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While “walking through my resume,” can I refer to the copy of the resume in front of me?

No.  Even if you have a copy of your resume in front of you, you should be able to talk about your background and experiences without referring to your resume.  Referring to, or worse, reading off of your resume makes it seem like you don’t even know your own history.

What NOT to ask…

How much money did you make last year?/How much money will I make?/How were bonuses last year?/How much vacation will I get?…
No explanation needed…I hope.

What is the lifestyle like?/How many hours will I be expected to work?/Is there face time at this bank?
Any questions regarding lifestyle and hours, risk giving the interviewer the impression that you are not willing to work hard.  Now, if you are interviewing at a boutique and the interviewer has already talked about how good the lifestyle is here, then it may be okay to ask these things.  But if you are interviewing at a bulge bracket bank or the like, don’t ask about lifestyle.

What do you know about our bank?

Somewhat similar to the last question (Why do you want to work here?), you need to demonstrate your knowledge of the bank.  You might talk about a deal or two that you’ve heard or read with which the bank has been involved.  Or, if you know the bank is strong is certain product areas (such as M&A or leveraged finance) or industry coverage, then mention that.  Perhaps the bank focuses on cross-border deals or deals in emerging markets.

By no means will you be expected to be an expert but you should be able to talk about a few things.  If you don’t know anything, rather than make something up and sound stupid, be honest.  Say something like, “I really don’t know many specifics, and one of the reasons that I’m really excited to interview with you is to learn more.”  If you can ask the interviewer about the bank, then you can learn some things for your next interview, for when you are asked the same question.

How NOT to answer the question, “Why do you want to be an investment banker?”

I want to make a lot of money/I want a house in the Hamptons/I want to date models, etc.
Yes, everyone in banking is in it for the money.  Anyone who says otherwise is delusional or lying.  But, you still can’t say it in an interview.

I love working all night…
Yes, you can say you want to be challenged.   But NOBODY likes working on pitchbooks at 3:00 am and you won’t either.

I want to learn how businesses work so I can advise CEOs.
Two issues here.  First, the typical banker knows (a little about) finance but nothing about operations and how businesses really operate.  Second, as an Analyst or Associate, it will be years before you will be advising CEOs, if ever.

How long should I spend “walking through my resume?”

You should plan on spending 3 – 5 minutes talking about your background.  If you notice that the interviewer looks bored, then speed it up.  If the interviewer looks engaged, then be more detailed.  Some interviewers will let you finish your story before asking questions and others will interrupt you repeatedly.

If I am asked to “walk through my resume,” where (when) should I start?

It’s really up to you and whatever you think tells the best story.  Some people start with where they grew up.  Others start with college or their first job out of college while more experienced or older individuals might start with Business School or other graduate program.  Just keep in mind that your most recent experiences are going to be more relevant so don’t get bogged down with stories of your first lemonade stand or how well you invested your Bar Mitzvah money.

What are your weaknesses?

Even more so than the question about strengths, it’s unusual to be asked about your weaknesses.  There is no good way to answer this question so the best advice is to try to move on as quickly as possible.  Obviously you don’t want mention real weaknesses (I’m dumb, I’m lazy, I require 12 hours of sleep a night).  You also don’t want to say things that make you look silly like “I work too hard” and you can’t say you don’t have any weaknesses because you’ll come off as too arrogant.  So try to think of something relatively innocuous that also might highlight a strength.  For example, “I can get occasionally get impatient with peers/coworkers who don’t have the same abilities as me or don’t show the same commitment that I do.”  Or, “Sometimes I can be so focused with or driven by the task on hand that I wind up tuning out other aspects of my life.”  You can also usually say something like, “I think my skills are very good compared with my peers but, of course, I’m new to investment banking, and I obviously need more experience.  Experience which I’m confident I’ll get working for you…”

Occasionally, a really difficult interviewer will ask you for 3 weaknesses, knowing that your first 2 will be bullshit answers.  To which I would respond that my major weakness is, “I’m really bad at bullshit interview questions.”

What are your strengths?

This is one of those generic interview questions that you are less likely to get in banking interviews.  If you do get this question, this is one of your best opportunities to make your case that you’d be a good banker.  Some of the skills that you probably want to highlight include your analytical/quantitative skills (especially for an Analyst), communication skills (especially for an Associate), ability to learn quickly, detail orientedness and ability to work really hard.  You should definitely be prepared to back up what you state as your strengths, using one or two concrete examples from past jobs or school.

What are your long-term plans?

This is a bit of a tricky question.  You obviously want to demonstrate you are committed to investment banking but you don’t want to come across as obviously disingenuous by stating that banking is the only job you’ll ever want to do.  If you are interviewing for an Analyst position, I don’t think you need to be committed to banking for the long-term (since being an Analyst position is a 2-year position).  I would mention that you are really excited about and committed to becoming an Analyst and that you want to learn as much as possible, get as much experience, etc. while you are an Analyst.  But I think it’s okay to say that you’ll see what happens after your Analyst position is up (i.e. going to business school, moving on to other jobs like private equity or hedge funds, etc.)

If you are interviewing for an Associate position, then you need to demonstrate a little bit more commitment to banking.  I would definitely recommend stating that you see yourself as a banker for the foreseeable future (call it 3-5 years).  However, I don’t think that you need to state that you are certain to be a banker for the rest of your life but I wouldn’t say that that is out of the question either.

Are you interviewing for jobs other than investment banking?

This can be another tricky one.  If you are interviewing out of undergrad or B-School, I would emphasize that you are only interviewing with investment banks or at least that banking is by far your main focus.  If you are trying to switch careers, interviewers are going to understand that getting a job in banking is more difficult and that you may need to cast a wider net.  In these instances, I think that as long as you state that banking is your top choice, it’s okay to mention that you are interviewing with other institutions, provided that they are in finance and require similar skill-sets (e.g. equity research, corporate banking, etc.)  Whatever you do, don’t state (even if it is true) that you are looking at banking, consulting, hedge funds, private equity and also considering going to cooking school.  You’ll come across as unfocused and not serious about being an investment banker.

With what other banks are you interviewing?

Interviewing is about marketing yourself and you do want to give them impression that you are desired by other banks.  On the other hand, you don’t want to lie.  Always keep in mind that banking is a small industry where bankers know bankers at other banks.  If you are interviewing with other investment banks say so.  If they are prestigious or comparable to this firm, name them.  If they are less prestigious, then just mention that you are interviewing with “a number of boutiques.”  If they ask you to name them, then mention one or two.  If you have no interviews lined up, state that you are “talking to a number of banks” and try to move the conversation along.

Why do you want to work at our bank?

This is your opportunity to (1) show you know a little about the bank and (2) kiss the ass a bit of the person with whom you are interviewing. Just don’t go overboard with #2.

If you have friends that work for this bank, say so, and mention that they are really enjoying their experiences.  If you are interviewing with a bulge bracket bank, mention how you are excited about the prospect of getting a broad experience and learning about different products or industries.  If you are interviewing with a boutique, talk about how you like the idea of a smaller firm, where you might have more responsibility and more interaction with clients and senior bankers.  Without a doubt (unless this is the first person with whom you’ve ever met), state how you’ve really liked all of the people from this bank that you’ve met before.

If you have previously had the opportunity (for example, in prior interviews or at recruiting receptions) to ask other bankers from this firm (or better yet, this particular interviewer) why they like working at this bank, then by all means recycle these answers!  If they say the culture is great, you say you want to work here because the culture is great.  If they say dealflow is strong, you say you want to work here because the dealflow is strong.  You get the idea…

Do you have any questions for me?

At the end of almost every interview, you will be asked if you have any questions.  This is your opportunity to learn more about the job and the firm.  By asking good questions, it is also a chance for you to open up the interview into more of a conversation.

However, even if you have little interest in the job, or if you’ve already had all of your questions answered by the other 8 people with whom you interviewed that day, you should always be prepared with 3-4 questions that you can ask an interviewer.  Here’s a few examples:

– How long have you been with the bank and how has your experience been?
– What do you like best about working here.  Worst?
– How do you compare working here with other banks at which you have worked?
– How is the dealflow?
– On what types of deals are you currently working?
– What kind of responsibility does the typical Analyst/Associate receive?
– Can you tell me about your training program?
– How do Analysts/Associates get staffed?

Walk me through your resume…

The majority of interviews will start out with you being asked to introduce yourself and your background or “walk me through your resume.”  There are two reasons for this.  First, the interviewer wants to hear your “story” and second, it gives the interviewer a chance to quickly read over your resume while you are talking.  More often than not, he or she hasn’t had the time to read it before you walked in the interview room.

The opportunity to walk through your resume is your chance to talk about your background and to make your case why you want to be an investment banker.  The most important thing is that you tell a story that makes sense to the interviewer and shows a progression leading up to you being a banker.  Even if the choices that you’ve made (schools, degrees, jobs) don’t follow a natural progression, you need to describe your experiences in a manner that flows convincingly.  Now, that isn’t to say that you necessarily need to find commonality in everything you’ve done, or “weave a thread” through each job, as long as you can demonstrate some sensible flow.  For example, highlight how each job enabled you to take more responsibility or required more finance knowledge than the one before it.  Even if you’ve switched careers or reversed directions, talk about what you’ve learned from those decisions that make you a good investment banking candidate.

Remember, this is your opportunity to make a first impression and perhaps your only opportunity to make your case as you see fit, so don’t underestimate the importance of this part of the interview.

Why do you want to be an investment banker?

As someone trying to break into the industry, this is the most important question that you can be asked.  And even if you are not asked this explicitly, other questions will likely try to elicit from you the same information.  Most people trying to get a banking job have the intellectual abilities to be a banker.  The question is do they have the attitude, the mindset, the willingness to sacrifice and the attention to detail.  There are a range of answers that will help you portray that you have both the ability and attitude to be a banker.  Here are a few:

– I’ve always enjoyed the aspects of my past jobs/classes in school that involve corporate finance.
– I like the fast paced environment of banking as I’ve always excelled in pressure situations.
– I am excited to be able to work on many projects at the same time and the fact that I’ll never be bored.
– I can’t wait to be in an environment where I’ll always be learning.
– Even though I know I’ll be playing a junior role for a number of years, I like that ultimately I will be able to help advise senior management of companies.
– I enjoy reading about M&A transactions in the newspaper.
– All of the bankers that I have met are really smart and I want the opportunity to work with them and learn from them (just make sure you say this one with a straight face)

Whatever responses you give, make sure that you can back them up with actual stories and details from your experiences.