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Module 3: Interviews
We love sharing this insider secret – probably more than any other – because if you can fathom exactly what is on a banker’s mind it will help you perform like few other tips can.
Now it must be said that much of this won’t surprise you.
But the extent to which these 5 factors impact a banker’s decision on whether you get a tick or a cross surely will.
For example, something like a poorly done tie can make more of an impact than your answer to a freaking DCF question.
Bankers are to put it mildly, superficial mofos.
1) Is this student someone I would want to get a beer with?
Likeability is something we’ve harped on about time and time again.
It’s just that important.
And that underappreciated – too many students spend all their time trying to look smart, when they should just relax a little and ‘be cool’.
Of course, we’re not alone in this.
The ‘airport test’ after all is talked about more than bonuses in the IB-advice world!
For anyone who doesn’t know what the airport test is, it’s the idea that bankers will decide whether they want to hire you by asking themselves;
“If my flight was delayed, could I sit in an airport lounge with this kid for a couple hours and not want to down a liter of Jack and neck myself with a rusty old Gillette blade?”.
i.e. do they like you.
How do you pass the Airport Test?
Unfortunately, there’s a large rotting corpse of advice out there on ‘How To’.
It goes something like this; “be very professional, think about your goals, concentrate on maintaining positive body language, prepare your answers, execute the game plan step by step, watch out for etiquette slips and don’t forget to be articulate”.
It sounds like something out of Jeeves Weekly, the bible of every Kensington butler.
With that D-grade advice running through your mind you’re bound to come across as a stiff, pompous douche – said differently, “just another candidate”.
Let’s pause on this for a minute and think about how a banker feels during a long and arduous interview day and what that means for you.
We call it the “7 hours, 18 biscuits, 4 coffees, 12 reserved students trying to be super professional = please shoot me in the head” syndrome.
What we’re alluding to here is that interview days, especially never-ending Superdays, are just as tough on the banker as they are on you.
The question becomes, “How do you make life easier for them?”
Or more honestly, “How do you smack them out of their boredom-induced coma after 12 preppy looking students with their dull professional “hello, nice to meet you” personas have interviewed?”.
It’s all about energy.
Bring a smile, some passion, a voice with more than one tone, an interesting conversation, a sprinkling of non-rehearsed sounding answers and you’re good to go.
This point is huge because you could do everything else right (execute every other tip in this system), but if you don’t light up the room you’ll never get them excited.
There is an art to bringing high energy however.
It revolves around knowing how hard to go and when.
Start your interview with an energy level just above the banker. This allows you to create a strong first impression, but without being seen as overeager. Then slowly raise your levels of passion and excitement. Keep raising them and you’ll have the banker’s geeing up in no time.
In other words, you can’t sprint out of the blocks like a caffeine-overdosing Tony Robbins clapping his mitt-size hands around like a freaking maniac. If you hit a bored and tired banker at 100mph you’ll be deemed “weird kid with a crazy glimmer in his eye”.
If you can save the cussing, high-fiving and douche bag energy for Saturday nights you’ll have the art of high energy down pat.
Mirroring the banker’s initial energy level will also safeguard you from being either too formal or too loose.
If you feel ‘likeability’ is a weak area of yours then go practice ‘getting along with professionals’!
We realize this sounds ridiculous at first glance.
But think of yourself as a teenager who wants to ask out that cheerleader, Suzzie Delaney.
How do you achieve that?
You don’t do it by sitting at home. Instead you go out meet some 6s (think accounting firms at careers fair, industry networking events etc), train up, and then go for the Suzzie Delaneys, the 10s (think the bulge bracket bankers at formal interviews).
2) Will this student bring a good attitude and do they really want to do investment banking?
By ‘attitude’ we are in Abe Simpson’s words referring to the “cut of your jib son”.
Bankers will form their opinion of it based on the way you carry yourself, your body language, dress, voice tone and your first couple of answers.
Let’s look at the right and the wrong traits you need in order to project a 10/10 jib son!
Are you confident, but not cocky?
There is nothing worse than a college student acting like they know it all. It has to be one of the biggest turn offs for bankers interviewing you.
Naturally this is a problem that afflicts MBA candidates most since they think a couple classes of finance makes them Steve Schwartzman Jrs!
But you should watch out for it too if you are from a top target school because we’ve seen plenty of little 3.9 GPA brats come in and treat analysts like peasant-folk before to only get canned moments later.
Are you eager, but not creepy?
A positive high-energy is great for showing the right attitude. But go too far and you’ve just landed in the ‘freak’ category – think Robin Williams 1980s cocaine stand up performances for an example.
You see, although bankers want to see hunger, no one’s going to ‘love it’ or even take you serious if you get eye-twitches of excitement when they ask you about spreading comps and formatting pitch books.
Are you willing to do what it takes or will you wilt at first signs of an all-nighter?
This is the epitome of the perfect attitude for baby bankers, because it’s what bankers want most from you; a never-say-no street-fighting nut of a college student is a dream hire.
So if you help them answer this question in the affirmative, then you you’ll get a massive tick for “good attitude”, which can almost by itself convince an MD to slap you on the offer list.
Are you team-focused or self-obsessive?
This is the #1 question most people think about when attitude is mentioned. And in the tight-team working world of bankers it makes sense. No banker will let you get out of an interview without first answering this question in their minds.
Make sure they see the sacrifice-a-leg-for-the-team side of you whether that comes from your general persona or from specific team anecdotes you’ve shared with them.
3) Does this kid give a confident first impression?
No bankers are literally saying this to themselves of course. It’s a subconscious judgment.
In the Internship Section there is a significant discussion on the importance of first impressions in banking. But let’s look at it now in the context of an interview.
It’s the belief of the Inside Investment Banking team that your interview (and thus your banking career!) is decided in the first 90 seconds to 3 minutes.
No doubt you’ll sit through 25 more questions and say 43 minutes and 30 seconds of hell, but it’s your start that decides it all.
So Richard – I hear the heckles – why the heck would you waste our time with the Big 50 interview Q&As?
Well, although the bankers will mentally and unknowingly say “yay or nay” up front, they will use the rest of the interview to confirm their thoughts.
The strongest of first impressions can still come unstuck if you break down later in the interview. So by giving you the Big 50 Q&As we’re guaranteeing you avoid making monumental mid-interview fuck ups.
What can you do to make the first 3 minutes earth-shatteringly impressive?
In a word, ‘balance’.
It’s a rudimentary idea, but harder to execute when your packing yourself at the thought of a 2-1 with the TMT group from Goldman Sachs.
Avoid coming off like one of those shy palm-sweating students with their quiet, low energy, nervous vibe and indifferent look. Not to mention their solid black suits with white shirt, yellow tie, brown shoes!
Equally, don’t replicate the first impressions of the cocaine-sniffing-esque students who amp up the energy levels with their jumpy, overeager, leaning in, creepy eye contact, over familiar name referencing and fake smile.
Watch Vince in Entourage for a classic example of someone who can balance.
- Interested look
- Confident voice
- Strong posture
Don’t be afraid to add a more sophisticated sense of dress and heightened ability to perform small talk than Vinnie Chase.
Meanwhile watch Andy in The Office for someone who’s a total douche bag – miraculously combining palm-sweating and cocaine-sniffing qualities at once.
He means well.
If you’re thinking this last piece of advice sounds like fluff, be assured “we agree”.
But if the FBI trains their people in this (being the 93% of communication that doesn’t include voice), then we think it’s something for us to share with you – and for you guys to practice and do.
What else will help you put in an A+ opening 90 seconds?
If you have a clear idea of what you’re going to say (and be asked) in the first 90 seconds to 3 minutes of your interview then you’ll go in with enough confidence to blow bankers out of the water.
Thankfully we describe the opening dance of hellos, handshakes, small talk and your story throughout the Break Into Banking System. Armed with this knowledge you’ll be able to prepare a watertight opening.
A quick word on the #1 worst thing you can do when starting your interview
Get stumped in the first 10 seconds of your interview when asked an innocuous-sounding question like;
- How are you going today?
- Did you find the place alright?
- Did you have a good weekend?
- Or some other variant of “How are you?
You would be surprised how often this happens.
The sheer number of students who have told us how they headed into an interview all fired up to tell their story (education, work and life track record), but ended up near-speechless when asked a relaxed Basic as Ben Stiller question about their weekend.
Replying “Not bad, did some revision” is not what 10/10 first impressions are made of.
And wow, wouldn’t you want to kick yourself?
I mean, 30 hours PLUS spent crafting a stunning resume and prepping for every interview question under the sun can all come to nothing if you give a boring, weak and deadbeat answer to an otherwise trivial question.
The lesson is clear; prepare for the opening 90 seconds like crazy!
4) Does this kid seem client-friendly?
“Would you be a liability if I took you to a beauty show?” is what every MD ponders when a candidate sits in the interview room.
Ah, the client-friendly test.
Whether you look, feel, sound or generally act like someone who is ‘presentable’ is hugely important in banking. After all, a bank’s brand is its people.
You need to be a natural at this, because even though your monkey-ass won’t be touching a clients’ hand in the probation period (internship), you soon will. And in the meantime you’ll be emailing and perhaps chatting with so many stakeholders of the bank that you have to be eminently professional.
What can you do to be a client’s wet dream?
Your appearance as Vogue as it sounds is your #1 weapon.
You need to dress, talk, move and generally resemble a master of the universe.
5) Does he fit in?
Personality is the key here.
We talk about the general culture of banking throughout the Break Into Banking System and in particular during So You Wanna Be a Banker and about what qualities bankers look for in candidates in 21 Qualities of Baby Bankers.
Understanding these two areas is to know what bankers are like and who they want to work with.
Your personality can then be fine tuned – not altered in any great sense though – to match.
But there’s a big qualification to be made.
Every bank is different though
They differ in terms of what type of person they’re after and within every bank the groups differ in the type of people they’re after too.
Whilst the bad boys launching IPOs at Moron Stan want fellow cowboy salesmen, the psychos in industrials at Silverman Jaks want kamikaze-cum-savant kids who’ll model till they drop dead at their desks.
The nuances are worth understanding. Act accordingly.