UG Recruiting Part II: The first round interview

Mod Note (Andy): #TBT Throwback Thursday - this post went up in 2011 and it follows from Part I here.

Since many people have already have or are soon having first round interviews, I figured I'd accelerate this series. So rather than posting after we finish conducting first rounds at X Target School. Obviously it will be a slightly different perspective, but hopefully it will be more useful for the prospective monkeys with time sensitivity.

So lets kick it off. Of the candidates we selected for interviews, you could probably categorize them into 3 buckets based on how it was decided that they got an interview.

1. The Definite

Strong resume, finance/economics major; if they live up to their resume and come off as sociable, a superday is theirs for the taking

2. The redemption

This candidate made alot of sense on paper, but there was just something off about them... maybe they are a bioengineering major with a 3.8 GPA thats been interning in finance since sophomore year, but there's one other aspect of their resume that makes us question their commitment to finance vs. say med-school. They need to address that one concern. They could redeem themselves by answering a pointed question about their major and the other factor by saying "well i've always heard you dont need a finance degree to work in banking, so I really wanted to learn more about biomedical-engineering since I've always found it fascinating. I've always been passionate about finance, so I've worked on those skills as well through my internships, following the markets and figured Im really passionate about finance, so I figured college is the perfect opportunity to learn more about BME, plus the coursework is really quantitatively rigorous which I think has made me very comfortable working with numbers."

That answer, IMO would be perfect. Because #1- the candidate accurately zero'ed in on what the interviewers concern is; #2- they communicated that their decision was very well thought out; and #3- they affirmed their strong interest in banking and supported it by citing the finance internships and EC involvement which has helped cultivate and strengthen that interest.

If i got this answer I would #1- be impressed and satisfied, #2- think they are very mature and in tune with what they want to do and #3-admire their interest in something non-banking, and perhaps think they would probably be a good fit for a healthcare group. If you're interviewing at a boutique that doesn't have a healthcare coverage group, the last point is obviously not as valid.

3. The up-hill battle

This guy essentially squeaked by despite the fact that several people on the committee were underwhelmed because someone else was championing for them for whatever reason. They would really have to wow me to make it to the superday.

Considering the response I got from Part I of the series... lets keep in mind your goal from reading this thread IS NOT to pepper me with your stats and the extra-ordinary circumstances that made you less than stellar on paper. Its to realistically say "this is the bucket I would most likely be perceived to be in, this is how I need to approach my interviews".

Onto the interview itself

My first question is generally "what is an investment bank?" Someone who can't answer this question is an auto-ding. A lot of candidates try to "wow" the interviewer and over complicate things... this is pretty simple answer and the best way to wow an interviewer is with a short, pithy and simple answer. So what is an investment bank? "Its a financial institution that essentially creates markets by connecting buyers and sellers, and risk and capital. At a very high level, there is a sales and trading business and an investment banking business. And from what I understand, the investment banking division is structured into products (e.g. M&A, Leveraged Finance, ECM, DCM) and industries (e.g natural resources, consumer products, financial institutions)." Thats an A answer, IMO.

Next you've established you know what banking is, why do you want to do it? Why do you want to do it at JPMorgan, GS, CS, Jefferies? The answer is not "because JPM is one of the best banks on the street." It should be well thought out and as much as possible unique to the bank. What I always did was network within that bank before my interview and re-gurgate the same answers I got when I asked my contacts why they joined that bank. Most banks have a few one liners on why they are special... be smart and know how to use those to your advantage. DO NOT read off Goldman Sachs top 10 principles as the reasons you want to work at GS. Do use one of the less cheasy one of those to put in your own words a theme you can say you've observed that sets them apart and makes you want to work there over other banks.

I don't really have the time or willingness to hold your hand through each and every interview question, but the above few questions are the most critical at this stage for all candidates.

To do well during superday you need to

1. prove you're a smart and driven overachiever
2. demonstrate you understand what banking is and why you want to do it
3. intelligently explain why you want to do it at my bank
4. cite examples of how you are a leader
5. you are a fast learner and are OCD with details/not making mistakes
6. you are a dedicated, reliable and mature hardworker

One of the key things here is intelligence and maturity. And that is communicated by someone who can accurately zero in on weaknesses in their candidacy and address them. I've always tried to preemptively address them , but if you got an interview, most likely the interviewer is going to poke and prod and try to understand if there is an explanation behind any weakness/questions in your candidacy, so they don't even have to be preemptively addressed.

As an interviewer, in addition to the above, I'd like to feel strongly that the candidate would accept an offer if given one, would be a good intern, would be likely to accept a full-time offer if given one, would be enjoyable to work with.

You don't know even a 10th of what a first year analyst 3 months on the job knows, so don't try to wow anyone with specific technical info. If you don't have a VERY firm grasp of everything on your resume, thats a pretty big black eye on your candidacy. Even if I ask you about your Model UN participation and your answer seems flaky. Everything you have done should come off as VERY WELL THOUGHT OUT. That doesn't mean you can't admit to not having made any mistakes, but when you made the decision it was well thought out. Then after the fact you realized X mistake and learned from it.

Another aspect that I did not address... is grooming. in the past 3 weeks I've heard about candidates being dinged for sloppy hair (needed a haircut), sweaty palms, lack of enthusiasm, lack of interest in anything other than finance/banking. You don't need to buy expensive clothes but you do need to be cleanshaven with a fresh haircut, wearing appropriate, properly fitting clothes. If you need an explanation on what appropriate clothes are for a banking interview at this point in the game, then consider yourself already dinged.

Next part to follow after first rounds. I may break it up into 2 parts... one to give examples of what went well/didn't go well during first rounds, for benefit of those who have not yet hand them. And second the superday.