“Help! I’ve been through 50 interviews and I haven’t yet landed an offer. What am I doing wrong? What’s my problem? Why can’t I get in no matter what I do?”
“I get interviews but I always get stuck and can never get past the first round. What’s my problem? Why can’t I conquer my investment banking interviews?“
But I can tell you exactly what’s going wrong with your interviews – and how to fix it.
The 5 Most Common Problems
You might think that passing or failing an interview is related to how well you answer individual questions.
That one stupid answer just ruined your chances or made the interviewer instantly reject you, right?
Your success has less to do with individual answers and more to do with how you present yourself and the first impression you make.
And whether or not you make any of the top interview mistakes below:
1. You Don’t Want to Conquer Your Interviews
This one is very common if you’re at a top school where a lot of banks recruit.
From having interviewed dozens of students at these places, I can tell you that at least 50% of interviews go something like this:
“Interviewer: So, why are you here?
Interviewee: Um, I saw the job posting online and sent in my resume.”
If you think this sounds crazy, just remember: don’t overestimate the competition.
A lack of enthusiasm will sink your chances faster than anything else.
You know how when you meet someone new, you form an impression within 30 seconds based on what they say and how they act?
It’s the same with interviews. If someone can’t look me in the eye or doesn’t seem animated when explaining why they’re interviewing, I automatically think “Pass.”
Diagnosis: Ask someone to sit down with you for a few minutes and see whether or not you sound excited talking about your background.
If the answer is “No” figure out whether the problem is:
- You actually are enthusiastic but you’re just too nervous; or
- You’re not enthusiastic and you’re interviewing because your parents told you to or because you are not capable of thinking independently.
If the problem is your nerves, practice your pitch in front of as many new people as possible, and go through interviews you care about less at first so that you get more comfortable.
If the problem is that you’re not enthusiastic to begin with, then please stop interviewing, close your browser, and stop reading this site right now – and then go off on a retreat somewhere and re-consider your life.
If you can’t even go into interviews seeming excited then you will last about 1 week in the industry.
2. Your Story Sucks
This is the single most common and easily fix-able interview mistake. Out of hundreds of interviews, I can count on a single hand the number of times I’ve heard a good “story” on the first try.
- You’re not going in chronological order.
- You’re not explaining why and how each experience moved you closer to investment banking.
- You’re going on for too long (over 2-3 minutes) or for too short a time (30 seconds).
- You’re not concluding by stating why you’re here interviewing for investment banking in this group.
- You’re giving too much exposition and saying, “I have had many impressive experiences” or something equally stilted.
Diagnosis: Record yourself answering the “Walk me through your resume” or “Tell me about yourself” question and then play it back and listen for each of these 5 mistakes.
If you’re too embarrassed to listen to yourself speak, then have a friend listen for each of these problems. Make sure you tell him/her not to be “nice.”
Then, fix your story by doing the opposite of whatever you did wrong the first time.
Hint: If you think you need 20 minutes to explain “what you do,” you have an ego problem. No one’s that interesting, sorry.
Cut out stuff that’s not relevant and narrow your focus.
Think about these 5 points: The Beginning (where you start your story), Your Finance “Spark” (what made you interested in the first place), Your Growing Interest (sequence of jobs / internships / activities that made you more interested), and finally Why You’re Here and how it relates to your Future.
Structure your story around those 5 points and make sure you read the next article in this series for a complete tutorial on how to do this.
3. You’re Boring
A lot of interviewees walk in and say something like this:
“I want to do investment banking to learn… nothing else would give me the learning opportunity… and I really want to learn… and finance / business / economics are cool, and large deals… models… bottles…”
Ok, maybe not the last two.
But after a long day of interviews, everyone starts to sound the same to the interviewer.
Which means that if you have absolutely nothing interesting that sets you apart from everyone else, then your chances are very, very low - especially if you’re making some of the other mistakes on this list.
Diagnosis: What is the single most unusual thing you’re saying in your story? If it’s related to a finance or investment club at school, or to reading the news and getting interested in investment banking, you need to think a lot harder.
Go through your resume and think about everything you’ve done over the past 10-15 years (consult with family if necessary).
Think about the following kinds of experiences:
- Study Abroad
- Unusual Hometown / Background (e.g. You were born in Mongolia and were part of a nomadic tribe)
- Hobbies / Interests
- Massive Effort You Had to Put Forth to Get This Interview
- Interesting / Important Person Who Introduced You to Investment Banking
If you’re at a loss and you can’t think of anything, think about what most of your friends talk about with you or what people know you by – and assuming that it’s appropriate – i.e. not related to drugs, porn, or illegal activities – use that.
You don’t want to focus on this “interesting” fact in your story, but you do want to mention it somewhere – otherwise you’ll just be another face in the crowd.
4. You’re Too Prepared
“Hi, I’ve scripted out my “story” word-for-word and memorized it. I’ve also written down specific answers to 50 other common interview questions and memorized everything 100% perfectly. Could we go over these questions right now?”
Welcome to “Why I Stopped Doing Mock Interviews on M&I.”
It is very, very easy for me to tell whether you’ve memorized something or whether you’re speaking naturally.
And I don’t care how good an actor you are, because anyone interviewing you has done this hundreds of times and they know what to look for.
Please, stop the insanity and do not script out your answers. A great interview should be like a conversation – not an interview.
Diagnosis: Have you written down or memorized specific answers to possible interview questions?
If so, tear up your scripts and delete all your documents where you wrote down everything word-for-word.
If you need to have some kind of plan, just make an outline with 5-10 key points for your story (see above), and then come up with maybe 2-3 other stories you can use to answer “fit” questions.
Rather than wasting time memorizing this, write it down once and then go through interviews you don’t care about as much at first – that’s your “practice.”
5. You’re Not Prepared Enough
While memorizing your answers to “fit” questions is a bad idea, you also want to have some idea of what stories you’re going to use and how you’re going to present yourself.
So pretend it’s an improv – with some direction – rather than a 100% scripted show. Think Curb Your Enthusiasm, not Seinfeld.
Oh yeah, and you need to be prepared for the technical questions because you will get them even if you have no finance background.
And if you’ve actually had finance internships you’ll get even more difficult technical questions.
You should be prepared enough to be slightly nervous, but not anymore than that.
Diagnosis: Have a friend in the industry or someone who broke in recently quiz you on the basic questions – walking through your resume, the teamwork/leadership/strength/weakness ones, and the technical ones that everyone should know.
Can you answer everything? Or do you stumble through parts of it?
And if you’re stumbling, re-read this article and everything else on this site and in the interview guide.
And to improve your chances of conquering every interview even further, read the rest of the articles in this series (coming next week) and be on the lookout for the revamped interview guide – which is now much more than just a simple PDF – and is being released very soon.
And yes, if you sign up now you get the new one for free – and if you’ve already signed up in the past year you will get access instructions very soon.