Grateful Monkey Giving Back Pt. 1: Questions to Ask Interviewers
I have been a WSO user for the past couple years now and I have found it to be an incredibly useful resource. Sure, not everything here is gold and you should take a lot of it with a grain of salt, but overall, I have found my experience with the site to be a net positive (by far). Anyways, I have some free time from virtual classes and I recently signed a FT offer to start next summer as an analyst with a NY EB (EVC/CVP/LAZ/PJT), so I would love to give back. Anyways, I'm thinking about posting nuggets of advice on a somewhat recurring basis (depending upon the response this receives) in the off chance that some of you find this helpful.
I will start off with a question I have received a lot recently: What are some good questions to ask at the end of an investment banking interview? As you may already know, interviewers will often allot a few minutes towards the end to answer your questions. This is an area of the interview that stresses out several candidates, since there are plenty of resources covering how to behave for behavioral and technical questions, but surprisingly few that explain how to ask good questions at the end. Without further ado, here is my answer: I believe there are three main categories of good potential questions to ask your interviewer(s):
1) Questions that show you did your research
In terms of preparing for interviews, it is pretty much expected that you will have a recent deal the bank worked on that you can speak intelligently about. Each year the IB recruitment process grows more competitive and the bar is raised. So going above and beyond and truly researching the firm by reading their website, finding articles mentioning them, and, of course, speaking with employees at the firm to get a genuine understanding of how the company operates is a great way to distinguish yourself.
You do not only want to be able to spew off facts; you want to be able to understand their significance and develop an opinion on them. Say, for example, the bank has recently hired more MDs to increase their exposure to transactions in a certain industry vertical, it could help to read about their backgrounds and previous experiences to be able to ask intelligent questions about the bank's strategic decision and future outlook in the particular vertical.
2) Questions that indicate you were paying attention
Oftentimes, in the beginning of an interview, there will be some casual small talk and the interviewer may even give a brief background of themselves. Even if they do not give a ton of information in the beginning, they will usually reveal more about themselves as the conversation continues. This is an excellent opportunity to pick up on bits and pieces of information that could be helpful to you towards the end when you are given the opportunity to ask questions.
By paying attention to what your interviewer says (especially if they bring up some of their personal interests), you can improve the quality of the interview through questions that make them more engaged and attentive. These questions are hard to prepare ahead of time and tend to be more on the spontaneous side, since you are unlikely to have questions about what they said earlier in the interview before the interview begins. Nevertheless, they are still great ways to make the interview more conversational in nature.
3) Questions that require thought to answer
Interviews can be pretty fast-paced as the interviewer is trying to get through a list of questions to ask you while operating within the confines of a time constraint. Depending upon your personality and communication style, this can play to your strengths. If you want to slow down the pace of an interview or simply just stand out from the other candidates, it can be helpful to ask a thought-provoking question. I am not suggesting you break out philosophical questions that lead your interviewer into an existential crisis, but a question that requires thought to properly answer is a good way to stand out from the masses and receive an interesting answer.
Questions to Avoid
I would recommend you try not to ask questions that are too personal, too basic, or flat out odd. In terms of too personal, it would behoove you to refrain from asking questions about money, politics, or religion. Quite simply, the risk-reward ratio does not make it worth it, as it is quite easy to get blacklisted by threading around these topics. For basic, you are less likely to be dinged for asking them, but there is not much value in asking questions that solicit a cookie-cutter response. Everyone knows the basic questions and there is not much upside to asking them. In terms of questions that are too weird, I do not think much explanation is required here. Avoid erasing goodwill from a solid interview performance with weird questions.
Notice that I did not list out any questions to ask. I think there is more value add in offering the tools to reason and providing a general framework to help you craft good questions to ask. that way, they are more tailored to your specific interviews and you avoid sounding cliché. At the end of the day, I do not think the questions you ask at the end of an interview are the usually the deciding factors (it's unlikely you can bomb and interview, but win the offer due to good questions), but I do believe they are another way to supplement the conversation and win favor in the eyes of your interviewers.
The three main categories of questions I like to ask are: a) questions that show I researched the firm, b) questions that show I payed attention, and c) questions that make them pause and think. I generally avoid questions that are a) too personal, b) too basic, or c) simply weird.