How to Tell Your “Story” in Investment Banking Interviews in 5 Simple Steps

183 Comments | Investment Banking - Interviews

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So we’ve talked a lot about your “story” in interviews, how important it is, and the mistakes you could make that will cost you an offer.

But now I’m going to go beyond that and actually give you a blueprint that will let you tell your “story” effectively and win offers no matter what level you’re at.

(For more free training and financial modeling videos, subscribe to our YouTube channel.)

And if you want to read rather than watch, here’s the text version:

Why Does This Matter So Much?

Three reasons:

  1. Your story sets the tone for the entire interview, and a poor first impression is impossible to overcome.
  2. Interviewers often make offer / no offer decisions subconsciously within the first 2-3 minutes, based 100% on your story.
  3. It’s easier to fix your “story” than to “fix” your lack of finance/accounting knowledge. We’re talking hours vs. weeks.

What Is This “Story” Business?

It’s your answer to the “Walk me through your resume / CV” or the “Tell me about yourself” question that you get at the beginning of every interview.

Sometimes it’s phrased differently and sometimes it’s not always the first thing they ask, but the idea is always the same:

Who are you and why are you here?

So How Do You Tell Your “Story”?

You structure it around these 5 points:

  1. The “Beginning”
  2. Your Finance “Spark”
  3. Your Growing Interest
  4. Why You’re Here Today
  5. Your Future

The “Beginning”

You want to start your story… at the beginning! Sorry, this is not a Quentin Tarantino film and even if Pulp Fiction is your favorite movie you still can’t jump around chronologically.

There are 3 good places to start your story:

  1. Where You’re From / Where You Grew Up
  2. Where You Went to University
  3. Where You Went to Business School

#1 is good if you’re still an undergraduate, #2 is better for the MBA level or beyond, and #3 is better if you’re way beyond that (which should be almost no one reading this, but hey, just to be complete…).

Don’t dwell on this part if it’s not particularly interesting or relevant – but you do need to mention it because every story needs a beginning.

Your Finance “Spark”

Depending on when you got interested in finance, this one might be combined with your “Beginning” – e.g. if you started day trading when you were 12, then you would combine them.

Otherwise, make this a separate point and be as specific as possible.

Ideas for finance “sparks”:

  • Information Sessions / Case Competitions / Activities / Clubs
  • Specific People You Met Through Networking / Classes / Activities
  • Any Investing / Trading of Your Own You’ve Done
  • Family Businesses / Learning About It From Other Family Members
  • Summer / Other Special Programs

Specificity is key.

“I was in an investing competition and had fun.”

Eh.

“I was in this investing competition, did some in-depth research on the pharmaceutical industry and recommended investing in Pfizer – their stock later rose by 50% and our team won 1st place.”

Ok, I like the sound of this.

If you don’t have a specific event, person, or activity it’s not the end of the world – but look through your resume and figure out what you can spin into sounding like the real reason you got interested.

Your Growing Interest

Here’s where you explain how each of your internships, full-time jobs, or activities led you in the direction of investment banking.

You need to logically connect each one and go in chronological order to avoid “story fail.”

Two important points here:

  1. With each experience, you want to mention something that you liked and something that could use improvement.
  2. If you have a complicated history of career changes, resist the urge to go into detail on everything – keep it to 2-3 “hops” at the most.

So let’s say you’re a university student who’s looking for an investment banking summer internship right now.

You started out working on-campus, then you worked in marketing at a local company, and this past summer you did private wealth management at a bulge bracket bank.

You might say something like this:

  1. “I started out with just the usual on-campus work, which I did well at, but I wanted to do something more relevant to my major and get some experience in the real world…”
  2. “So I went to [Name of Local Company] and did marketing there for the summer. I did well, liked the business aspect, and helped improve their online marketing campaigns by 20% over 2 months but I also wanted to do something that was more quantitative and closer to finance…”
  3. “So the next summer I did private wealth management at [Bank Name] and analyzed clients’ portfolios and made investment recommendations. I enjoyed the investing aspect and the analysis a lot more – but I wanted to work with clients on a larger scale…”

And then you would lead directly into why you’re here today (see the next point).

This is just a sketch of what you might say – since your story should be 2-3 minutes long, you will have to go into more detail on each point or you’ll run out of stuff to say.

Why You’re Here Today

Luckily you don’t have to be a philosopher to tell this part of your story – you just need to be very explicit with what you say.

Yes – you should actually say, “I’m here interviewing today because…” and spell it out in clear terms.

An interview is not the time for subtlety or subterfuge. It’s time to sell yourself with everything you’ve got.

You need to answer 2 questions with this one:

  1. Why this bank / group specifically?
  2. Why now?

If you’re a student, #2 is easy: you need an internship / full-time job. If you’re already working full-time, talk about how you’ve achieved a lot but feel you’ve reached your limits and that your talents would be better put to use in banking.

#1 is easy to answer if you have a background that matches the group you’re interviewing with (e.g. tech/healthcare background going to those respective groups): you want to combine your expertise with finance.

If you’re coming in with more of a finance background, talk about the advantages that this bank / group presents over other places you’ve worked at – whether that’s the type of companies you work with, the culture, the people, the added responsibility, or anything else.

Your Future

This one is closely linked to the previous point about Why You’re Here Today, but you need to add something at the end that shows:

Your Background + Investment Banking = Future Success

Popular “future plans” include being an investor or advisor to companies in a particular industry or region, or working with a certain team at a bank.

Two points:

  1. If you’re interviewing for Analyst-level positions, you don’t need to have concrete plans – just some idea of what you want to do.
  2. At the Associate level you need to show more commitment and say you’re here for the long-term because they don’t want people to jump ship to PE after a year.

So What Do You Do Now That You Know How to Tell Your “Story”?

Go through your resume and all your previous experience and figure out what you’re going to say for each of these 5 points:

  1. The “Beginning” – Where You’re From? University? Business School?
  2. Your Finance “Spark” – Person? Event? Club? Program?
  3. Your Growing Interest – Which 2-3 Jobs/Internships/Activities Will You Mention?
  4. Why You’re Here Today – Why This Bank, and Why Now?
  5. Your Future – What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Make a quick 5 bullet point outline, then practice your story with a friend or anyone you know in the industry.

Aim for 2-3 minutes – 2 minutes if you speak quickly (like I do in all my videos) or 3 minutes if you speak more slowly.

Whatever you do, do not memorize it word-for-word or try to script out everything.

And then go forth, conquer your interviews, and land investment banking offers.

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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183 Comments to “How to Tell Your “Story” in Investment Banking Interviews in 5 Simple Steps”

Comments

  1. grateful says

    great post, thank you so much for sharing this!

    But I think “your future” ie career plan should become before why youre here, so you can argue 1) this is what i want next, eg. become an investor 2) and this is why I’m here today because this role..

    Also 2-3min. seems very short if you have already done a few years of IB, isnt 5min. decent for someone experienced?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Thanks for your question. If you talk straight for 5 mins, it is highly likely that interviewers will be distracted whether you have experience or not. And you want to keep the interviewer as engaged as possible. Don’t forget that interviews are more like a “dialogue” – while you want to present yourself in the best light possible, it isn’t a presentation.

      You can structure the pitch however you want. We just think our suggested structure is probably clearest to interviewers

  2. Janice says

    I am about to interview on-site for a Sales and Trading interview soon. I am studying both Finance and Computer Science at a top 20 school, but most of my past internships have been engineering related roles at tech firms. The reason I am interested in S&T is because of a few classes I took in school that I found really interesting. I think I come across as someone who wants to try S&T, but is not 100% sure whether this is the right fit for them. From the articles/comments on this website, it seems to me that firms are mainly looking for interns who know for sure that S&T is their thing. How do I spin my story in a way so that I come across as someone in the latter category?

  3. S says

    Hi,

    Just curious – I’m interviewing for a VC analyst post in a bit – but in all truthfulness, the reason my interest/curiousity about VC was sparked off was a off-the-cuff-line in a movie. Since then, I’ve learnt more about the industry, culture, read about startups and love it and I’m generally at a good place for technical knowledge. Does a movie sound too flippant for a spark, though?

  4. Patrick says

    Fantastic article!

    In “Why You’re Here Today” part, after I tell my story, does the interviewer usually ask “So why are you interested in firm X”, or should I take charge after the story and immediately say “So, why firm X you’re wondering…” and let them know why?

    Each interview I have had in banking and other industries were different. Sometimes they would ask, where others we were left with a bit of an awkward silence before the interviewer posed the question. It is the awkward silence part that I want to avoid.

    Thanks!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      It would be good if you can tell them why you want to join their firm and why their firm specifically without them having to ask you because it shows you’ve done your research and your initiative!

      • Patrick says

        Thanks for the prompt reply! One more question, is it alright to include positions not mentioned on your resume into the story for the sake of completeness?

  5. D says

    Great article, really informative. I just finished my finance undergrad in Canada, and planning on staying in the country. I’m looking to go more into asset/wealth management as opposed to IB. Was wondering if I could get some feedback on parts of my own story.

    Since I just finished undergrad, I start off by saying where I’m from and where I did my degree. My “spark” would be that I started trading/investing in my 2nd year, and won an investing competition later that year.

    In terms of my growing interest, I haven’t done any internships with any of the Big 5 banks, but I did an investment management internship and last summer I was an analyst for an oil and gas company. I’ve also placed 3rd in two other competitions, one in equity research/valuation and one in portfolio management. Should I include these somewhere?

    I plan to tailor the ‘why I’m here’ to the company/firm I’m interviewing with.

    So that leaves my future. Planning to do the CFA. I know your oppositions about the CFA, but since I am looking to go more into portfolio management and AM than IB, its a necessity. Basically want to have a career in wealth/asset management.
    ——

    Any feedback/advice would greatly be appreciated! Thanks

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I think having the CFA will help you. Your chances are decent, though your application can be improved if you gain more relevant experience

  6. Patrick says

    When the interviewer asks “So tell me about yourself” (or a variation of that), is that the appropriate time to launch your entire story (beginning, spark, interest, why you’re here today)? Or, should the last part of the story (your ask) be placed somewhere else in the interview and if so, where?

    Thanks!

    • says

      “Tell me about yourself” and “Walk me through your resume” are both the same question. Yes, keep your story short (aim for 60 seconds if you tend to ramble), but still end with why you’re here… otherwise it’s not convincing.

  7. Dan says

    Hi Brian,

    I was curious, how much in depth should one go in the “Why this bank” part of the story? I mean, I don’t know if I should go full-out with the answer I have prepared for the “Why our bank” question (http://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/why-our-bank-investment-banking-interviews/), as that would greatly lengthen the time it takes for me to get through my story, but at the same time, I don’t want to talk about “Why this bank” in just a few sentences in my story and regret it later for not coming off as very eager to join the bank. So far I have been leaving out the “Why this bank” part altogether from my story so that the interviewer inevitably asks “Why our bank”, at which point I go full-out.

    Thanks for your help!

    • says

      Personally I would leave it out or only touch on it very briefly – otherwise, as you said, it makes your story too long. And the interviewer will ask about it anyway.

  8. Chris says

    I’m trying to career switch into real estate private equity after having worked a couple of years in M&A investment banking (currently an associate).

    I’ve got good answers for the RE interest “spark”, why I like real estate, and why I’m leaving M&A, but I’m struggling with coming up with an answer to the question of why I didn’t just work in RE after graduating if I’d had an interest in it for so long instead of banking like I did.

    The truth is that at the time I thought banking was interesting (and potentially lucrative), but don’t feel this way any longer.

    Suggestions on how best to frame a response?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Maybe you’ve had some experience with real estate clients/corporates during your experience in banking. You may want to talk about how you want to work w real estate companies over the long term, and that you want to get exposed to operations of real estate and understand all aspects and how to evaluate whether the real estate can deliver solid returns. Emphasize on your passion in real estate. You can address your last few years by saying you want to gain experience in the sell side in your first few years to hone your valuation skills first

  9. says

    Dear Brian,
    how to make it up if the an event (“sparkle”) happens before making into master degree (“beginning”), where simply follow the 5-steps won’t make sense?
    Look forward to hear from you!
    sincerely yours,
    Canxin

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Talk about your spark, then growing interest, and the actions you did to increase your knowledge/experience in the industry.

      • says

        dear nicole, I have graduated from finance master program, yet “my sparkle” happens in my undergraduate years, so is it proper for me to treat transmajoring to finance as “growing interest”? and how do you think of it, in “growing interest” section, if I talk more of curricular learning with big-name professors,or communication with industry guys, considering that my internship is less related to IBD and PE industry? Many thanks for your precious time and great considerations!

  10. says

    Dear Brian, very informative and provoking, many thanks for that! yet, may I know your opionion if I spent “my growing interest” part on school stuff like having classes of big-name professors and commnunicating with alumni in banking and PE industry, considering that I change my major from journalism in a non-target school to Finance in a prestigious university? Look forward to hearing from you! 3Q!

    • says

      It would still be better to at least reference internships, but as I wrote above if they are really not IB/PE-relevant then yes, your approach is fine

  11. Will says

    Hi Brian,

    I’m getting mixed opinions (after discussing with several former bankers) on whether I should incorporate the “why banking” question into the “walk me through your resume” question? There seems to be a tremendous amount of overlap. Curious what your thoughts are on this topic.

    Thanks,
    Will

  12. Johan says

    Hi,

    I’m currently a sophomore (rising junior) at HYP. And I’m doing an Equity Research SA stint with a BB right now. So far, I feel that ER is interesting but not what I wanna go into for the long term, so I’m gunning for IBD instead next year.
    Any thoughts on how I should tell my story?
    The reason why I don’t wanna do ER is because you spend your entire life following a few stocks and I can’t imagine that to be interesting, whereas in IBD you get more exposure to a wider skillset (and more technical modeling). Is this a valid reason? Or could I be more eloquent?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      You can say that you want to contribute to transactions and work on high-impact deals rather than just generating investment ideas. You still like to analyze company fundamentals. However, rather than helping investors generate trade ideas, you prefer to help corporates make financing decisions and do deals.

  13. Paul H says

    Hi Brian, great website, great article, I learnt a lot, especially regarding networking. Thanks a lot.

    Do you think that in my “story”, I could also talk about my passion for sports and what skills it gave me that could be useful for IB ?
    because interviewers may be a bit bored when they hear only people talking about finance, finance, finance ?

  14. Adam says

    I am coming from a corporate finance background, aiming to get into IB. I am attending a part-time MBA program at a top 20 school this fall. My question is, will I for certain need to do an internship between my second and third year? I have a fairly advanced position in my current company, so I wasn’t sure if they would take that into account or would still want to see that I completed an IB intership so that I can show some direct industry experience. I am looking forward to securing an internship regardless, but wanted to know what my options might be.

  15. John says

    Brian,

    Thanks for the post, it’s very helpful. I have a handful of ft interviews soon and was wondering how the interviews would differ from summer internship recruiting (Received a return offer from a BB and am looking at other BB/Boutiques) . In questions such as “Walk me through your resume”, should I spend more time discussing my summer and why I am interviewing as opposed to starting with my beginning and finance spark?

    Thanks

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes, you can briefly discuss your beginning and finance spark and elaborate on your summer and why you’re interviewing later in your resume.

  16. Kerry says

    I’m an undergrad that only had a credit risk internship at a bank without any client facing experience. I’m wondering if there’s a better way to connect investment banking to risk in a more graceful way than saying I want to move into the front office because of the recommendations of my colleagues?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      This is a tough one. If you’ve had any experience valuing companies/interacting with corporates outside of your internship or through your personal experience, you may want to cite them as a “spark” that led you to banking

  17. David P says

    Dear Brian and the M&I Team,

    THANK YOU! I just accepted an offer at a very large middle market investment bank for their analyst program. I am from a public non-target school and was up against every single Ivey and private school out there. I used your template for crafting my story and used it in every single one of my interviews – including 1st round and all 6 on super day. Being able succinctly sell myself and, for me, how I worked my way through high school and put myself through college was a winner. Putting in a couple dozen hours into perfecting your story and re-crafting it over and over is totally worth it in retrospect to be able to nail down a six-figure job right out of school. I’m going to make all my friends use this template, regardless of their industry.

    Thank you again!

    Sincerely,
    David P.

  18. alan porr says

    I just underwent an interview for Goldman Sachs spring internship.how long do I have to wait for a favourable response.???

  19. Sneha says

    Hiya. I’ve been called for an interview at GS for a summer internship. The reason I want to be there is because I know that I will learn a lot from them… Tbh, I don’t know a great deal about finance since I am from the technology side. So how am I suppose to answer the ‘finance spark and growing interest’ question?

    Thank you.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Congratulations. You can say something along the lines of:

      “I started off being interested in [Engineering / Technical Field] back [Before College / In College If You've Graduated], and thought I would do that for a few years. But after getting exposed to [Your Finance "Spark" - Meeting Someone, An Event, Student Group, Internship], I realized that I was much more interested in pursuing business because I want to make an impact and work in something much faster-paced. Since then, I’ve done some research on my own and also [Hopefully Done More Finance-Related Work / Activities], and I’ve realized that starting out in investment banking would be the best fit for me. In the long-term I want to be an investor or trusted advisor to companies, and I see banking as the ideal path to getting there.”

      http://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/getting-a-finance-job-from-engineering/

  20. jonathan says

    Hello,

    If i had an accounting internship before college, is it ok to say in my beginning that I first started off in accounting b/c i had an accounting internship in hs that i really enjoyed? Is this too vague? or should i go into more detail?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      This is fine. You can also add that you were originally interested in Accounting because it is the foundation of most businesses

  21. CK says

    Hi, I’m am sophomore and will be interviewing for Capital Markets this coming week. I have done S&T in a BB last summer as a freshman (but it was mainly research and data collecting). How can I tailor this summer experience towards why I want to work for Capital Markets? To be honest, I chose the division only because I wanted to try something new as a sophomore.

    Thank you!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Say that you were exposed to the public markets in S&T and loved that. However, through your conversations with XX you’ve came to learn more about how companies obtain financing through the public markets (IPO etc) best if you have had exposure to capital markets work in S&T so you can briefly mention that. You became more interested in capital markets because you would still love to be close to the markets, though rather than trading/selling stocks, you would love to link companies with financing, learn about how IPOs and FOs work, and serve as a bridge between investors and corporates (best of both worlds – you get exposure to public markets and corporate)

  22. Zack says

    So my finance spark is that I was at Goldman Sachs info session at my school and David Solomon basically told his story about going to a liberal arts school, then breaking into I-banking, then rising up the ranks to where he is today, and how that was really the first in-depth description I had heard about I-banking, but how it got me really interesting in I-banking so from then on, I started doing lots of research on the topic, joining relevant clubs, and taking relevant classes. My question is: Obviously if I’m interviewing at Goldman Sachs, I would not hesitate to tell that story, because it would allow me to name drop lots of specifics about the firm and a high ranking individual there, but how what should I do when interviewing at other firms, especially other bulge brackets that are rivals with Goldman? Would it look bad if I told Morgan Stanley that a Goldman Sachs info session was what got me into I-banking? Especially if the interviewer knew that Morgan Stanley also had an info session at my school that year? I know this is a really long question, So I’d be super appreciative of any feedback.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      You can just say that you were at MS’ info session and met XYZ banker who inspired you to join IBD. I wouldn’t really mention GS or David Solomon, because they’d then ask “Why don’t you join GS instead?”

  23. 12th man says

    For an undergraduate applying for full-time IB at a BB, is 2-3 min appropriate for for a phone interview, or should it be cut down to something like 1-1.5 minutes? I worry that by the time I finish my 3 minutes of talking, they will have stopped listening and reverted to typing emails. Thanks for all y’all do, this is an great site.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      It depends on how much time and patience the other person on the line has. I’d keep it to below 2 minutes to be safe if you’re just introducing yourself

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