“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
Not sure why you want to do investment banking?
Don’t know what you did in your last job besides watching YouTube?
Haven’t the faintest clue what your “story” is?
Then you need to learn how to spin.
Lying is bad.
But spinning – making yourself seem more impressive than you actually are – is essential.
Just think: it even got a President elected. Time to learn his tactics.
Why Do You Need to Spin?
Because it’s not always in your best interest to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
A job interview is not a trip to the court room. You’re there to sell yourself – not to tell the jury the whole truth.
You need to spin not only for resumes and interviews, but also when you’re networking, and even for business school admissions.
And once you start working, you need to spin in order to play the office politics game correctly and avoid the pink slip.
The Ground Rules
You can’t lie about easily verifiable facts.
You can’t make up work experience, fabricate your GPA or SAT score, claim that you know how to say “Goldman Sachs” in Mandarin when you don’t, or make up that degree that you never quite finished.
It will come back to haunt you even if you get away with it temporarily – banks conduct background checks just before you start working.
There are a couple items – like job titles – that fall somewhere in the middle. In a lot of cases you don’t have an “official” title, so “Summer Intern” vs. “Summer Analyst” doesn’t matter much.
It’s hard to spin your answers to technical questions – so if you have no idea, it’s better to admit it upfront.
So you have to exercise some judgment – be careful about anything that is easily verifiable or anything that the other person knows a lot about.
Finally, avoid generic “spin” answers – like saying you “Work too hard” as one of your “weaknesses.”
What Should You Spin?
You can spin your way to success in a number of areas: networking, resumes, interviews, and on-the-job.
Here’s how to do it:
Omission of Facts
No one needs to know until you get asked specifically about it – and when you do get asked about it, just Blame a 3rd Party (see below).
There are some facts you can’t omit: “forgetting” your GPA raises red flags, as does months or years of unaccounted time on your resume.
But you need to omit some facts because:
- Sometimes if you say too much you come across as negative, which is a big no-no in interviews and once you’re working.
- If something does not help you, there’s no reason to say it. Remember, you’re there to “sell” yourself.
This is “hedged exaggeration” rather than “exaggeration” because you need to be careful about how and what you exaggerate.
Write that you “Negotiated $50MM higher purchase price for client” on your resume and you’ll get called out very quickly – but write that you “Supported senior bankers in negotiating $50MM higher purchase price by revising valuation” and now you have an exaggeration rather than a lie.
Re-Adjusting the Focus
Studied abroad in Paris for a year, but spent 360 of those days drinking and 5 days studying?
Did an “investment banking” internship but spent 90% of your time fetching coffee?
No one needs to know the whole truth.
Focus on the 5 days, or 10% of your time, where you actually did something worth talking about.
Blaming a 3rd Party
Didn’t get an offer? Had an unusually low GPA your first year in school?
That’s ok – it wasn’t your fault. It was because you didn’t fit in with your group’s culture – or because you had some family/personal issues but then learned how to focus and greatly improved your GPA in later years.
You also need to turn the negative into the positive with this kind of spin. Rather than focusing on how much you didn’t like your internship group, talk about how you like the one you’re interviewing with right now a lot more.
What you say often matters less than how you say it.
Try it yourself: make up an absurd story about your background and introduce yourself to strangers, keeping a straight face and showing no hesitation when you tell them your story. I do this all the time.
They may be skeptical – but they won’t call you out if you show no hesitation.
Put yourself in uncomfortable situations, and the more you do it, the more confidence you’ll develop.
How Do You Spin?
Ok, now let’s take a look at some examples of how to spin your way to success using these strategies.
Omission of Facts
Networking Situation: You’re explaining to an alumnus why you’re interested in investment banking, but you only got interested recently and don’t have a long history to point to.
Solution: Don’t mention this “fact.” Instead, talk about how you’ve known a lot of friends in the field and how you were always interested, but became even MORE interested when… [Insert recent event here].
On-the-Job Situation: You finish your work early and need to send out materials to your team, which they need by tomorrow morning. But you’re afraid to send the email too early or they might give you more work.
Solution: Omit the fact that you finished early. Either log in remotely at midnight or go out and do something else, and then come back to the office and send everything late at night.
Interview Situation: You get asked about the “company” you started last year. It didn’t go anywhere and you decided to shut it down because you lost interest – but you don’t want to seem like a failure in interviews.
Solution: Don’t mention how you lost interest – and never give revenue/profit figures. Just say that you learned a lot from doing it and had some success (building a product / getting publicity / customers) but decided to pursue other opportunities instead – which you never would have found out about had you not started the first company.
Resume Situation: You don’t have any “results” for your most recent internship, and you’re worried that it will seem like you’ve done nothing at all.
Solution: Borrow other peoples’ “results.” You may not have directly impacted business, but you “supported” or “assisted” the senior guys who brought in additional assets under management, or that new M&A deal, right?
On-the-Job Situation: Your staffer asks you if you have any “bandwidth” to help out with some menial administrative tasks, and you don’t have anything urgent to do… but you still don’t want to do it.
Solution: Say that you could help but you need to finish a client-related task for your SVP. He doesn’t “need it” by tomorrow but he sure would “like to see it” by tomorrow.
Re-Adjusting the Focus
Interview Situation: You get asked to talk about your investment banking internship, but all you did was create company profiles for a potential client and a lot of administrative work. But you don’t want to sound like you did nothing.
Solution: Say that you “Helped out with industry research, and worked on a potential buy-side M&A deal.” Position what you did as a potential deal that never came together rather than admitting it was grunt work.
Networking Situation: You’re meeting with an alum and you’re talking about your experience studying abroad in Japan. He asks about your language skills, but you spent all your time there at all-you-can-drink bars hitting on the waitresses.
Solution: Make up a joke to get around having to answer the question directly: “Language study? I was too busy studying sake. Oh, and I actually had a lot of tough classes that semester so I think I’ll stick to English for now…”
Resume Situation: You have a 3.3 overall GPA, but a 3.7 GPA in your Finance major – but you can’t round the 3.3 to a 3.5.
Solution: List your Finance GPA first and make it bold – then include a semi-colon and feature your overall GPA less prominently.
Blaming a 3rd Party
Interview Situation: Your group gave offers to everyone except for you because you came into work late every day and did nothing. You’re interviewing for another banking job right now and you can’t admit this.
Solution: Say that you didn’t fit in with your group’s culture. But everyone in this group seems much better.
Networking Situation: You’re speaking with an alum and he asks why you haven’t taken any finance classes before this last semester if you’re actually interested in the field. The “whole truth” is that you only became interested recently.
Solution: Say it was always on your mind, but that your major had some tough requirements. Turn it into a joke (works better if the alum also had the same major) and say that you could only pull yourself out of the library / out of the lab recently.
Get out there and practice.
We all have skeletons in our closets – even if you haven’t gone Patrick Bateman on anyone, there are questions you’d rather not answer.
Figure out what your top 5-10 most “awkward” questions are in interviews or networking, and then think about which of these strategies you can use to spin your answers.
And feel free to use more than 1 per answer.
Pitch curveballs – not the plain fastball.