I was speaking at Peking University a week or 2 ago (thanks to a reader for setting that one up), and afterward one of the students asked a question I hadn’t heard before:
“Have you ever accepted anyone who turned out to be horrible after starting? Have the interviewers ever made a mistake?”
Here’s what I said:
Mistake #1: The “The Hours Can’t Be That Bad, Right?” Guy
Back when the market was good, it was possible to jump from boutique / middle-market internships to larger banks. I guess you can still do that… but it’s much tougher.
This particular guy had a middle-market internship where “the hours weren’t that bad.” He got used to going home at 9-10 PM each night, and thought it would be exactly the same at a larger bank.
(For those wondering, those hours are very rare even at smaller banks – most places are at least 80+ per week.)
Apparently no one realized that he was expecting a 50-60 hour workweek, assuming that he could do banking anywhere.
A month after starting, he put his Blackberry down for the last time and left without saying anything, never to be seen again. He might have sent a certain notorious email as well.
What Happened to Him: A few months after leaving, he resurfaced at a regional boutique and has been there ever since. I guess the hours “weren’t that bad.”
Mistake #2: The Ph.D. Student
If you have an advanced degree, you can blame this guy for your difficulty in breaking into the industry.
He was a Ph.D. student in a top engineering/science program at one of the leading universities in the US. In the midst of the bubble and the final year of his Ph.D. program, he decided that investment banking, rather than lab research, was his true passion.
Despite having no work experience, he was great at BSing his way through interviews and put on a really slick presentation for everyone. Apparently everyone from HR to MD actually believed he was serious about banking.
The first day of work, he wore more expensive clothes than all the other Analysts/Associates and didn’t take a hint when everyone said that he was out of line.
Over the next few weeks, he got increasingly annoyed by the hours and how he “couldn’t spend enough time with his family.” He left a month after he started.
What Happened to Him: He went to a quant hedge fund, which was a better fit anyway. I guess he “spends more time with his family” these days.
Mistake #3: The Cute Girl
I’d like to report that none of the above ever happens, but that would be a lie.
A friend’s office was 90% male (usually it’s lower than that, though still over 50%) and everyone was enamored with this girl who was supposedly stunningly attractive.
She made it through multiple rounds of interviews, despite giving contradictory answers and telling people completely different stories. To one person, she was just interviewing at boutiques; to another she already had multiple offers; to another she was only talking to 1 other bank.
She received an offer despite shaky interview performance.
A month later, an MD was presenting a pitch book she had worked on in a client meeting and both parties realized all the numbers were wrong – not “off by .1″ wrong, we’re talking “$400 million vs. $4 million” wrong.
The same story repeated itself many times over the coming months.
What Happened to Her: She is still working, having survived multiple rounds of layoffs.
Struggling to ace your interviews?
Work at a smaller bank, talk a good game, and oh, yeah, try to be gorgeous as well.