3 More Mistakes to Avoid When Answering the Most Important Interview Question
So you’re walking through your resume in an investment banking interview…
But you’re still not landing investment banking offers.
What else could you be doing wrong?
Telling a Space Odyssey, Not a Story
2001: A Space Odyssey was a landmark film with groundbreaking special effects and an ambitious meditation on the nature of mankind that has never been matched, according to some critics.
And it’s long.
The film starts with apes discovering an extra-terrestrial monolith and continues through the space age, detailing mankind’s adventures into the great beyond. It won critical praise over the years and is now regarded as one of the top movies of all-time.
In investment banking, by contrast, telling a lengthy story doesn’t result in praise – it results in rejection.
I’ve interviewed many people who speak for 10 minutes or more, going through every single detail of what they’ve done in each internship, activity and club.
Imagine an investment banker watching 2001: A Space Odyssey. He would probably get bored within 5 minutes and walk out, wondering “What happened to the dialogue? And where’s my bonus?”
And you get a similar reaction if your story is too long.
Keep it brief, don’t go into minutiae and tell a story – not an odyssey.
Replaying a Commercial, Not Telling a Story
If your story is only 30 seconds to 1 minute long, you don’t have a story at all – you have a commercial.
A 30-second clip might sell Coke, Bud Light, or FedEx to consumers. And it might generate “stimulating” water cooler discussion the next day at work.
But it won’t get you into banking.
I see this mistake mostly among those who haven’t had much work experience. If that’s the case, you need to spend more time discussing your interest in finance and addressing the “Why banking?” question before it comes up.
Selling Coke for $1.99 isn’t too hard – but you “cost” more like $200,000 (training, bonuses, office space…). And with high-priced products the more you tell, the more you sell.
So don’t give replay a commercial – tell a story.
Not Being Sure Whether You’re Charlie or Donald Kaufman
I like some fairly unorthodox movies. But when I recommended Adaptation to my parents, they reacted violently.
“I didn’t understand anything… who was real? Who was fake? What was the point of this movie?”
I get the same feeling after listening to some answers to the “Walk me through your resume” question.
Why did you want to do this again? Are you sure? Wait, are you really sure you want to do investment banking?
Having a “quarter-life crisis” and can’t decide whether you want to do consulting, banking, teach English in China or join the circus?
That’s nice, but don’t tell me any of this.
At the end of your story you must convince me that you are here for 1 reason and 1 reason only: because you want to be in investment banking (or sales & trading, or private equity, or whatever you’re interviewing for).
So if you’re not sure whether you’re a banker or consultant, you’d better pretend that you know.
How to Correct These Mistakes
Luckily, these flaws are easier to correct than the other interview mistakes we went over.
So if telling too lengthy a story is a mistake and being too brief is also a mistake, what’s the proper length?
Aim for 3 minutes. If you’re writing your story before telling it in an interview, try for 500-600 words.
I don’t recommend “memorizing” what you say (it sounds mechanical), but you can come up with the basic outline and then practice based on what you’ve written.
Remember, bankers are impatient – if you go on longer than this, there’s a good chance they’ll cut you off. And the more senior the banker interviewing you, the more likely that they’ll cut mercilessly.
Know Thyself… or Lie
This is one of the few cases where I sort of condone lying.
Even if you’re uncertain about what you want to do, you must seem confident in an interview. You should conclude your “story” with a few powerful sentences on why you’re interviewing there – why banking is for you.
You need to link together your past experiences as well, but this part is equally important because they remember most what you said first and last.
Ok, So How Do You Tell a Story?
So far I’ve told you what to avoid when telling your story. So what should you do?
Limit it – or lengthen it – to 3 minutes, go in chronological order, weave in how you became interested in finance and how your previous experience has led you here. And at the end, remind them again why you’re set on banking.
Tell a story – not an essay, odyssey or commercial, make it brief, and be both logical and chronological.
Break Into Investment Banking
Free Access to Exclusive Content for Members Only!
Sign up for The Banker Blueprint today and enjoy:
- Free Report: 37-page guide with the action plan you need to break into investment banking - how to tell your story, network, craft a winning resume, and dominate your interviews.
- Exclusive emailed bonus material.
- Free Banker Blueprint newsletter with more in-depth advice.
- Unlimited access to all articles, videos, and advice - and free updates whenever new content is added to the site.