Investment Banking Mistakes: What Happens When Interviewers Hire the Worst Person for the Job

31 Comments | Investment Banking - Random Misfortune & Mistakes

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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?”

Surprised to not be getting a question about the pay, the hours, prestige, or even models and bottles (ok, I guess there are fewer of them in China), I had to think for a moment before responding.

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

We’ve covered whether there’s sexism/racism in the industry before, as well as if you get hired on the basis of appearance.

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.

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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31 Comments to “Investment Banking Mistakes: What Happens When Interviewers Hire the Worst Person for the Job”

Comments

  1. Jennson says

    the third story sounds like something my buddy at Goldman Sachs complains about at least half the time I talk to him.

  2. db says

    Ha! The third person is absolutely ridiculous. The other two sounded like they hadn’t done enough diligence like they should have.

  3. Sydney Banker says

    Hmmm… Bit worrying that a discrepancy that large was not caught before the client saw it! Poor attention to detail!!!

  4. tony says

    Thanks for sharing the stories. During interviews when asked, “tell me about a specific M&A deal recently” are the interviewers looking for any recent deal or a deal specifically related to that bank and industry group?

    Thanks.

  5. The Graduate says

    I had a question regarding background checks for full-time hires. I have a lot of different employment experience on my resume. I played around with some of the job titiles to make them sound more finance related or “bankified” as you put. Some of the experiences was through employment agencies were there was no real title assigned to me. I exaggerated on some of the titles to make them sound more finance oriented and professional though they are not obviously official. Is this something I should worry about? If so, what do you think I should do when filling out background check forms or even before that?

    Examples: Operation Analyst > worked in operations
    Compliance Group > worked in compliance dept.
    Wealth Management Group > worked as financial advisor
    Summer Analyst > worked as financial advisor

    • says

      You should be fine if there was no real title assigned – if there was a real title, you probably want to list the real title on the background check forms.

  6. Ace says

    This is not entirely related, but I know a lot of companies will check your facebook profile during recruitment. Moreover, anyone who has graduated from my school is able to see my profile, and thus, it becomes relatively easy for them.

    Should I be concerned about this? Not that any of my pictures are completely out of the ordinary for a college kid, but should I delete the ones I would not want my parents to see? Should I deactivate my account totally for the time being?

    • says

      Change your profile so only your friends can view it – I’m paranoid about that stuff, I have all sorts of limited profiles and other things set up for the public at large…

      • V says

        Not sure if this is true or even legal, but I’ve heard that Facebook lets employers bypass restricted profiles and lets them see everything. Just thought I’d throw that out there…

  7. Michael says

    Hi Brain,
    As a comment, I think you may be deceived by the false appearance of Chinese students’ conservative. Indeed Chinese student will ask fewer questions about models and bottles, but in fact Chinese men are famous for their good appetite for young girls and deep-rooted thirst for polygamy, which existed for a long time in their history. You can also find as many hot models in big cities in china as in U.S.

    • says

      That was a joke in the beginning, I know Chinese people value money more than life, family, and the universe itself. http://blogs.wsj.com/wealth/2011/07/18/how-to-marry-rich-in-china/

      And yes I know all Chinese businessmen have 50 wives one for each different city, I did live there for awhile. I guess this comment will probably offend someone but oh well.

      I will disagree with you on the quality of the models, there are some hot ones but let’s be honest: even other countries in Asia have more attractive females.

  8. Ani says

    I am applying for jobs in a large financial center while I am working full time in another country. I have my address in the financial center, where I am applying for jobs, on the resume, but for the dates of my current employment do I write “August 2012 – Present” or “August 2012 – September 2013″ and update it whenever I sent the resume. I am concerned for background checks if I do this. I am concerned they will never interview me if I write where I am located geographically. Any comments?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      If you’re/will still be working there, list August 2012 – Present. Otherwise, list the month when you’ll leave the role.

      I wouldn’t worry about your geography.

  9. says

    damn I guess I m probably the cute girl you are talking about here :/…except that i have not started working in IBD yet. They have just given me the offer after only one face interview and a call with three VPs (seriously)- I have no IBD background and have only worked as fund sales for less a year. They want me to be on board as quickly as possible. I m now trying to learn as much as I could and hopefully I wont make too many mistakes and survive the first two years…

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