicals.  No, you don't need to bust out a 3 statement model with no template and no one is going to test you on this.  Be humble, be likable, and pray that you get an interviewer that you connect well with.  That's literally it.  I've seen people rejected behind closed doors for the dumbest reasons you wouldn't even believe.  Most interviewers don't have the first idea what they're looking for they just think they do.  Ignore the analyst 3 title.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Cov
Mar 8, 2022 - 10:09pm

this bro, it literally makes no difference whether or not you DCF well or whatever lmfao, it's like 80% God choosing the "right dude" to interview you, me and my coworker were talking about this the other day. He said "all I really care about is fit dude, like will this guy be good with Cava when we wanna go or if he isn't annoying as hell to be around"

  • Prospect in IB-M&A
Mar 9, 2022 - 2:27am

In my experience it was the same. Missed a few technicals but connected really well with the interviewer... Got the offer.

  • Intern in S&T - Comm
Mar 8, 2022 - 7:17pm

Recruited for London; in S&T @ GS now but did recruit successfully for SA/Springs in IBD at EBs and I was never asked an even slightly technical question. This is just one person of course but if any bank asked me, a science major, a question that is purely technical (not including commercial awareness or basic macroecon principles here) without providing resources to learn them before or explicitly stating they'll be tested, I'd just think the bank is fucking weird.

Mar 11, 2022 - 8:55pm
Ayo98, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Same. I stopped an interview process because of this. The VP was strange and asking me dumb Qs, job market is too hot to entertain foolishness 

Mar 8, 2022 - 8:14pm
Synergy_or_Syzygy, what's your opinion? Comment below:

These are all good points but in literally the reverse order. Airport test is most important, then if you know what you're getting yourself into, then being technically prepared, and least important is "day 1" ready in MS Office. 

Be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes.
  • 1
Mar 8, 2022 - 8:17pm
Synergy_or_Syzygy, what's your opinion? Comment below:

WSO doesn't let me edit comments I guess. I would add "a sense of accountability" to what we look for. Do you "own" what you do, whether that's in school, life, sports, etc. Just following directions and having attention to detail isn't enough to cut it. Don't just fix what's there, be able to see what's not there and ask about the next steps. Increasingly important especially in a WFH environment when the Associate isn't standing behind you all the time, and deal teams are in general much busier than normal.

Be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes.
  • 3
  • Analyst 3+ in IB - Cov
Mar 8, 2022 - 8:34pm

Dont listen to this VP that obviously has no life outside banking.

I have never seen a new analyst that hits that desk that can:

" In no particular order, by the time you hit the desk I would ideally like you to be able to: 3-statement model, perform a DCF, perform an accretion/dilution analysis, perform comp and precedent analysis, and be able to tie it all together in a tidy power point."

They ALL need help and guidance to do this (and 100% of the time work off some existing off the shelf template to do it).

Do not spend money on a modeling course.  Waste of time.  You will be using your firms unique templates and modeling methology.  When you hit training, grab the group templates and get as comfortable as possible with them in your spare time.  NEVER BUILD A MODEL FROM SCRATCH AS A BRAND NEW FIRST YEAR.

Chill out, memorize what you need to pass the BS "technical" interviews, and soak up as much as possible when you hit the desk.  

  • Analyst 3+ in IB - Cov
Mar 8, 2022 - 9:02pm

And perhaps its just my group, but I have built maybe 1 3 statement model as a third year in a modeling intensive group.

People mostly care about projecting PnL line items,  using a quick and dirty estimate for NWC and D&A, and doing a simple FCF walkdown.

If you are routinely building 3 statement models as an analyst you are probably making your job harder than it needs to be  (or you in an uber hardo group).

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Mar 9, 2022 - 5:32am

Yeah we never build 3 statement models, idk what OP is talking about

Mar 9, 2022 - 1:50pm
TabernacleHouse, what's your opinion? Comment below:

It depends on what kind of clients you work with. If you work at an EB or a MM firm, some of the companies have financials that need... work. Our M&A groups absolutely do bottoms up Income Statements and Balance sheet work. 

Again, this is kind of a "catch-all." You can absolutely not do the above and still get a job, but, why leave anything to chance?

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Mar 9, 2022 - 6:17pm

OP sounds like a complete hardo loser

VPs like you are laughed at behind your back

Mar 9, 2022 - 8:13pm
TabernacleHouse, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Look, it's a guide book, buddy. You don't have to do any and all of this. It's just a best practice list.

I went to a state school in the SEC - so it probably applies more to those kids than others from targets. You're likely right, it may be overkill for some. But to others, maybe not.

Also, as far as "hardo" goes - brother you would trade places, this much I promise you.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - CB
Mar 10, 2022 - 12:53pm

2. Be so good at financial modeling I tell my friends about you

Sounds like you would fail the airport beer test lmao 

  • Analyst 1 in IB - CB
Mar 12, 2022 - 3:33pm

Haha can you imagine sitting at an airport with another banker having some beers and he's going on and on about some guy he knows that can make a killer three statement model

  • Intern in CorpFin
Mar 10, 2022 - 6:51pm

I'm a freshman and have a couple interviews coming up for my freshman summer in IB at some small boutique shops. I can walk through a DCF, and have enough knowledge from the accounting courses I'm taking at school to , but I don't know how to do LBO or create an accretion/dilution model. Do I need to know these things?

Mar 11, 2022 - 11:55am
chihayafull, what's your opinion? Comment below:

No. You do not and as a freshman especially no sane person would ever ask you those. Know the concept. 

Don't make the mistake of "building one" and then mentioning that you built one. Because you open a whole can of worms where you could get fucked. 

Controlling the narrative in interviews is equally important as knowing your stuff. 

  • NA in IB-M&A
Mar 11, 2022 - 12:27pm

I am a senior analyst in a top BB industry team that models and still haven't done an LBO in my tenure, you will absolutely not be asked to do an LBO as a college freshman...

Mar 20, 2022 - 4:19pm
dafftt, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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Mar 23, 2022 - 7:23am
rickle, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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Mar 23, 2022 - 10:14am
TabernacleHouse, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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