Guide to Investment Banking Interviews

In this tutorial we’ll go on a fast paced ride through the world of investment banking interviews, including first round, phone, informational and superday interviews.  We’ll take each one apart and explain it in plain English so you can finally make sense of what you will face this recruiting season.

We’ll even compare all the different interviewers and show you exactly who makes the final decision.  By knowing ahead of time what to expect and how to deal with it, you’ll be more confident and prepared.

 

BONUS: Download a free reportand see a student answer some of the toughest interview questions (plus hear the bankers’ feedback), plus find out how 5 of us managed to break into bulge bracket banks without having perfect grades, the best schools or insider connections.

 

Our uncensored guide to investment banking interviews

We’re going to break down the entire investment banking interview world for you now, so that you gain a clear understanding of what to expect and how to perform at every turn.

The importance of knowing the difference between the types of interviews and interviewers is specifically crucial because it determines these 4 things; 1) What interview questions you get asked, 2) What qualities you need to show, 3) How long the interview will go for and 4) How difficult it will be.

If you can comprehend the difference between the 4 types of interviews (on-campus / first round, phone, informational and final rounds / Superdays) and interviewers (analyst, associate/VP, MD and HR rep) you will always perform, because you will have practiced the right questions and gained total confidence by knowing what to expect. Before getting into it let us note that it’s impossible to write a guide to investment banking interviews that is universally applicable to all our readers. 

What happens in Madagascar may be different to Mumbai.  But taking a Euro-American biased approach let’s try.  

 

Decoding the #1 most given banking interview – First Rounders

First of all, we’re talking about the formal “gimme a job” type of first round interview here. 

Not about the investment banking informational interview (see below), which is simply a meet and greet. First Rounders are where your banking lives really kick off and their importance comes down to the simple fact that if you mess up here your banking life is DOA – dead.upon.arrival!

For target school kids first rounds will frequently take place on campus when the banks roll into town and will often be with an analyst or other junior banker who’s an alumnus of your school. In other countries it might take place at the bank’s HQ and be with a representative from the IB’s HR department – or a junior banker. For non-target school kids who manage to get a formal recruiting interview it might take place at a nearby school or at the bank. 

More likely though you’ll start out with informal interviews over coffees – aka informational interviews – thanks to your networking, which can then lead to formal interviews at the bank’s HQ. But location is the least of our worries, so let’s move on.

It’s more important for you to recognize that the purpose of the first round interview is to act as a quality control mechanism. Junior bankers simply aim to cull enough students so that final rounds (aka Super Saturday or simply Superday) can take place without a throng of 10,000 students storming the bank’s offices.

And so they are only testing you on 1) your track record as listed on your resume, 2) your personality and 3) your basic technical skills. Thankfully you will only be summarily grilled on these issues, because first round banking interviews don’t go for that long. 

Think 20-30 minutes.  

 

How can you sail through first round interviews?

Well, if you manage to ‘get along’ with the interviewer then you’re probably through.

i.e. if you can talk about your resume for a couple minutes, get the banker smiling and answer some Basic as Ben Stiller questions about financial statements and Finance 101 valuation techniques you’ll most likely get green lighted for another interview.

And if you can show you have serious passion for banking by talking about your journey over the years, how it has led you to banking and made you want it more than ever before, you’re almost home.

Increasingly important in today’s recruiting environment though, is your ability to handle some basic investment bankingtechnical interview questions and brain teasers during first rounds.  Banks are loading interviews with more than before, because it’s the fastest and most objective way to eliminate a huge chunk of the candidate pool (an important point when supply & demand is as out of whack as it is now).

At the end of the day though these first round interviews are just about eliminating the Ben Stiller type retards – i.e. a ‘basic smarts’ cut.  Or said with more panache, these interviews are simply about eliminating the also-rans, not about picking the stars.  So don’t stress.

 

Inside Final Round interviews – hello Superday!

Before getting into it, let’s just pause for a moment to distinguish between simple second round interviews and Superdays. Both are final round interviews, but that’s where the similarities end. 

Some banks will do the simple second round interview which involves a panel of 2-3 bankers grilling you with all the common investment banking interview questions.  i.e. an MD, associate and analyst squaring up against you non-stop for 45 minutes to an hour in a small dimly lit room!  It’s an hour of hell, but then it’s over. By contrast other banks like to do a series of 1-1 and 2-1 interviews in one day…hello, Superday

The questions are the same, but the interview format is different and the day longer…much longer!  Plus there can be all sorts of add ons like group lunches, aptitude tests and slight electric shock therapy.  Oh and superday dinner! It’s hard for me to advise you on which type of final round interview you will get, because it differs from bank to bank, and from country to country.

But generally speaking, Superdays are the norm and simple second round interviews the exception.  For those of you outside the major IB regions, we’ve been seeing a shift towards Superdays there too (eg SE Asia) as more and more banks adopt the American approach to IB recruiting.

 

What are banks trying to work out about you during final rounds?

Whilst first round interviews help them decide whether you are ‘normal’ and in possession of half a brain, final round interviews are more about figuring out whether you can match wits with an MD and whether you will get along with the team.

ie during final rounds the bank is not simply trying to flush out the Ben Stillers (basic smarts), instead it’s trying to identify the Neos…the Chosen Ones (MD-level smarts and team fit).

Because final rounds are the last line of defense between your inexperienced ass and a fat paying job, expect the rearguard to put up a helluva bigger fight here than they did during first rounds. Said differently, final rounds are going to be a b*tch! 

They’ll make first round interviews look like easy street. At the end of the day though, you might only experience subtle differences in the types of questions bankers ask during final rounds as compared to first rounds – but don’t forget the standards and follow up questions will always contrast starkly.  

 

The Investment Banking Superday explained in plain English

You will likely face a varied range of bankers from analyst level to MD. 

But given you are within touching distance of a $100,000+ offer, the interviewer-sheet will be stacked towards the senior side, which means less junior bankers than first rounds and definitely no HR reps.

Numbers wise, you could face anywhere from as little as 3 interviews to as many as 7 or more. As you can imagine a true banking Superday can last anywhere from 3 hours to the good part of an entire day.  And sometimes they can even spill into the night.

But fear not.  Banks tend to err on the side of less is more, because it’s an insane logistical task to organize more than 5 interviews per student and overall it’s a surprisingly exhausting use of bank resources.  We are referring to senior bankers’ time here of course – not the $20 an hour analysts!

Note the sliding scale with respect to range, interviews and length; the bigger the bank and the recruiting drive, the greater the range/interviews/length.  No wonder BBs (bulge brackets) are the source of infamous Superday war stories then, as opposed to the middle market i-banks and lower end boutique investment banks.  

 

Why does the focus of each interview differ?

Different interviewers will be staffed with testing you on different things. This is often decided based on their level. Consequently students can experience 40 minutes of technical questions when interviewing with Analyst Chuck Chuckford and 40 minutes of “Tell me about yourself” mind f**k questions during MD Larry Larryson’s hour of power. Let’s break it down very clearly though…

The younger monkeys (analysts & associates) will throw down the technical questions gauntlet as they try to objectively assess you for brains.

Think McGee in NCIS.  If you’ve got some finance and accounting study or worse – a banking internship – under your belt expect to be pushed a lot harder than someone with a liberal arts major. Although the technical finance questions might hurt, the investment banking accounting interview questions won’t – they’re comparatively easy. 

We go through several examples in this free course.

Meantime the graying apes (MD Larryson and the other BSDs) will go ‘fit’ and ‘you’ crazy as they try to answer the question “Would Richard make a strong member of the team and do I want to work with him?”. For this think Gibbs in NCIS. But don’t forget Larry will also enjoy asking you (with a deadpan face) “How many 128-slide pitch books would fit in a chartered Lear Jet to Greenland?”.  In other words, interviews with the graying apes will often involve both technical and fit questions

The Masters of the Universe will give you a taste of everything! 

PS understanding how to answer this question perfectly is perhaps the greatest insurance policy you can take into a final round interview, because if you can answer this the banker-way you’ll stand out from the crowd by a country mile. Finally, it’s worth noting that multiple interviews at the one bank can also overlap in both theme and the specific questions asked. 

This is done on purpose. 

Just like a computer-driven personality test, this process of repetition allows bankers to spot inconsistencies in your answers over time when they share notes at the end of the day. Were you actually lying about your leadership experience at Chucky Cheese?  Either way they’ll find out.  

 

What other factors will influence the Qs asked?

The mood of the bankers believe it or not. 

How they are feeling, what they would find interesting to ask and whether they’re bored of the same old questions from previous interviews that day.

This Banker ADD can in fact have more impact on your interview than anything else as bankers will go off-reservation at will in a desperate bid to keep themselves awake during a day of long and dull interviews.

As a student trying to break in I remember 2 bankers saying point blank “It’s been a long day, you don’t mind if we ask some different questions now” – to which my internal monologue went “Yes, I would f*king mind, I’ve been prepping for the most common investment banking interview questions for months, and now you want to hit me up with some abstract shit about Qatari Oil Futures!!”. Joking of course. 

I was very much ready to talk about Qatari Oil Futures. ie as an aspiring banker you need to be ready for anything and happy to answer any question.  But with all that said, 9 times out of 10 bankers won’t let their mood overtly affect the interview, because it’s generally just a lot easier for them to stick to the normal script of questions.

Instead, the ultimate factor effecting which interview questions bankers ask is you!

Most obviously, your education and work background will influence how many technical questions get flung your way – a point you may think is unfair until you realize that as a fin/acc student you are several steps above a lib arts student.

And of course the type of spot you’re going for – internship v analyst program.  The difference in questions asked between an investment banking analyst interview and a simple summer internship one, is obviously down to the difference in knowledge/skill requirements. The script of questions will also get rewritten based on the first impressions bankers get from you and how you react to the first ten minutes of questions. 

Let me explain this point, because it was instrumental to my success – and for everyone else on the Inside Investment Banking team…  

 

How ‘you’ can affect the interview the most

If you make a rocket-like start and show bags of intelligence and likeability, then the bankers aren’t going to keep drilling you with technical questions or crazy investment banking brain teasers for 40 minutes.

Nor are they going to whip out the inane questions like; why do you want to work here, or the why investment banking interview question. Instead they’ll spend time getting to know you really well as they try to confirm their desire to get you on board.

In other words, if you allow them to see you’ve got brains at the very start of your interview, then you give them the luxury of allocating the rest of the interview to a two-way chat on personal issues – the type of chat that shows you would both work well together and that they should be offering you ASAP.

I remember one interview where the MD took the interview conversational after only 2 minutes. The interview topics deviated to the land of buddy-buddy like this; Europe study abroad (5 minutes), Traveling Asia (4 minutes), Golf (8 minutes), and light heartened banter about freaking tuna farm investments (9 minutes).

Needless to say the interview went swimmingly and I got offered pronto – how easy was that?! Hopefully you can see the importance of making a 10/10 first impression.  If you want to learn our insider secrets on starting your interview off with a bang then check out the this, because in it we detail all the killer tips you need to make bankers instantly like & respect you in the interview room.

Getting back on track, a final factor that affects the content of an interview is which group you interview with and which bank. Groups with a real technical / hardcore modeling bent (eg industrials M&A) and the bigger BBs with 1000s of applications will go nuts on the technical questions; whilst boutique investment banks will test your plug-n-play knowledge/skills more than you would think since they don’t have extensive training programs themselves.

Hint: if you interview with equity capital markets pour yourself a freaking pina colada, get out the sun chair and relax – it’s Sesame Street easy

TMT on the other hand…good luck!  

 

One minute look at the investment banking phone interview

First of all we’ll say it up front – we hate the phone interview.  We think it’s to be avoided if you can possibly help it.  Treat it like you would an offer from Billy Bumford in Back Office for a Resume Pass – “thanks, I guess”.

The formal investment banking phone interview (not to be confused with investment banking informational interviews – see below) can take place during formal recruiting if you don’t go to a target school or you didn’t quite make the cut for a face-face interview; or if you have taken up the Uzbekistan Sachs option (applying from abroad)!

Whether it’s conducted by investment banking HR (6/10) or a junior banker who went to your school (4/10) it’s bad.

With half of communication gone (non-verbal) it’s stupendously harder to build rapport and yet this is the #1 key to interview success – in our opinion. 

Plus there’s all the misunderstandings, pregnant pauses and other bitter tasting side effects of phone conversations to deal with.

But the efficiency is beautiful for both the bank and you, and the chance of getting an ‘interview’ consequently higher – i.e. a 5 minute phone interview is 10 times easier to secure than a 30 minute in-person chat. Plus you can cheat with notes, which will allow you to deliver a 10/10 story, answer questions about the bank and market with nous, and destroy any technical questions that come your way – you can have a freaking computer and calculator on standby if you want. 

Although you should be able to do all of this without crib notes, because eventually you will have to do a face to face interview!! Regardless of whether you like it or not, you need to practice for the investment banking phone interview, because it is a different beast to in-person interviews in terms of content, format and style. 

 

How would we sum up the phone interview?

It will be a shortened version of normal first round interviews – so prepare as normal, but expect the bad boy questions like “Tell me about yourself”, “Can you explain this part of your resume”, “Why investment banking”, and “Why us” to pop up.

As with ordinary first round interviews there shouldn’t be a huge technical focus – but prepare for the basics. Final thoughts?  Stand up, smile like a douchebag, get passionate, pump & dump, shout RECO and do all that other shit you saw in Boiler Room and you’ll be fine.  

 

The best kept secret – Informational Interviews

The investment banking informational interview is the ‘chat over coffee’ interview that every student struggling to get into investment banking dreams of.

It’s the ultimate Plan B when normal recruiting is dead, because it enables you to get face to face with a banker when everyone else is lining up at their campus career office all teary eyed and down on themselves.

Most of all, it opens the door for a warm resume submission – something which I mentioned would increase your chances by a factor of 10 in a previous tutorial on how to write your resume for investment banking.

Meanwhile if your 15 minute espresso-fueled chat really goes well, you could find yourself on the end of an offer to formally interview with the bank’s recruiting team! The other aspect I love with IIs is that they are the one interview where the playing field is somewhat level. 

It doesn’t matter whether you have a 3.7 GPA from Stanford or any kind of Ivy League pedigree whatsoever.  Instead the main criteria to succeed is courage & persistence (to obtain it), warmth of personality & non-douchebagedness (to crush it) and closing skills (to convert it).

Good news for any of you interested in lining up a few banking informational interviews is that few students have the courage, less have the people skills and almost no one has the closing skills.  So if you can develop them then you will be able to use this Plan B technique to full effect. 

And the doors it will open up will amaze you.

 

What should you bring to interviews?

Several copies of your resume is the obvious place to start – you probably will never need to hand them out since bankers will have plenty of copies on hand, but it can be a lifesaver when they struggle to find your resume in the pile of disheveled resumes on the interview room floor!

Consider bringing a simple black leather A4 portfolio, or perhaps a cool side-hanging bag those Wholefoods-luvin hipsters sport, if you have a collection of personal belongings and prep materials with you – including your resume.

But please don’t bring one of those bank-embossed bags you received for free at an investment banking information session, because you will be outed instantly as a douche of epic proportions.

A pen and blank paper although rarely necessary, are worth bringing along in case you have to work through some tough tech or brainteaser questions.  Although once again the interview room will usually be awash with such.

Forget about the briefcase however, because it will make you look like a five year old who has run off with his daddies work gear.  And no backpack either because it reeks of 19 year old college kid!  

 

What’s the difference between HR and banker interviewers?

 

Cookies & Cream HR

Depending on where you are, you may never even get interviewed by HR.  But if you do here’s the quick low down.

The investment banking HR reps are generally going to be given a script of questions to ask candidates, along with ‘suggested solutions’ to help them assess your answer.  And even though they can’t differentiate a WACC from an EBIT they’ll probably ask you some technical interview questions or brainteasers – don’t worry only the simple stuff, e.g. “99 squared”. With HR you just need to relax.

To pass their examination you simply need to get along with them, speak clearly and tick off a few of their low level questions – HR ain’t no MD Larry Larryson after all. Think of them more as Natalie, the secretary to Gekko in Wall Street

i.e. their job is to protect the big swinging bankers from having to deal with also-rans (being candidates that however qualified, aren’t quite remarkable enough) and nothing more.

So all you want to show HR is that you’re not a dropkick and that you’re worthy of some 1-1 interview time with a banker.  Thus don’t aim to stand out; aim to not stuff up.

 

Bad Ass Bankers

Bankers on the other hand are true interviewers. They’ll go off-script, ask follow up questions, test your assumptions, drill down for your weak points, ask probing technical interview questions, hunger to see you sweat and generally tear you apart to work out if you’ve got what it takes to join them.

To impress you must show these 3 key qualities even when you’ve got nothing left in the tank; likeability, fit and intelligence.

If you get stuck into tomorrow’s tutorial on common investment banking interview questions and answers, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the art of handling even the most balla of bankers!  And if you know the answers to the top 50 investment banking interview questions you’ll become an interview rock star in no time!!  

 

Which interviewers actually make the call?

Every banker you interview with will have some say in the final ‘offer’ decision whether via conference room meetings, a few scribbled notes or a HR-organized feedback session.

Ultimately though it’s the biggest boys you interviewed with that will make the call – think MD Larry Larryson and VP Charles Charlson.

Of course the MDs will take into account the thoughts of all the other bankers who painstakingly analyzed you and the rest of the candidates, but it would take a loud protest vote to change their mind.  But like I mention just below, junior bankers are instrumental in deciding the initial cut (ie first round interviews) so their impact is still great.  

 

How does MD Larryson decide who to hire?

Master MD’s like Larry often make their decision based on the first 5 minutes of the interview. 

That’s not a typo. MD ‘gut decisions’ are ok though. For one, the right candidate will often clearly stand out amongst a sea of pretenders.  And with years of experience an MD’s gut decision is (in our opinion) more accurate than any group consensus ever could be. 

Plus, every candidate that interviews with a senior banker has already passed all the tests to confirm their smarts (GPA cut offs, resume screenings, first round interviews, junior banker interviews etc) – MD’s are thus making the final decision based primarily on ‘fit’, which is something the ‘gut’ knows best. Also, don’t forget that it would take bankers a lifetime to try evaluate every candidate together based on a multitude of pros & cons.

Instead the MD for each group employs ye olde gut and recruiting is swiftly wrapped up.  A bit like how M&A multiples are usually decided by an MD over lunch and then reverse engineered into the model by feverous analysts!

 

BONUS: Download a free reportand see a student answer some of the toughest interview questions (plus hear the bankers’ feedback), plus find out how 5 of us managed to break into bulge bracket banks without having perfect grades, the best schools or insider connections.