A Recurring Rejection Theme

Hi all,

During the previous ~6 months, I have recruited for numerous PE / IB off-cycle internships. With a decent GPA and coming from a strong school, I managed to score a lot of interviews. 5 IB internship interviews, and 3 PE internship interviews to be exact.

The outcome from all of the interviews was 1 IB offer. Of course I am happy about the offer, but still - the conversion rate is very poor. Some of the earlier interviews, I was poorly prepared and failed the technical parts. However, in some interviews, especially the IB ones, I nailed the technicals but received the same rejection feedback: "You did not motivate well enough why this firm / why IB."

My answer to "Why IB" has been something like: "Working at startup XXX (I worked with M&A at a startup), the transactions have been the most exciting thing. Of course the sell-side is different, but I am attracted to the transaction-centered work. I also enjoy financial modeling and company valuation, so I want to apply my skills and learn more within those areas. Finally, I'm drawn to the fast-paced environment and work well under pressure."

To answer "Why this firm", I have looked at the deals the firm has worked on and said something like "Because you work with very exciting deals and industries such as XX which I personally find interesting. I also have had great interactions with people within the firm."

WSO, I am turning to you guys for tips / tricks on how to nail this so important part of the interview process. Coming from a startup background, what would you see as the most logical and strong argument for why IB?

Or perhaps my answers are ok, perhaps (and this might be the case) I appear too unenthusiastic. If so, do you have any tips on how to really signal that one is ready to give everything for the job? 

Thanks in advance!

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Comments (18)

Apr 27, 2021 - 6:19pm

It's not always what you say, but instead how you say it. Perhaps, the "Why this firm" might've been a deciding factor. More context besides just their deal flow. If it's a small shop, speak to that entrepreneurial feel that allows you to take on more responsibility quickly, etc. 

For the "Why IB" maybe you can mention how you want to help companies grow externally and achieve their unique goals, etc.

That's just my opinion. Following this as well.

  • 4
  • Analyst 2 in IB - Gen
Apr 30, 2021 - 4:06am

I mostly did EB recruiting and they loved hearing the whole spiel about leaner deal teams and more responsibility as a reason for why this firm.

In regards to culture, which you were touching on, would really sell it if you could highlight one two qualities that differentiates the firm so it shows you actually did networking and took the calls seriously. This is risky though bc if you're wrong, that's game.  

Apr 30, 2021 - 6:39am

Fully agree. How you say it is the key. Sometimes you do nto need to even answer the question itself but can give it a spin and link the answer to the job-spec and team. 

I go with... this is what i find v interesting about working in the IB and the firm ble ble... But what attracts me the most is x ,y ,z -- ( x y z being one to three tihngs that I really found attractive about the role itself). - I always say something specific to the role and always different things; it never failed so far.   

Apr 27, 2021 - 9:49pm

"why this firm" can be answered well if you have networked with some of the people there and can say something like "I spoke with so and so who described blah blah blah and that definitely differentiates your firm etc." This would be in addition to their previous deal flow. Also, maintaining a light smile, gently nodding your head to their questions, and general eagerness is always a great way to make it seem like you're very interested. Being quick to smile wide and chuckle lightly (not a full out "I'm sucking up to you" laugh) if the interviewer makes a little joke or whatever can also go a long way. 

Lastly, don't discount that they could be giving generic feedback to let you down a little easier. If interviewers feel like you weren't quite as good as everyone else, but maybe they can't put their finger on it, they might boil it down to 'candidate wasn't able to convincingly articulate his/her desire for our firm' or something like that. It is also possible that you were just as strong as everyone else, but they needed to make a cut somewhere and gave you that feedback, again, just to make it seem like there was a reason.

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Apr 29, 2021 - 8:37am

On the "Why this firm?" question, I'd be interested to hear from the older guys on the forum (who sit on the other side of the interview table) how a genuine and honest answer would be perceived... 

"The truth is that as a student with little to no experience in the industry, I have very little idea about what it is exactly the differentiates your bank from its competitors. I'd be happy to regurgitate what I have read with respect to league tables, rankings, sector focus etc. if you would like me to, but the truth is that I'd just be doing the very same thing every other candidate who you've interviewed for this position has done, and none of that really gets to the bottom of the question "why this firm?", nor are they genuinely good answers.

In my view, the only really good answer to the "why this firm?" question is because of the culture. Fitting in to the culture of the firm is the one key thing that will determine whether or not I am likely to flourish in the job, and at this stage of my career, I think that learning a lot and performing well by putting those learnings into practice effectively is far more important than the industry focus of my team, or how my bank ranks in league tables etc.

As an outsider, I don't have any visibility on what the culture of the bank is like. The truth is that there isn't even likely to be one homogenous culture within the organisation. It's likely that every office, or every team within an office, has its own culture as culture is something that is set from the top down.

Since I have no way of knowing what the culture of your team is like, I've decided to answer this question in the most truthful and transparent way I can. My hope is that you will appreciate the transparency and honesty and perhaps offer me a job off the back of it, in which case it's an indication to me that I may well fit within the culture of the team. If you reject me for it, then it's certain that I wasn't going to be a good cultural fit, so I take it as a positive that we've managed to establish that early on."

Apr 29, 2021 - 5:33pm

I agree, for the most part, the role is pretty much the same but the people/culture is what is going to make you succeed or fail depending on the fit. However, it is very difficult for someone to genuinely be able to answer "why this firm" as an outsider.

For more junior hires, I think asking this question shows if they have put in any effort to learn about the firm.

For more experienced hires, they may have been around the industry and have a number of contacts in the firm that they can probably compare and contrast more thoughtfully.

So I would say the best thing junior hires can do is relay what they have heard about the firm through their personal contacts (if they have any) or coffee meetings that they proactively reached out to do. 

Most Helpful
  • Associate 1 in IB-M&A
Apr 30, 2021 - 9:29am

Personal opinion - this is a bad answer, terrible actually. Let's unpack. 

"Why this firm" is ACTUALLY asking you "How much homework have you actually done on our firm". What is homework? Coffee chats and research into deals done. Your answer here is telling me (or at least comes off as) you've done none of that, and you then claiming that NO ONE has done that, which is just false. Many candidates rattle off names of people they've spoken to and why THAT person likes the bank (that's how you learn about the culture as an outsider). They talk about how our team has done X deal and Y deal, tie these together, and how that specific area is very interesting to them.

But you've gone and told me that you have the WORST quality in an analyst: that you literally didn't even try to be resourceful and figure it out. That you gave up and said "welp, impossible to know as an outsider, I have no way of knowing"  The honest truth is now I'm thinking - well, did they do any background research at all? Did they try to speak with anyone? Because you know who DID? Who did find a way of knowing? Those other candidates you (kind of) disparaged by saying the were just regurgitating. 

Listen, I know you are trying to be honest and transparent here, but the reality is that this question is about actions taken, not words. So effectively, you've been honest that you've made no action at all, and that is why it is a terrible answer. 

May 3, 2021 - 6:05am

Thanks for your thoughts on this. I agree to a very large extent... though I do think your view may be a bit skewed to the US (vs the UK) where informational interviews, making contacts etc. is deemed to be a much more normal occurance, but the point stands nonetheless.

For the avoidance of doubt, if I got this answer from an candidate I would grill them to make sure they could tell me all they knew about the firm, but providing they were able to do so, I think it would probably respect their response. If nothing else I wouldn't forget them! (I got my first full time gig after saying I didn't have a competitive advantage and that a new graduate who says they do is probably just wrong, so perahps I'm biased.)

Apr 30, 2021 - 1:53am

Leave out the transactions part. That's an answer a senior banker would give. Not a junior. 

Keep the modeling / valuation but realize that's a small part of your work. You need to emphasize that you want to be near the front seat of big decisions being made (M&A and IPO's are highlights / milestones of any company's life) and as an IB analyst that's exaclty where you sit.

  • Managing Director in IB-M&A
Apr 30, 2021 - 8:39am

Just my two cents, 

in addition to talking about the strength of the franchise (less important but good way to start off your response) and people/culture (more important but hard to pin down what will stick), I always closed my response with "...and if given the opportunity, I'm ready to work hard and learn from all the exciting transactions and great people at the firm." I come from a state school and emphasizing that hunger helped me close on a few offers

May 3, 2021 - 8:05am

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