Superday Advice From a Tired Interviewer
Over the past two years I've interviewed over 30 candidates, both during formal super days and for candidates on an accelerated process due to exploding offers. I want to share some inside advice on how I and my fellow interview partners perceive interviewees (and common mistakes), how an established investment bank makes offer/no-offer decisions, and how you can improve your chances of getting an offer. Please take all my shitty tips to your next interview and unite them in a symphony of success and glory. Keep in mind, you don’t need to be number one. A close third will do nicely.
1. How are offer/no-offer decisions made?
This varies from bank to bank. For super days, a random subset of the candidate pool will be interviewed by an interview "team." This is a group of interviewers or interviewer pairs conducting separate interviews with separate questions, but all interview the same subset of the candidate pool. At the end of the day, they discuss as a group, decide if anyone simply doesn't cut it (feedback will be "no offer"), and then FORCE RANK the candidates who meet the minimum.
These discussions are full of all types of personalities: the people who don't really care who is hired, the people who feel an affinity for a certain candidate, the people who only care about how well a candidate did on technicals, the people who "didn't like the interviewee's body language." Being successful is about both appealing to the masses and ensuring you don't heavily irk any single interviewee (like fraternity rush, a blackball is hard to come back from). If someone is vocal about their dislike for you, unless others LOVED you, most will just go with the flow and let that disagreeable person drag you down the rankings (or into the "no offer") category. Remember, interviewers are not always that invested in getting the best candidates, they want to get finished with things and get back to work.
HR receives these force ranked lists from each interview team and then grabs the top half or whatever threshold they are looking for and sends out offers. There is often a separate HR management system where each interviewer submits a formal review with numerical scores and commentary for each interview he or she conducted. I am not certain what this is used for, but it may come into play for the second round of offers (after people re-neg).
Notice how there is no point where I mentioned heavy reliance on statistics, note-keeping on the part of the interviewers, adjusting interviewer rankings against a control/normalizing rankings, etc. This is not an accurate process. Most interviewers write down a sentence or two and maybe a single numerical score. Don’t think that we are keeping track of some sort of grading system for each question we ask you - we aren’t. It is the sum total of your performance that matters and it will be distilled down to a sentence or two which will be reviewed by the interviewer in the force-rank discussion so they can recall their opinion of you.
2. How do interviewers perceive candidates?
Everything is sex. Someone told me that and I haven't been able to figure out if it is right or wrong, but at least it got your attention. Interviewers perceive candidates through a number of emotions which can help you: trust, respect, enjoyment, being impressed, sympathy, occasionally empathy. They also can view you through less helpful emotions: boredom, disappointment, ennui, anger, self-righteousness, feeling threatened. The point is that people are not fully rational and interpret your candidacy through their own feelings and experiences. There is not much you can do here - it is unlikely you will be able to fully read both your interviewers and cater to their wants, needs, and desires. More on how to prepare for interviews later, but your goal is to cater to the majority, while not offending anyone’sagainst their pet peeves.
To assist you in this battle, below is a list of complaints I have heard in post interview discussions. Most of these just show how ridiculous interviewers can be.
- He looked up too much while he was thinking
- Her answers to about school/clubs and not about internships
- He smiled so much it looked fake
- She was too quiet
- He fidgeted
- She gesticulated too much while talking
- He spoke too loudly
- She seemed too confident
- He tried too hard on the technicals
- She memorized the answers to the technicals
- He wasn’t very engaging
- Her hobbies didn’t seem authentic
- He said what he thought we wanted to hear rather than what he felt
- She wasn’t confident enough
- He didn’t send me a thank you note
- She didn’t feel like a good fit
- He talked too much
- She seemed unsure of herself
The list goes on, but the point is not everything is within your control and not everyone doing interviews is rationally analyzing you. If it weren’t for luck, you’d win every time.
3. How to improve your chance of getting an offer.
Let’s get technicals right out of the way. I’m going to ignore the places that ask very difficult, numerical questions and focus on the household-name investment banks with standard questions. To perform in interviews with these types of banks:
Memorize all of the questions/answers in one of the large interview guides. Actually know them all, not most of them, but all of them. You want a job in IB? I’m telling you how to do it. There are no reliable shortcuts. Yes, this technique is an old bitch. She’s not much fun to ride, but she still gets you there.
If your guide is shorter than 60 pages, it probably isn’t long enough. The Wallstreet Oasis Technical Interview Guide is very good, but I’m sure there are other fantastic options. Once you memorize the contents, learn one layer beyond the simple answer and understand the ‘why’ and the underlying concepts. Along the way, PRACTICE stating the answers out loud. PRACTICE walking through how thea certain transaction or change to an account - make up different scenarios and walk through things. Too many people practice with flash cards or just by reading or watching videos. Remember, watching a porno doesn’t mean you got laid - in fact it usually means the opposite. You can’t just read about the act or watch a video on the act. You need to act yourself.
You will need to explain concepts under pressure. Practice will keep you cool, composed, and cogent. I’m tired of interviewing people who don’t know what the FFR is, who can’t convincingly explain exactly WHY bond prices fall in a rising rate environment, or who forget taxes when discussing the impact of increasing depreciation on the. There simply is no excuse - control what you can control. If you read above, you saw how much is outside your control.
If you get really grilled on technicals, don’t get flustered. As Gandhi said, “don’t let the cunts wind you up.” Winners don’t complain when the other side plays the game.
Special section for zoom interviews: DO CHEAT. Write down key market metrics and levels (FF, 10YT,) and other things you tend to forget. Stick them on the wall behind your camera so your gaze does not have to travel far. DON’T rely too much on this technique as you will not be confident. It is easy to tell when someone googles what a is mid interview.
Make sure the lighting is good for video calls, I don’t want to feel like I’m about to watch a low-budget porno.
or break the “qualified” candidates (the candidates who do well enough on the technicals to not be remembered). The candidates who CRUSH the technicals and are remembered for doing so have more leeway here, but why risk it? Some of the notes below pertain to general didactic conversation (including the technical portion of an interview), but are mostly focused on helping you ace the behavioral questions:
- Generally, HOW YOU SPEAK is more important than WHAT YOU SPEAK. Interviewers remember your overall public speaking skills more than the content of your answer. If you come off as affable, confident, and normal, it doesn’t really matter how compelling your story is. I still have no idea how to asses the “time you faced adversity in school or in an internship” answer, but I do know how to assess whether you are syntactically capable, whether your sentences flow and you present thoughts in a logical order, and whether you captive my attention or let it lie down on the couch and pass out.
- Create a list of the 40-50 most common behavioral questions - this can come from a resource like the Wall Guide, or from googling “common ” (banks ask basically the same questions as your girlfriend in marketing will be asked at her next 8 hour per week vacation of a job).
- Consolidate the list of questions into 5-10 question “frameworks.” This will be the general ideas contained and rephrased in the 40-50 question list. You will end up with anecdotes on, a time you failed, a time you succeeded, a time you worked in a team, why you want to work at xyz bank, why you want to be in investment banking/finance, how you navigated conflict, TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF/walk me through your resume, etc.
- NO MATTER HOW THEY PHRASE A , YOU WILL ANSWER WITH ONE OF YOUR PRE-CANNED “FRAMEWORKS.” No one remembers if you tell a story that is only generally related. They do remember your delivery.
- Consider each of your 5-10 frameworks and write answers in 4-6 bullets (NOT in script form). Your answers should not be too generic and should be based on reality as much as possible (easier to tell the story and be “authentic”). The bullets should be main ideas only. Make sure these would never offend anyone, don’t make you look like a suck up, and are believable. Please don’t make your “teamwork” answer be about that group project with the kid who didn’t do his work so you had to step in and save the day - I’ve heard that WAY too many times.
- PRACTICE each framework answer in the mirror or record yourself. Few people do this, but the ones who do, do very well. If you record yourself, you will realize how dumb you sound - nails on chalkboard dumb. Then you will improve until you can barely stand yourself. Once you are at the point where you shrug with casual indifference upon hearing your answer, you have succeeded. Each answer is at most a few minutes long, so you can practice all your answers, and each a few times, without occupying too much time. The point here is not to memorize a script, but to solidly understand your KEY POINTS within an anecdote and have POLISHED TRANSITIONS between your key points.
- If all this practice seems like too much, just remember this process is a marathon and you can’t win a marathon without putting some god damn band aids on your nipples.
- DO NOT ASK ME POINTLESS QUESTIONS AT THE END OF THE INTERVIEW. However, if you do ask “time filler” questions, you probably won’t be dinged as EVERYONE does this. Don’t waste time asking “what makes a good analyst” or “what is your day to day like.” You may not necessarily get dinged, but it certainly won’t help you.
- USE THE Q&A AT THE END OF THE INTERVIEW TO YOUR ADVANTAGE. This means asking intelligent questions that both demonstrate your knowledge and that you have done your homework. Ask about a deal the bank has done, ask about market conditions, ask about recent economic events. Try not to sound like a nerd, but show them you are well-informed and perceptive. Don’t ask overly complex questions - ask questions about topics on which a banker could be reasonable informed. Do know one level of information beyond your question (in case they flip it back to you and so you can remain part of the conversation/ask follow-ups).
- Don’t filibuster. If you move through the interview with the pace of a dead turtle, the interviewers won’t be able to get through all the questions. This may help you if you are bad technically, but will also prohibit you from standing out.
- Don’t start sentences that don’t go anywhere. Everyone does this at some point or another. They try to recover by using filler words such as “um, like, yeah, you know.” Generally, we, um, like, don’t know, which is why we are interviewing you. Telling you not to do something is only slightly helpful. More helpful is telling you how to avoid it. See point 4 on PRACTICE.
- If an interviewer cracks a joke or laughs, you should laugh too. NOT the knee-slapping ‘I’m-clearly-sucking-up’ laugh, but the gentle actor laugh where you smile with your eyes and let out a couple chuckles and gently shrug your shoulders (like you might with a more powerful laugh) so they can SEE that you are laughing without fully HEARING it.
- Maintain a very light smile on your face at all times - people just respond better to it. Especially if you have resting bitch face.
- There is no need to say “that is a good question” every time we ask you a question. Trust me, it isn’t a good question. It is only ok to say “that is a good question” if someone asks you something technical about a class/project/internship that is on your resume or comes up in discussion. This will give them the feeling of being impressed and the feeling of enjoyment. They are not impressed with you, they are impressed with themselves for asking a “good question.”
The MD who monopolizes the interview to chat about your hobbies, ask you two softball technicals, and then bore you with details of his last vacation is NOT helping you. You will leave thinking you and he CONNECTED with each other. Little do you know, he will NOT ATTEND the force-rank discussion afterwards (he doesn’t feel like it) and his interview partner will not have enough information to score you highly in the force rank (good news is you probably won’t be shafted either since there was no time for you to make a mistake).
All of the candidates at our target-schoolschools like UPenn, Duke, UC Berkley, Dartmouth, have 3.7+ GPAs (4.0 was definitely the mode), speak quite well, and have one or two (or four) finance related internships. I have no idea how they get so many internships so early, but they do. This is a tough crowd in which to stand out - and yet, every single time, interviewers are nearly unanimous about the top two or three candidates in a group of 10-15. The best always stand out (and they aren’t always the ones with the highest GPA and most internships).
If you are really lost on a technical question, sometimes it is better to admit it and let them think you are an idiot, than to take a stab at it and prove them right.
In my experience, once you are being interviewed, your GPA/internships don’t matter much. I don’t recall any conversations where someone pointed out a GPA or internship as a reason for someone to be ranked higher or not be designated “no-offer.” I suspect this is simply because most interviewers don’t even have the resumes in front of them when doing the post--rank discussion (though some do take their notes on each printed resume).
Wear a suit and tie - why risk it? Nobody ever got dinged for wearing a suit and tie to anat a large firm.
Get a haircut too, bed-head suave is never going to score any points. I don’t like people whose hair looks wet and dry at the same time.
If you are a girl, don’t dress like Rachel Maddow’s mechanic. Don’t wear anything that is “sexual” either. Wear something plain and professional that a background character would wear on a show like Suits.
Send a thank you note because some interviewers only remember the people who didn’t send one. There is no need to say “I hope to hear from you soon.” We don’t control when you hear from us. We don’t even know who “us” is, but “they” will call you if you get an offer.
Don’t tell any jokes that are so funny HR wants to hear them.
Ad Astra Per Aspera