SA Interview Prep Techniques

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Mod Note (Andy) - as the year comes to an end we're reposting the top discussions from 2015, this one ranks #38 and was originally posted 11/29/2015.

4 Summer Analyst Interview Prep Tactics

I recently completed SA recruiting and wanted to share a few of the techniques that I utilized to become a much more effective interviewee. My background is a junior at top 5 or so target in terms of IBD interns per year with a high GPA and strong extracurricular activities.

Going into the process, I thought my qualifications would propel me to an offer but I was sorely mistaken. My first interviews with an average MM and strong BB went horribly and I did not advance to super days. It hit me then that while qualifications are great to getting a foot in the door, interview skills are crucial to securing the offer. Below are the most useful tactics I found to succeed at interviewing and ultimately end up at an EB.

1) Network, network, network

Networking is a two way street, and I sorely underestimated the receiving end. I primarily utilized networking as a way to get my name and resume out to people, but failed to utilize all the extremely valuable information given to me throughout the process. Each bank has a very unique culture and practice, and being able to understand the differences and incorporate that bank's advantages into the "Why banking?" or "Why firm x?" transforms your answer from average and redundant to superior. For example, an answer for Goldman where coverage groups handle M&A in-house is completely different than MS where the M&A team handles the majority of the modeling. Know the differences and incorporate these into your answers. Also, know companies where fit is more important and hit home on this again and again (more relevant to MM's and EB's, but also some BB).

2) Cheat Sheet

After my first two bad interviews, I examined my preparation process and realized my answers varied wildly. Just like I make a one or two page cheat sheet to study for exams, I replicated this process for interviews. I had a two sentence focus at the top that explicitly spelled out what I wanted to convey about myself throughout interviews. Each answer in some way or another hit on this overall focus about myself. I then laid out the top 10/15 most frequently asked questions such as walk me through your resume, why banking, why our firm, greatest strengths/weaknesses, a time you failed, a time you worked in a team, what skills do you have that make you suited for banking, etc. For each question, I had 2 bullet points for my answer and 2 anecdotes to demonstrate my answer in practice. My answers became fluid and relevant to my overall focus, but also tangible in that I essentially had a story bank of 10-12 anecdotes I could incorporate throughout. In a 30-45 minute interview, this is plenty. Don't worry about repeating stories in a super day, as similar questions will receive similar answers.

3) Be unique

It's already difficult to differentiate the hundreds of qualified applicants applying for the position. Your answers need to be both relevant and unique. As a finance major, it can be hard to differentiate yourself from the thousands of other finance majors learning the same coursework. This differs from person to person, but find something unique about yourself relevant to banking and make sure you can back it up with an anecdote.

4) Practice

This is easily the best, yet underutilized, method for improving your interview skills. Once you are comfortable with all the info on your cheat sheet and have a working understanding, mock interview by yourself and with others. I can't tell you how many times I set the timer on my phone and repeated my story in response to walk me through your resume. The key in the real interview is not to sound like a machine in simply sputtering out a pre-rehearsed answer. Practice really does make perfect though.

These things helped me tremendously in becoming an effective interviewee. I had done all the prep, read the guides and networked at both events and over phone calls, but was not advancing through the process. After incorporating these methods I went from 0/3 to 4/4 in first round to super day conversion. Hopefully, other people can utilize some of these methods as well to improve your interview skills.

Comments (85)

Nov 29, 2015

Great advice. Just wrapped up the SA recruiting process myself, and this is some solid stuff.

Find your differentiating factor, something that makes you unique. It's usually not explicitly found on your resume. Find a way to incorporate that into every conversation.

Nov 29, 2015

Yup, pretty great advice! At the same time, the "experience" of doing an actual interview and learning from it is beyond comparison against mocks or timing. I networked my way into an EB superday and all 8 of them devastated me and made me feel like a piece of shit. While I was hurt and wanted to cry, this made me assess weakness, environment, and strategize for my Bulge Bracket interviews, which went pretty well. I received an onsite offer from one and waiting to hear from the other.

Nov 29, 2015

Can you talk about specific areas where you under-prepared and measures you took to improve?

You speak in in varying levels of verbosity.You often adopt the typing quirks of others as you find it boring to settle on styles.

Nov 29, 2015

This is some solid advice. Will bookmark this thread. Going to also have a open word document that I will copy and paste links to threads like this.

Nov 30, 2015

Great advice. Definitely the best way to prepare for interviews is to practice with other people. Reach out to upperclassmen, alumni, and just anyone who'll listen to you talk for a half hour or so. In my opinion, the method that is most effective, and the method that's worked best for me in getting SA offers these past few months, is interviewing with your close friends. Those practice interviews are always the most awkward initially, so if you can get over having to humbrag to your friends about yourself and sounding ridiculous to them, you can get over any interview situation. Also, keep in mind that in any interview, the interviewer is just another person who, at some point in his or her career, has gone through the exact same process as you. As long as you don't give them any reason to make it difficult for you, and as long as they're reasonable human beings, they have nothing to gain from making your life hell (until after you start working with them).

Nov 30, 2015

Great advice!

I am going through SA recruiting as well and here are some tips I can share:
1. Make a company profile highlighting key facts about the firm & the group you are interviewing for
2. MOCK! You should be mocking all your friends during 2nd year summer
3. Practice technicals. There is a difference between knowing technicals, and being able to express them clearly in an interview. It is very easy to differentiate between a polished speaker and a non-polished speaker.
4. I definitely agree about standing out. Finance students are a commodity and it is important to have stories that differentiate.

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Nov 30, 2015

Good advice, guess I can throw in my 2 cents to help some other prospectives out...

1) The interview cheat sheet is key (I actually called mine the exact same thing). Get your answers down and consistent. My goal was to know the answer to every single question I got before it was asked.

2) Differentiation is huge. Craft yourself a story, make people think you're interesting even if you're not. I always talked about how I grew up in the Northeast, went to a non-target in the Midwest and wanted to come back to the coast.

2b) For the "why banking" question do not give the cookie cut answers. I talked about how I thought financial modeling was cool because I like to explain the world in numbers, and how my microeconomics classes relate to studying the decisions of firms in competitive industries (i.e. what bankers do). I got great feedback on those answers.

3) Practice practice practice. I can't say that enough. It's one thing to know the answers to your technicals and another to be able to articulate them well. I would spend hours in my room talking through my answers. My first few interviews were awful but practicing helped me nail my first super day.

Dec 7, 2015

This is good, but this is kind of the new normal. I think these suggestions could definitely be expanded upon. Went through SA myself from a semi-target. Honestly, you just can't half-ass anything through the process. These suggestions will put you in the top 50%, but that won't get the offer. Take these steps and double the intensity

Dec 7, 2015

What would you expand on? I think many people think they've done everything on this list, but they really haven't. If you can actually be unique, understand the firm/group you're interviewing with, have very polished behaviorals and nail your technicals, I don't see why this would "just put you in the top 50%." I know a lot of people who always think they nailed every interview they went through and assume they got dinged for not being the second coming of christ, when really, their answers didn't flow as well as they thought, they regurgitated an answer that they had prepared without realizing that's not what the interviewer was looking for, etc. College students are particularly good at compartmentalizing their own shortcomings during interviews. Not too sure how that works. Probably a combination of ego + lack of self-awareness.

You speak in in varying levels of verbosity.You often adopt the typing quirks of others as you find it boring to settle on styles.

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Dec 7, 2015

I agree with all of your points. I just wanted to add emphasis on intensity when doing this. I saw a lot of people think they were doing this during recruitment, but were just half-assing it relative to those who turned the superdays into offers. I would also add points about having a "strategy" for behaviorals. Working on all the typical behaviorals and crafting a specific message you want to convey about yourself. Also people should understand that asking stimulating questions through networking and interviewing helps you stand out as well.

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Dec 7, 2015

Idk about 'crafting a message'. I think you mean just knowing who you are and what you bring to the table, which I 100% agree with. If you actively try to convey a message by forcing premeditated answers I think you are shooting yourself in the foot. Bankers are people. I think most students are cool people who they'd be happy to work with. They just turn into socially-inept anxious monkeys during interviews. I think the key is to be so prepared that you are confident about who you are when you walk into that interview. Granted, I haven't been through many of these yet, as I got in the recruiting game pretty late (Canadian non-target) so I missed almost all of the first rounds, but so far I'm 1/2 in terms of fist round ---> superday ratio. My school just released 12+ OCR IBD positions for 9-10 diff banks for January so I'll be in a better position to comment on my experience then. Still, SB'ed.

You speak in in varying levels of verbosity.You often adopt the typing quirks of others as you find it boring to settle on styles.

    • 1
Dec 7, 2015

This is very good advice, went through 4 super days and 2 first rounds before finally getting 2 offers at BBs only after taking advice like this seriously. In most of these interviews I thought I was doing so well until I got the rejection call. Practicing with close friends and people who have been through the process is the most important part in my opinion.

Dec 8, 2015

Part of the winning formula also requires that you meet interviewers with whom you can form strong connections during that short 30-min slots.

Dec 11, 2015

I would disagree and simply say you must impress them. Be better than the candidate before and after you in some way. If this is through a strong personal connection, then so be it. However, many times it is nearly impossible to form a connection, which requires you to be a more exceptional candidate.

Dec 22, 2015

Very solid advise.
The 'Be Unique' part is something that adds to the appeal of both athletes and mil-vets in recruiting. They have an experience many people feel strongly about - and many in finance can personally relate to. Makes it so much easier to stand out and achieve that uniqueness factor.

Dec 22, 2015

Watch BIWS videos, or buy a guide specifically for a crash course in accounting..Wall Street Prep has a good one

Dec 22, 2015

when are your interviews? what sort of time scope are you looking at?

Dec 22, 2015

About 1.5 weeks

thanks idontwearglasses, i'll look into those

Dec 22, 2015

The WSO Technical Guide has got some great stuff in it and doesn't cost too much.

Dec 22, 2015

watch the BIWS videos for sure. You can watch all the accounting ones in a day and read the guides. Focus more on valuations though once you have a basic accounting understanding.

Dec 22, 2015

It's under the financial modeling fundamentals. If you've only got a week and only need to brush up on accounting, thats quite a lot of money to spend though on the videos. I would just read the BIWS accounting guide (under interview preparation) instead unless you really feel uncomfortable and think the $200 for the videos is worth it.

Dec 22, 2015

are there any books that anybody would recommend?

Dec 22, 2015

Sorry to get on this late, but if people come across this thread with the same question going forward, BYU and Harvard University have an accounting program they use that is now available online free as a public service. You can find it at learnaccountingforfree (dot) com

Dec 22, 2015

I'm only an incoming junior currently in an SA role at a small investment bank, so take this with a grain of salt. But, from what I've experience so far, the best thing you can do right now is get your 2 to 3-minute "story" down. What led you to where you are today? How have your past experiences cultivated your interest in investment banking? In addition, at least with respect to fit questions, start thinking of stories that you can draw on to answer questions such as "what are your greatest strengths/weaknesses," "tell me about a challenge you overcame," etc. If you can, look at the mergers and inquisitions guides to fit interviews to see common questions you might expect to be asked. Other than that, I'd spend right now networking and conducting informational interviews and, most importantly, follow up periodically with the people you speak with. Again, I don't have much experience, but that's what's helped me so far. Good luck with everything.

Dec 22, 2015

All you need:

Monkey Business: Swinging Through the Wall Street Jungle

Dec 22, 2015

Some gut reactions:

  1. If you have the chance, get WSP or BIWS. The interview guide from the latter is particularly useful.
  2. Don't bother with Benninga, no one will ever ask you to use that in interviews. Focus on really solidifying your understanding of corpfin and transactions. Interview questions will not ask you about modelling or advanced valuation (think oil & gas, RE, etc.) unless you're interviewing for a specialized group. They will, however, toss you a ton of questions that will shake up your accounting knowledge and big-picture understand of how to look at a company's financial health. I would say of the three books you posted, McKinsey's Valuation would be my pick. Also see about getting a good corpfin text and absorb it.
  3. You should be working on direct interview prep now; there's only 2-3 months left before the interview begin. Do some mocks.
  4. Disable your Facebook or make it private (so if they do a search, they only see the bare minimum). I find it's very difficult (short of making a new account) to completely "clean up" your tracks on FB..

Oh yes, and you should read Monkey Business.

Currently: future psychiatrist (med school =P)
Previously: investor relations (top consulting firm), M&A consulting (Big 4), M&A banking (MM)

Dec 22, 2015

You just wrote down every cliche self-descriptive phrase said by interviewees everywhere. You should have stories to back them up. Even if it's an just an internship, you will want to impress - show interest in the markets or industries. Maybe one or two companies that you can talk about in a bit of detail. Know some fundamental technicals.

Dec 22, 2015

*

Dec 22, 2015

Barclays and UBS. Waiting to hear from BAML.

Has anyone heard form BAML, by the way?

Dec 22, 2015

I am a sophomore and have had a few interviews. My last one was at a MM i-bank in Chicago and it was straight technical. Accounting questions were easy but I was probably only getting 50% on the valuation and other questions. They don't hold back during the interview. How they judge your interview after the fact is beyond me.

Dec 22, 2015

Thanks for your help.

Does anyone have any advice on how to approach/what to expect out of sophomore superdays? Mostly behavioral? How many interviews? Tips/things to keep in mind?

Dec 22, 2015

bump

Dec 22, 2015

reach out to alum, genuinely stay in touch, talk to more people in the group and find which group/bank you are most interested in. go through the BIWS

Dec 22, 2015

Buy some KY Jelly to prepare for BB interviews Junior year

Dec 22, 2015
Futures Trader Man:

Buy some KY Jelly to prepare for BB interviews Junior year

haha

Dec 22, 2015

If you can get your hands on training the street materials, I think that would be helpful. I have found their stuff useful and practical. Sorry I'm not familiar with WallStreetPrep.

A book I recommend is "Valuation for Mergers, Buyouts, and Restructuring." It is written by Enrique Arzac, a business school professor at Columbia. It may be a bit much, but that book has helped me prepare for PE interviews (I'm now starting my second yr as an analyst).

That being said, review the vault guide in and out. Other books you can take a look at are "Accounting for M&A, Equity, and Credit Analysts," by James Morris and Mckinsey's "Valuation." These may be less useful for your preparation, but I've found them to be useful references while on the job.

As for my take on the accounting questions, I think you can get by studying typically asked questions -- search the forum (ie how does depreciation impact the three financial statements). But I think if you knew some of the basics behind a merger model or an LBO, it would be helpful.

Hope that helps. Good luck!

Dec 22, 2015

Have alumni/contacts give a mock interview. Most likely for a phone interview they'll ask you standard technicals, and fit. The superday will be where the real technicals are asked.

Dec 22, 2015

Echo the mock interviews...find friends or classmates who have done banking to do some and ask for their feedback....while it's important to know the answers, a bigger issue is how you come across to the interviewer especially in a phone interview

Dec 22, 2015

How do you study for difficult math exams? Employ the same strategy here. I feel like if you have to ask how you know you're ready, then you're not ready. The main culprit of under preparation is passive reading and studying. If you've truly read both the guide and the book and internalized it, you are OVER prepared and have nothing to worry about.

The critical error is passive learning. Go find a whiteboard in your library and outline and vocalize everything you've learned, from valuation to corporate finance. You should have the basic technicals down to where you can recite them in your sleep, and honestly IB technical questions are not difficult if you come from a rigorous STEM background. It's not rocket science, and just like going into a test, I usually know when I'll be struggling to get a B- or am prepared and confident for the A.

Dec 22, 2015

Two ways:

  1. Like others have suggested, do mock interviews. You can sign up for the WSO mentor program and get them that way or contact some alumni.
  2. You know you are ready when you can answer technicals from a theoretical standpoint. If someone asks you to walk them through a DCF and you just rattle off the steps, you aren't ready. If you actually understand what a DCF is, you should be able to walk someone through one without memorizing steps.
Dec 22, 2015

I appreciate this response and wish I would have seen it 2 months ago. That was a mistake I was making for too long.

Dec 22, 2015

know everything in teh vault guide. and know why u wan tto work at gs. your a sophmore they aint gonna ask u shit

--
"Those who say don't know, and those who know don't say."

Dec 22, 2015

What are you interviewing for as a sophmore this early in the year? Just curious

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses - Henry Ford

Dec 22, 2015

I would know the basic technicals (4 ways to value a company, DCF, WACC, CAPM and basic accounting regarding flow of the financial statements). Good luck, a soph with GS IBD on the resume, you can shoot for PE straight out of undergrad if you have another solid banking or PE internship Junior summer.

Dec 22, 2015

It says IB division.

Dec 22, 2015

congrats! they already contact you? they never get back to me.

Dec 22, 2015
ubiomni:

congrats! they already contact you? they never get back to me.

what type of application did you do?

Dec 22, 2015

Lots of guides out there. WSO guide is great, vault, etc. Study up.

Dec 22, 2015

wow, sophomore?

Dec 22, 2015
afalcon10:

wow, sophomore?

Yeah man, its crazy. I really need to take advantage of this.

Dec 22, 2015

one quick question: when did u get ur interview? i sent out my resume Sep to one alumnus and the HR department emailed me regarding my first round interview. LOL. probably u r from one of the these school GS holds sophomore program presentations. anyway. we probably can share some information after the first round interview (mine is phone interview).

Dec 22, 2015
ubiomni:

one quick question: when did u get ur interview? i sent out my resume Sep to one alumnus and the HR department emailed me regarding my first round interview. LOL. probably u r from one of the these school GS holds sophomore program presentations. anyway. we probably can share some information after the first round interview (mine is phone interview).

i just found out a few days ago. I was told I have to go to ny for my interview.

Dec 22, 2015

GS does URM recruitment earlier on in the process.

Dec 22, 2015
xyz12345:

GS does URM recruitment earlier on in the process.

got you. ill just keep waiting.

Dec 22, 2015

I don't now about for sophomores, but for full-time it was all behavioral type questions. For example, if you list sailing on your interests, you may talk for half an hour about sailing (so know your shit).

Dec 22, 2015

Is this for the accelerated internship process?

Dec 22, 2015
ss1000:

Is this for the accelerated internship process?

yes

Dec 22, 2015

We might be doing two completely different things lol. Idk, this is for a summer analyst position.

Dec 22, 2015
zzxz12:

We might be doing two completely different things lol. Idk, this is for a summer analyst position.

we r doing the same shit i think. im applying to sophomore summer analyst (i doubt there is a legitimate sophomore program at GS).

Dec 22, 2015

I am a junior and i also applied for the summer analyst internahip.......but i havent heard anything from them~

Dec 22, 2015

there is a legitimate soph program at goldman. they hired quite a few soph summers.

Dec 22, 2015

what was your interview like?

  • eyelikecheese
  •  Dec 22, 2015

Your supposed to know this stuff already. I would just brush up on your modeling skills cuz there will be a modeling test

Dec 22, 2015
eyelikecheese:

Your supposed to know this stuff already. I would just brush up on your modeling skills cuz there will be a modeling test

You're not expected to know LBO modeling as a sophomore. You are supposed to know the proper usage of you're and your, though. Haha sorry cheese, had to call it.

  • eyelikecheese
  •  Dec 22, 2015

It was a joke....I didn't even know what an ibank did till junior year or something

Dec 22, 2015

nooooooooooo

Dec 22, 2015

How do I prepare for an interview at Goldman Sachs? ...NO NO

How do Goldman Sachs prepare for me?.. ha ha

Seriously ... just be very very humble!!!

Dec 22, 2015

no way they are doing interviews for summer analysts yet. especially for sophomores

Dec 22, 2015
New Yorker:

no way they are doing interviews for summer analysts yet. especially for sophomores

yes

Dec 22, 2015

Use the WSO guides, they are supposed to be very good.

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