Do You Make These Critical Mistakes When Answering the Most Important Investment Banking Interview Question?

58 Comments | Investment Banking - Interviews

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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 kind of 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.

Why?

Because you don’t know how to answer the most important question:

“Walk me through your resume.”

No matter how much experience you have or where you’ve interviewed before, you’re probably making critical mistakes that bore the interviewer and result in a “PASS” within 5 minutes of the interview starting.

So what are these fatal errors and how can you avoid them?

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 just like most of Tarantino’s films are, you’re going to confuse your interviewer.

Interviewees often start with college activities or work experience, then jump back to childhood or high school, then go into what they’ve been up to recently.

If your life story involves Samuel L. Jackson and great dialogue this might work, but unfortunately you’re interviewing for investment banking – not writing the next great independent film.

You should start from the beginning – whether that’s your childhood or high school (for university students) or college or post-college (for MBAs and working professionals).

Then, show how you became interested in finance and how each experience increased your interest in banking.

Telling an Essay Rather Than a Story

If you start off with “I’ve always worked extremely hard to achieve my goals,” your story is going to 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 lengthy exposition in the beginning.

Don’t say, “I’ve always been very attentive to detail” – explain how you had to proofread a newsletter that went out to thousands of readers, or manage a budget for 15 different groups.

Being as Logical as The Joker

Remember that scene in Batman: 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 experience properly.

You should show how you learned something valuable with each experience, but increasingly realized you wanted to do banking over time.

Don’t say, “I did marketing, then went into wealth management, and now want to do banking.”

Say that you liked marketing but wanted something more quantitative and market-focused, which you found in wealth management, but then you realized you wanted to analyze transactions and major happenings rather than day-to-day events – which brought you to banking.

Why It Matters

Almost every interview starts off with a variant of “Walk me through your resume.”  And if you answer it poorly, it’s difficult to overcome a negative first impression.

Also, the Managing Directors who ultimately make decisions rely on your background and story 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 initially made you interested in finance?  Why did you choose the school you attended?  Did your childhood influence your decisions?

Start at the beginning and lay out how each experience led you in your current direction – and at the end, explain why you want to do banking more than anything else.

Be chronological, be a storyteller, and be Mr. Spock – not The Joker.

About the Author

is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys learning obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, and traveling so much that he's forced to add additional pages to his passport on a regular basis.

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58 Comments to “Do You Make These Critical Mistakes When Answering the Most Important Investment Banking Interview Question?”

Comments

    • says

      Still important – they will be very focused on the whole “Why trading?” angle. When I interviewed for HF spots they were very focused on what made me interested in investing/trading.

      • Andy says

        Much appreciated thanks. I was wondering if trading on my own account and having a record would be better then applying straight away for a prop shop.

        I will probably do a bit of trading for myself before applying, just to try to get that extra edge. Plus the economy isn’t helping.

        What concerns me is that here is Australia, the main prop shops keep a black list: if you fail their application tests you can never apply again. Ever.

      • wahank says

        Hello M&I,

        I have worked in M&A for the last 5 years but with BiG4s in India. I was working as a a Manager with independent clients handling and leading a team 5 of associates. I am currently doing MBA form one of the leading European B schools. Post MBA I would like to venture out in P-E or pure play I-Bs. I would like to know what are my chances of breaking into one of those for a FT position. Also, during internship, I got calls from the P-E/I-B, but got lost out either due to additional European language or the work Visa (as I come form a non-Eu country).

        Your advice on this is deeply appreciated.

        Thanks and kind regards

        • says

          Your chances are good for IB, less so for PE. For PE you really need IB experience pre-MBA to have a good shot at breaking in.

          • wahank says

            Thank you very much for your reply. Actually this is my second MBA and I am already an MBA from one of the India’s finest B-schools alongwith LL.B and LL.M. I have been following the profiles of all the big guns of P-E, and many of them have this dual combo of a Law and MBA. I thought with these credentials + an international MBA, it would be a walk-in. But, I guess it is not the case.

            The market in India is not that matured as compared to the Western counter-parts, I wanted to work in India only. I dont know how much I would be able to leverage.

            P.S. your posts are awesomely informative. When I posted first, I accidently landed to your web-site. Since then I have been regularly following it up and I am really impressed. Hats off to you. Cheers

  1. Ryan says

    Probably a stupid question, but nonetheless:

    Do hedge funds take a lot of trading analysts? If I worked in Debt Capital Markets, would I be more likely to exit to a HF or PE?

    • says

      Hedge funds do take a lot of trading analysts; it depends a bit on what you did though. If you worked on issuing loans for companies, PE is more likely; if you just executed fixed income trades for clients in S&T, hedge funds would be more likely.

  2. gerald says

    I have an interview with a HF for an assistant trader position, i’m not sure what I should expect or what kind of interview it would be…im not even sure what an assitant trader does..yes i know thats sad. I’m too use to banking interviews that i’m not really sure what i should expect here….

    • says

      Expect lots of questions on “why trading?” and on what specific investments you would make – those are most common. Also more math/probability questions than you’d get in a banking interview.

  3. lacareerforum says

    Hi Brian,
    I’m interviewing for Barclays Capital Japan IBD through LA career forum this coming saturday (D-2),

    I’ve read your interview guide in and out(which was very helpful=)), researching about the firm good, and I’ve read every article on M&I

    So I think I’m pretty confident,

    Just wanted to ask you for any last minute advice, if you have any, thought you might have some.

    thanks

    • says

      Not really – just make sure you’re relaxed and don’t sound overly scripted at this point. Messing those two up is what can kill you if you’re otherwise very prepared. Good luck!

  4. Mecken says

    When you’re asked the ‘walk me through your CV’ question, do you necessarily need to keep referring to your CV. Do you need to say for instance ‘we start at the bottom of the work experience section where…’ or is it better to just tell your story without pinpointing where exactly the experiences you’re talking about are on the document that is in front of your interviewer. Intuitively I’d think the latter, because you will sound much more fluent, but I just want to make sure.

    • says

      No, don’t refer to your CV at all – just do it organically and start from the beginning. “We start at the bottom” sounds odd for that type of question.

  5. Vincent says

    I had a big boutique ib firm called me this morning all out of sudden and asked to “walk me through your resume.” I got nervous and did exactly that, walking through the resume but did not really mentioned how and why i liked banking. He said that his college will call me if there is any other question. Does this means that I have no more chance? Should I call him, since I got his number from the caller ID? Need advise…

  6. Max says

    @ Andy: I’m in Australia too and that “black list” thing you mentioned is new to me. Would love to know more as I have been a Financial Adviser in Italy.

    @ the site Admin: great great content here. Love it. It’s a bit difficult for non-Americans to compare everything but still interesting.

    Thanks

  7. yee says

    Hi, I find this site to be very informative, and I have gathered one thing from your site – that is the story is important. However, I have a degree in food science, does that mean my chances of breaking into investment banking is virtually nil although I really am interested in it?

    • says

      You need to have some other evidence of your interest in finance – food science alone won’t kill you, you just need to show interest in other ways.

  8. Interested Banker says

    Hey,

    I’m a mathematics undergrad looking into IB, but I’m not sure which denomination of IB is well suited for a mathematician. Are there any divisions/positions that are a better fit for mathemematicians (barring quants), either because the work is more mathsy or because they like mathsy people for the work?

  9. senior says

    so just to be clear, i can talk about my childhood finance spark and other relationships i’ve had that led me to ibanking-but are not listed on my cv? would it be good to tell that story and finish with what i liked about my summer ibanking internship?

    thanks for your help!

  10. Expat says

    I have to say that I was extremely lucky. I managed to do this naturally during a recent BB interview, which I passed before I found this website.

    I have spent hours now poring over this website. Pure gold.

  11. Adeola says

    I a????? a beginner in the industry. I studied real estate buh i have always wanted a career in analysis and figure manipulation, how do i re-arrange my resume to fit into this industry? I also have taught experienced in finance and my undergraduate thesis was based on investment management.

    • says

      I don’t really understand your question, but focus on the analytical work you did in previous positions and base your resume around that.

  12. mergerman says

    Hi M&I,

    I have what i believe is an interview today. I reached out to a bunch of MD’s and got a response back. MD was very friendly and said xx person will contact me and cc’d them. The person arranged yesterday to talk today. I’m assuming its an interview and though i work for one of their existing M&A products they subscribe to, i did not study finance/econ/accounting.

    I’m fairly comfortable with all the fit questions but as i only know DCF on an introductory level, what other things should i prepare for? I’ve spent 2 years as an analyst analyzing historical M&A transactions and corporate debt.

    Thanks,

    mergerman

      • mergerman says

        yeah i checked out their top deals, their league table rankings, top deals in Asia (i’ve been reaching out to HK contacts only as i want to pursue IBanking in HK). Turns out it was more of a talk/networking session than interview.

        I’ve reached out to approximately 15-20 contacts. 4 have replied. Out of the 4 that replied 2 told me to go to HR. The remaining 2 i was able to speak on the phone and said they would pass on my resume but said either they are fully staffed or that they are too structured to hire outside of summer interns or lateral hires (bankers from other firms). They were helpful but just kept saying how my background is relevant but not relevant enough.

        Any advice on where to take it from here? I will follow up with them in a week or two and send them possible helpful deal leads that i come across.

        Thanks,

        mergerman

        • M&I - Nicole says

          Hi Allen, yes send them an email to follow up. Try to generate more new leads/contacts in HK. People are hiring selectively, even though some places are laying people off. Do read up on current deals and yes if you have any possible deal leads/new business ideas, do send through to them.

  13. Dee says

    Hi there,
    I’ve been coldcalling Mds and associates in different IBs and finally heard back from a reputable firm. The MD told me he will forward my resume over to the recruiter who deals with analysts and he agreed to meet with me to discuss the firm and IB in general ( i asked him to in my email).
    Should I treat this like an interview? We will probably be meeting for lunch or coffee, should I pay for the lunch?
    Should I bring my resume and what type of questions do you think he will be asking me.
    I think this is less formal than an interview but I figure if I impress him, this may turn into a contact.
    Also, should I push for a job at that firm during our lunch?
    Thanks
    Sorry for all the questions, i’m just trying to prepare myself.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes. No the “interviewer” usually offers to pay for you because you are not working.

      Yes, bring your resume. Questions like – why IB, what do you know about the firm, what were your previous experience(s). Basically address why you are sitting in front of him asking for a job.

      Yes do impress him. You never know if they are hiring. Try to figure out if they are hiring (they usually will openly say their needs). If not, ask them if there are potential available positions in the next few months. Yes push for a job, but don’t be too pushy (this is what I called “soft pushing”)

  14. Michael says

    Hi,

    I am a Junior at an Ivy League school. I have a non-finance major, but have managed to take a large portion of the relevant finance classes because I had so many credits coming into college. I have a 3.75 GPA and I play on the Div. 1 baseball team .

    Here is my question though:

    Baseball is a big commitment for me and, as such, I have played in collegiate summer leagues in Hawaii and NY for the past two summers. Bottom line, I have not had any sort of finance internships.. only a research assistant position and a teaching assistant position at my school.

    –> How can I answer the ” why finance?” question for a senior banker well? … I have stumbled with this question before and am looking for a solid answer to this question.

    Thanks,

    Mike

  15. Tyson says

    I have an interview with MS on Friday. It’s “technically” the second round interview because apparently the first round was the resume screening. That’s what MS says anyway. I just got the e-mail today. I actually applied in mid-october but given up on it because I figured I would have been called back by now. I am thrilled yet nervous now. I have an econ and math background. Do you think I will get a lot of technical questions or the pitch me a stock question? The position says its for a finance internship but lists every division thus I could be interviewing for anything. I’m prepared for some of the fit ques. and a few technical but have 3 tests and a project this week thus am completely nervous.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I think its fair game for all sorts of questions. Relax. If you come across a question you don’t know how to answer, admit it but say you’ll try to answer it and give interviewers the logic behind your answer

  16. geoffrey says

    Thanks for a great website. Hoping to get your advice on a quick question. I’m a junior year undergrad currently interviewing with several banks for investment banking positions. I did an IB internship last summer at a boutique, and a director there was kind enough to write me a recommendation letter. How do I use it to my advantage given that most banks don’t allow you to upload a recommendation letter in the application, and I’m currently in the interview stage with most of them? Will they even bother reading it if I somehow manage to get it to them?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      When you get into the final round, banks will ask for a reference and you can provide your contact’s info to them. You can also bring this up in interviews though I’m not quite sure if they are too interested in reading the letter. They might be more interested in talking to your ex-boss for reference check

      • geoffrey says

        Thanks for the reply Nicole. That director was the senior banker I worked under for most of the deals I was staff on at that bank. So I guess it wouldn’t be appropriate to forward them the letter via email for their consideration? Thanks once again.

  17. Clark says

    Great website! It’s really my bible for recruitment. Thank you!

    I have a question about how to answer “walk me through my resume”. Should I start with how I became interested in finance back in middle school? Does that sound irrelevant?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      You met someone at the bank. He/she told you about the culture yadi yada of the bank. Through your own research, you realized XX bank stands out esp due to its XX culture and you want to be a part of the team

  18. john says

    When walking through my resume or telling my story am I suppose to go into detail about my IB internship or should I keep it high level 1-2 sentences? I ask this because I normally go into detail 4-5 sentences about the transaction I worked on and my role on the project. I found that I get interrupted mid-sentence a lot by the interviewer and this really throws me off. I rather tell my story then have follow up questions.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Its best if you say something. Pause. And make sure the interviewer is “with” you and is not lost. When he/she acknowledges that he/she “understands” and “follows” you, then you can continue speaking. This way, you won’t get interrupted and the interviewer won’t get too distracted.

  19. Alam says

    Hi Brian
    I would like to give you a superb for all your effort regarding this web.
    Following I am really confused about all my experience, Qualifications and would like to ask a bit extra of you in terms of if you would have 5 to 10 minutes of your precious time out for me so would like to forward my Resume and get your advice whether I should really stick to this profession or switch. Provide me with your email would like to forward my CV for expert advice.
    Regards

  20. Sara says

    Hi, I’m from a non target school in HK and recently completed a summer internship (operational role, but still global banking) at one of the biggest banks in freshman year. I speak 4 languages, female and pleasant. I have so far only made contacts at one of the BBs (from attending their networking event) and application season is starting soon.

    Speaking to a recruiter who used to work at that BB I mentioned, he raised the question of “why should I choose you over an Ivy Leaguer?” I am nervous about my chances, but know that I have more to bring to the table with my deeper understanding of asian culture, family background of dealing in businesses in asia and diverse experiences. What should I do? Thank you.

  21. michelle says

    hi,

    i have got three interview invitation for spring week programmes from three different BBs. they were all scheduled in the coming week. However, as a maths student without any work experience in finance sector, i am really nervous about those technical questions. since the very limited things i know about finance and IB were taught by myself. in addition, i m a chinese competing with EU students in London (you know visa, european language and english blablabal problems). is that a disadvantage for me?

    is there any suggestions for interview that you can offer to me?
    whats my main focus? how much do i need to know about those products?
    any tips about those competency questions?
    how much do i need to know about the company?

    thanks a lot!

    michelle

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