Nicolas is the founder of 300 Finance Gurus and has advised more than 100 clients on their cover letters and resumes. He also provides strategies on networking, LinkedIn and interview preparation for clients in Investment Banking, Corporate Finance and Private Equity (full bio at the bottom of this article.)
“If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.”
-Rita Mae Brown
Welcome to Part 2 of the Interview Game Plan Preparation! If you’ve missed what you should do during the first five months, make sure to read Part 1 here.
The first 5 months of your interview prep were all about building a sound foundation, so the last few weeks before interviews begin are mostly about fine-tuning that foundation in the wake of mounting pressure and limited time.
This time around, we’ll turn our attention to what you need to do 2 weeks before interviews, 1 week before interviews, and then go down to days, hours, and minutes before interviews.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- How to find “insider information” (the legal kind) on specific companies and use that to gain a big leg-up in interviews
- How you can anticipate and prepare for specific questions in advance
- What you should avoid doing in the 48 hours to 24 hours before an interview… that other people sometimes claim is a good idea
- How to build your confidence right before the interview
Two Weeks Before the Interview – Deals and Networking
So now you’re down to two weeks left for more focused preparation… which means that it’s time to dig deeper into the company.
For most companies (exceptions apply for ultra-secretive hedge funds), this is fairly easy: go to their website and take notes about the company history, their products and services, their strategy, and their values.
This is not 100% relevant for interviews, but it gets you started and will give you a good understanding of what the company is all about.
If you’re interviewing at an investment bank or a buy-side firm with relatively little public information, you need to research their recent deal activity and/or recent investment activity and portfolio companies.
For deals, nothing beats the Bloomberg Terminal.
Yes, you can find scattered information online and in league tables, but if you want the most detailed reports (e.g. which specific groups, offices, and senior bankers worked on deals) then you need to reach out to friends who have access and ask for a few quick lookups on your behalf.
Then, you go back to networking right around this time:
- Contact current or former employees of the firm via LinkedIn (do a search by company name, message anyone connected to you, and even think about using InMail).
- Ask for a quick call or 5-10 minutes of their time to ask a few questions about the company – if you can offer them something in exchange for that, even better.
It’s a numbers game and your response rate will be lower than with alumni, but it doesn’t matter.
All you need is one good contact who will give you a different perspective on “Why this company and not XYZ our competitor?”
This contact might also give me insights into the firm’s culture and maybe some tips for the interview.
At the end of each “mini-informational interview,” I also ask if it’s OK to mention his or her name when I’m interviewing at the firm – name-dropping always helps, especially when you’re interviewing at large companies in the same industry that are otherwise very similar.
One Week Before – Got Google News Alerts?
The interview is one week away now, so you should feel the pressure starting to build… which is a good thing, since it makes you more focused on preparation and less on partying.
You should now scan through the results of the Google news alert you set up three weeks ago – scan the headlines and read any article that seems relevant, focusing on major initiatives or interviews:
- An interview with the CEO where he announces the new five-year strategy
- The publication of the quarterly results
- Recent M&A deals or partnerships
- New hires or new vendors / suppliers
Then, create a simple document where you gather the relevant content. Don’t worry about memorizing 200 numbers, but focus on the key figures and facts and limit yourself to one page.
Three Days Before the Interview – Stalking Researching Your Interviewers
In the last few days before the interview, you want to research your interviewers via Google and LinkedIn to get more information on their jobs and backgrounds.
The point of this exercise is two-fold:
- It gives you questions to ask at the end of the interview. You shouldn’t be too stalker-ish (asking about a deal they worked on 10 years ago in a very different role, for example, would be going too far), but you can use their background to inform your questions.
- It lets you better anticipate the types of questions the interviewer will ask you. For example, if you’re interviewing with a trader who moved into investment banking, chances are that he’ll ask you more markets-based questions; if you’re interviewing with someone who worked in distressed M&A or restructuring before, the interview may be significantly more technical.
If you don’t have the names of your interviewers, you can and should ask HR for their names and titles.
They may not give you this information or they may be so disorganized that they don’t even know who your interviewers will be, but you lose nothing by asking.
Two Days Before the Interview – Your Sense of Direction and… Fashion?
This next tip may sound extremely silly, but I’ve seen a lot of people screw it up: go check out where the interview will take place and make sure you know how to get there.
I’m not a born traveler and I get lost easily, so it’s especially helpful for me; but even if you have a great sense of direction, you still want to make sure you’re not thinking about logistics like this on the day of your interview.
After getting familiar with the surroundings, go back home and prepare your outfit for the interview. Doing this 48 hours in advance prevents scenarios such as:
- Realizing that your favorite tie or suit is stained and needs to be dry-cleaned
- Realizing that you’ve gained or lost weight and no longer have anything that fits… so you need adjustments or new clothes entirely
These points may seem silly, but it is amazing how many candidates ruin their chances by failing to take into account logistics.
These last 48 hours should be your “fail-safe.”
If you’re not 100% confident about your clothes, send a picture to a friend who has been through the recruiting process to get your outfit approved.
In almost all finance interviews, you want to go with a suit and tie if you’re male, and the equivalent business formal attire for females.
The Night(mare?) Before the Interview
Now you’re less than 24 hours away from the interview, feeling pretty good about your game plan… and there are no critical gaps you need to fill.
At this point, you need to focus more on your confidence than on learning new material.
If you suddenly start thinking, “Hmm… I wonder how Goodwill Impairment differs under IFRS vs. US GAAP,” then you’re setting yourself up for failure by focusing on minutiae.
Imagine that you’re swimming in the 100m Freestyle Olympics final and it’s 5 minutes before the race starts.
Do you want your coach to tell you about this small flaw that he’s seen in 1 out of 50 of your swim strokes and how to correct it, or do you want him to pump you up?
This is what I do with my clients when we have a last-minute interview coaching session: the time to learn new material is in the weeks or months before the interview, not the night before it.
One time, a session finished so close to the interview time that my client hung up on me to answer the interviewer immediately afterward!
You can bet that I wasn’t asking him about how to calculate WACC or how Noncontrolling Interests affect the EV / EBITDA multiple.
If you’re really set on last-minute cramming, focus on reviewing material you already know instead of learning brand-new concepts.
One Hour Before the Interview – Last-Minute Fun
Your interview is now one hour away.
You should be sitting in a coffee shop, two blocks from the company’s building, going over your cheat sheet of facts about the firm. At this point you should:
- Look up facts and figures that might change from day-to-day, such as the price of gold and oil (for trading interviews), the company’s own stock price, and even the CEO’s name if you don’t already know it.
- Practice telling your story one last time, and aim for 60 seconds or less – you tend to ramble and add in unnecessary details in interviews, so you should aim for a shorter version in the first place to account for that.
The last thing you want is to “get stuck in traffic” or to get lost finding the building, which is why I recommend getting there at least an hour in advance and “camping out” nearby.
The Interview Itself – See the Rest of This Site
For now, we’ll do a “time jump” and skip to what happens when everything’s finished…
At the End of the Interview
After thanking the interviewer, make sure you get his/her business card so that you can send a thank you note the next day.
Note from Brian: I know someone will now leave a comment saying, “Wait, but you said thank you notes don’t matter!” In banking interviews that are part of the on-campus recruiting process, thank you notes usually don’t matter… but it doesn’t hurt to take 2 minutes and send a note anyway. These notes will rarely make a huge difference, but you might as well do it, especially in other industries where people have time to read and take more than 30 seconds to make a decision.
If it was a true “crash and burn interview” and you’re 100% sure the interviewer wasn’t impressed with your performance, ask him/her directly at the end, “Are there any concerns about my application that you’d like to discuss?”
Yes, it takes guts, and he/she will probably not give you an answer you want to hear, but this feedback is worth thousands of dollars so you have to do it.
If you’re feeling more confident and think you’ve done very well, you can also reiterate at the end that this firm is your #1 choice and that you would immediately accept an offer if you were given one.
One Hour After the Interview – Time to Relax?
Take a deep breath and enjoy the feeling of it being over.
Go back to your coffee place, take a piece of paper, and write down all the questions you were asked and the answers you gave – you’re going to use this for the next round and/or if you’re interviewing with other firms.
You need to write down this information immediately afterward, or you stand a much higher chance of forgetting it the longer you wait.
You should also try to write down details of your individual interviewers and their backgrounds, just in case you have another round of interviews and happen to speak with some of the same people.
After that, try to relax and do something to take your mind off interviews… assuming you don’t have another interview immediately afterward.
Finally, if you have an interview coach, make sure that you share this information with him/her because it will definitely help you out during your next sessions.
(Less Than) One Day After the Interview – Thank You Notes
If you’re going to send “Thank You” notes, do it within 24 hours of the interview.
This is your chance to remind them not only of who you are, but also of anything that sets you apart:
- Did you talk about a certain hobby or interest in the beginning?
- Did you bring up anything not on your resume that they found interesting?
- Did you get into an “off-topic” discussion that took up time in the interview?
You could also reiterate that this firm is your #1 choice here, though you don’t want to go too far over-the-top with these claims.
One Week After the Interview: The Next Round?
If you get invited to the next round of interviews, you might have anywhere from a few days to a week or more to prepare. The focus usually shifts from the first round – so if the first round was more fit-focused, this one will be more technical and vice versa.
If you don’t hear back within a week, it’s your job to follow-up and check your status – ideally with HR and the 1-2 interviewers that you got along with the best.
And if they outright rejected you – rare in many finance roles – it’s always worthwhile to reply and ask why.
90% of the time you’ll get a generic answer saying “other candidates were more qualified,” but the remaining 10% of responses will give you invaluable tips on how to improve yourself for your next interviews. Take advantage of those!
A lot of the other articles on this site deal with specific interview questions and how to answer them, so I wanted to step back in this series and write about how to approach the process – if you don’t get that right, answering specific questions correctly won’t help much.
If you’ve already done all the work in Part 1, you’re already in the top 10% of candidates and you’ll land an offer somewhere, even if it takes several tries.
Interviews are definitely an acquired taste, and the more you practice the better you’ll get.
And you might think otherwise, but even with the popularity of this site, interview-related books, and other resources out there, most candidates are still relatively clueless about the entire recruiting process and what interviewers are looking for.
So follow both of these game plans and you’ll gain a huge leg-up over everyone else where it really counts: in the “pre-season.”
If you have any questions or any tips that you use to prepare for interviews, let us know in the comments!