Interviewer: “Ok, so I see here on your resume that you have some knowledge of China – were you born there?”
Interviewee: “No, but my parents were – I grew up in the US.”
Interviewer: “Oh ok, interesting, well let’s just get into the questions now and maybe we can come back to that at the end…”
<Phone interview continues for 30 minutes>
Interviewer: Great, well, it was good speaking with you today. By the way, before we wrap this up I just had one question for you.
Interviewer: You mentioned on your resume that you were fluent in Mandarin. I just had a very simple question: could you tell me how to say “Goldman Sachs”?
No, it’s not an urban legend.
It’s what one of my friends in banking would ask every single person who wrote “Fluent in Mandarin” on his or her resume.
And it’s a test 90% of interviewees failed.
Ok, So Why Should You Care About This?
It might seem irrelevant, especially if you aren’t claiming any language skills on your resume.
But I would urge you to take a few minutes and consider everything you’ve written in the context of this story.
But it’s also nice to be truthful and make sure you can justify everything on there.
About Those Interviews
Making dubious claims usually won’t sink you when you’re being selected for interviews, unless you write something truly outlandish:
“Single-handedly brought in $10 million revenue for bank as summer intern.”
But anything that looks questionable and can be tested can easily get you in trouble.
Here are some of the more common problems I’ve seen:
- Languages / Technical Skills: Anything you write is fair game.
- Banking/PE experience: Claiming you “negotiated the deal” or “won a higher/lower price.”
- Asset management experience: Claiming you “advised the client on a new stock pick and earned a 30% return in 1 month.”
- Financial modeling courses: Claiming you learned “advanced LBO and accretion/dilution modeling skills.”
- Investments: Claiming you “earned a 3506% return.”
3 Different Ways to Get Screwed in Interviews
The story above about the interviewee not knowing how to say “Goldman Sachs” is funny, but in this case the guy got off fairly easily. Sure, he wasn’t going to get an offer – but at least he hadn’t horribly embarrassed himself.
But you don’t always get so lucky.
1. The “Language” Test
This one’s simple:
“I see you’re fluent in Spanish – do you mind if we conduct the rest of the interview in Spanish?”
“I see you’re proficient in Portuguese – can you walk me through your most recent internship in Portuguese?’
You need to prepare in advance and think about how you’d walk through your resume in any language that you list. If you don’t use it on a daily basis, it’s very easy to forget even basic things.
I was called on this one multiples times and found that it was better to leave off languages I wasn’t that great at.
It was certainly less embarrassing than saying, “Oh, I actually don’t know how to say EBITDA in Russian!”
2. The “Prove It” Test
This one comes in several varieties:
“So, you wrote that you know ‘advanced financial modeling’ – could you walk me through how acquisition effects differ for an asset purchase vs. a stock purchase in an M&A deal?”
“You wrote that you ‘negotiated for improved terms’ for your client. Can you tell me about which negotiation strategies were most effective and which specific terms of the agreement you improved?”
Either don’t write anything that’s exaggerated in the first place, or admit that you exaggerated when you get called on it. The choice is yours.
3. The “So, Was That 300% Return Just On Your Bar Mitzvah Money” Test
This is an even easier variation of #2 – all that’s required is a simple question:
“I see you earned a 300% return – how much money was that on?”
“You wrote that you ‘negotiated for improved terms’ for your client. Does that mean you spoke to the CEO of the other company directly? Or was that your MD?”
Beware if you write something that’s easy to disprove with a simple yes/no question, and be conservative with your wording – especially when it comes to the results of what you did.
So What Should You Do?
Before distributing your resume, you need to go through and make sure you can speak intelligently about everything on there.
I’m of the mindset that it’s better to remove points rather than leaving in anything that’s hard to justify.
Pay special attention to languages and technical skills and anything else you could easily get called on.
Oh, and if you write “Fluent in Mandarin” and you have investment banking interviews lined up, at least make sure you know how to say “Goldman Sachs.”
(My friend still works in the industry.)
Update: I thought this was common knowledge, but evidently not – all proper nouns in Mandarin are completely different from their English-language versions so you can’t just “guess” like you can with European languages.
Note #2: The point of this article is that you should be careful what you exaggerate and what you don’t when it comes to interviews. The point is not to debate specifics of languages.
Since hardly anyone reading understood that, I have disabled comments.