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.
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.