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?
Here are the three next most common story-telling mistakes we’ve seen, and how to avoid them and fix your story:
Mistake #4: Telling a Space Odyssey, Not a Story
2001: A Space Odyssey was a landmark film with groundbreaking special effects and a very “different” story-telling style.
But 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.
But if your story in IB interviews is that long, you will be rejected instantly.
You cannot afford to spend 5-10 minutes explaining every single point on your resume; no one will even remember more than 2-3 of them.
Imagine an investment banker watching 2001: A Space Odyssey: He or she would probably get bored within 5 minutes and walk out, wondering, “What happened to the dialogue? And what about my bonus?”
And you’ll get a similar reaction if your story is too long.
Keep it brief (1-2 minutes), don’t go into minutiae, and tell a story – not an odyssey.
Mistake #5: Replaying a Commercial, Not Telling a Story
If your story is only 10 seconds long, you don’t have a story at all – you have a commercial.
A 10-second clip might sell Coke, Bud Light, or FedEx, and it might generate “stimulating” water cooler discussion the next day at work.
But it won’t get you into banking.
Even if you feel that you don’t have “enough” experience, you need to spin what you have and make your story at least one minute long.
It’s fine to use a short, 2-sentence version for networking purposes (e.g., when you first meet someone at an event), but in interviews, you need something more in-depth.
If you don’t have much work experience, the easiest way to extend your story is to focus more on your “spark” – what made you interested in finance initially – and also why you want to do banking in the long term.
Don’t replay a commercial – tell a story.
Mistake #6: 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 typical answers to the “Walk me through your resume” question.
Why did you want to do finance again? Are you sure? Wait, are you really sure you want to do investment banking?
Are you also interviewing for consulting, trading, and startup roles?
Are you considering teaching English in China or joining the circus?
That’s nice, but don’t tell me any of these points.
You need to convey extreme certainty over your desire to be in banking; interviewers know it’s nonsense, but you have to do it anyway.
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
These flaws are easier to correct than the other interview mistakes we went over:
Fix #1: The Proper Length
We recommend an outline of 100-150 words and a full-length story of 200-300 words.
At normal speaking speed, you should be able to tell your story in 1-2 minutes.
Two minutes is pushing it, but if you have a lot of work experience or “life experience,” you can get away with it.
A simple outline for your story might be the following:
- Point 1: The Beginning – Your background (Hometown, university, or business school).
- Point 2: Finance “Spark” – The specific person, event, or experience that made you interested in finance or investment banking.
- Point 3: Growing Interest – How you gained more relevant skills and work experience over time that prepare you for this job.
- Point 4: Why You’re Here Today and Your Future – Why this firm and group fit your long-term plans perfectly.
If you devote one sentence to points #1-2 and 3-4 sentences to points #3-4, that should give you a story of the appropriate length.
Fix #2: Know Thyself… or Lie
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 sentences explaining why you’re interviewing there and why banking is for you.
Here are two examples:
“So I’m here today because I want to combine my telecom background with finance, and eventually become an adviser to companies in the industry. Your group has a great reputation for that, with deals such as [Name a Deal], so joining your firm is the best way for me to get there.”
“I’m interviewing here today because I want to leverage my wealth management experience and advise larger-scale clients on M&A deals, going back to the [Deal Name] deal that first interested me. Your group is very strong in [Geography / Industry], which I follow, and so joining your team is the best way for me to work on those types of deals.”
In short, to tell your story successfully:
- Limit it to 1-2 minutes (200-300 words).
- Go in chronological order.
- Explain how you became interested in finance with a distinct event, and how your experience since then has led you to banking.
- And at the end, explain why you’re interviewing in this specific group.
Tell a story – not an essay, odyssey or commercial – and make it brief, logical, and chronological.
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