What to expect at investment bank job interviews

eFC logo

The days when you might have walked into an interview room and been asked to throw a brick out of the window, or sit on a broken chair, are over. None of the investment banks use such techniques any more (and they are not likely to admit that they ever did).

These days they work to 'competency frameworks' and encourage candidates to give a good account of themselves, to establish if they have the right personality for very demanding jobs.

Graduate recruitment at most investment banks is a three-stage process.

Stage one is usually an on-line application, which requests CV information. There is also often a numerical reasoning test, a personality questionnaire and even an essay question.

Those who are successful at this stage proceed to a first round interview, where they are interviewed by representatives from the relevant business areas. This is where the competency-based interviewing comes in. Interviewers are trained to look for key abilities such as communication, problem-solving, leadership and self-development.

Heidi Plant, head of campus recruiting Europe for UBS Warburg says, &quotOne of the key competencies that interviewers are looking for is team-working ability. Candidates will be asked to give examples of when they have worked in a team and how they have contributed to achieving the team's goals.&quot

Other qualities that interviewers look for include the ability to learn quickly, coupled with the readiness to do so. They want to know that you use your initiative to fill in any gaps in your knowledge.

The final stage, for those successful at the interviews, is an invitation to an assessment centre. This involves a further interview along with a group exercise, a case study and a presentation.

At this stage the questions are more tailored towards the business area applied to. Questions may revolve around a case study of a realistic situation. A glossary and background information are provided, but a good understanding of the basic concepts is required.

Depending on the job you are going for, you may need to demonstrate understanding of accounting concepts such as gross margins and liquidity ratios, business theory and company valuation techniques.

Tom Briggs, a trainee trader at JP Morgan Chase, found he was asked very few technical questions but adds, &quotIt helps enormously if you at least know the various product areas as the traders tell you what they do.

&quotIf you look blank when they introduce themselves as 'an interest rate derivatives trader' you are not going to do yourself any favours. Lots of enthusiasm goes down well too.&quot

Many of the recruiters' websites provide interview preparation advice. Morgan Stanley lists both general and specific investment banking questions to help candidates prepare. (www.morganstanley.com/career.)

The sort of questions you might face include: &quotWhat is the greatest challenge you have faced to date?&quot &quotDescribe an occasion when you have persuaded someone to do something they did not want to do.&quot &quotWhat accomplishment are you most proud of?&quot

A straight forward questions like &quotWhat activities have you been involved in at university?&quot is trying to identify the candidates who have worked hard, played hard, taken a part-time job and still come out with a 2.1. So think carefully before answering.

Plant says, &quotInterviewers are not trying to trip candidates up, but applicants who fail to give real examples and follow them through will not be successful.&quot

Only give examples of your experience that are true. Those who fib are often caught out. And don't be afraid to admit that you don't know something.

&quotCandidates need to show they are passionate to learn about our business,' says Plant. &quotConfidence is important, but this needs to be tempered by the humility to appreciate that they still know less than the rest of the team when they first join the bank. Candidates should be confident, but not cocky.&quot

Briggs says, &quotInterviews are to find out about you. They know you have the technical skills (Tom had a 2.1 in Economics Management from Oxford University), but they need to know you are going to fit in.&quot

Briggs recommends reading as much as you can about the industry before going for interviews, including books such as &quotLiars Poker&quot by Michael Lewis, a novel about Salomon Brothers in the '80s. &quotIt is quite a harsh view, but you can learn quite a lot about the industry.&quot

The key is clearly preparation ask yourself as many questions as possible and research the market and the job you are applying for thoroughly. Enthusiasm and motivation will get you a long way without having to sit on any broken chairs.