Do You Make These Critical Mistakes When Answering the Most Important Investment Banking Interview Question?
Much of my email these days contains questions on advanced topics:
“Where can I learn LBO modeling?”
“How do you use Section 382 to determine allowable NOLs in an acquisition?”
It’s nice to show this initiative.
But even if you can answer these questions, there’s a 95% chance you will not get past the first round of an investment banking interview.
Because you don’t know how to answer the most important question:
“Walk me through your resume.”
No matter how much experience you have, you’re probably making critical mistakes that result in failure within the first 5 minutes of the interview:
Mistake #1: Pretending Your Resume is Pulp Fiction
I love Quentin Tarantino, and Pulp Fiction is one of my favorite movies.
But if your story is out of order chronologically, as most of Tarantino’s films are, you’re going to confuse the interviewer.
Interviewees often start with activities or work experience, then jump back to childhood or high school, and then explain why they want to be bankers.
If you are Samuel L. Jackson, this might work, but, unfortunately, you’re interviewing for investment banking – not starring in the next great independent film.
You should start from the beginning – whether that’s your youth or high school (for university students) or college or post-college (for MBAs and working professionals).
Then, explain how you became interested in finance and how each experience moved you closer to banking.
Mistake #2: Telling an Essay Rather Than a Story
If your start starts with “I’ve always worked extremely hard to achieve my goals,” then you’ll get a worse reception than The Matrix: Revolutions.
Remember back in middle school when your English teacher taught you to show rather than tell?
You want to show that you’re hard-working and goal-oriented with your experiences – not with a lengthy exposition.
So, don’t say, “I’ve always been very attentive to detail.”
Instead, explain how you had to proofread a newsletter that went out to thousands of readers, or how you managed a detailed budget that required input from 15 different groups.
Mistake #3: Being as Logical as The Joker
Remember that scene in The Dark Knight where The Joker burns all the cash he just received?
That’s how logical your work experience sounds if you don’t link together each entry properly.
With each work experience entry, you should:
- Explain how you learned something valuable and relevant to investment banking.
- But how you wanted to change one aspect of that experience and move closer to banking.
So, don’t say, “I did marketing, then went into wealth management, and now I want to do banking.”
Say that you liked working with customers in marketing but wanted something more quantitative – which you found in wealth management.
While you liked following the markets and doing financial analysis in wealth management, you wanted to analyze major transactions and work with large companies rather than individuals, which is what brings you to banking.
Why This Question Matters
Almost every interview starts off with a variant of “Walk me through your resume”: “Tell me about yourself” and “Why are you here today?” are the same question.
Most interviewers stop paying attention to you after 5-10 minutes, so if you make a poor first impression with these questions, you’re pretty much screwed.
Also, the Managing Directors who make the final decisions rely on your story and “fit” to determine if you get an offer.
How to Fix Your Story
Take a look at your resume and figure out where you should start: What made you interested in finance? Why did you choose the school you attended? Did you get exposed to business or the stock market from an early age?
Start at the beginning and lay out how each experience led you to banking.
Be chronological, be a storyteller, and be Mr. Spock – not The Joker.
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