Superday Zen: Why Less Is More When It Comes to Interview Preparation

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“Help! I have an upcoming Superday at CS, how do I prepare? Should I try to learn LBO modeling in a day?”

“What should I focus on for my Superday at MS? Should I write out my entire ‘story’ in Word and memorize it along with all my other answers?”

“Should I stay up all night memorizing finance questions to prepare?”

No, no, and no.

With Superday interviews, less is more.

You might think this is shocking since selling interview guides is one of my core businesses.

To see why this counter-intuitive conclusion is true, let’s look at the differences between 1st round and Superday interviews at banks.

Superday Interviews – Technical vs. Fit

This may be my most common question – “I have a Superday coming up, will it be more fit or technical?”

Having been on both sides of the interview table, I’ve seen it go both ways – it depends on your background and the group you’re interviewing with.

Here are 2 examples from this past fall:

  1. One acquaintance had interned at a bulge bracket M&A group and shopped his offer around elsewhere. He got tons of obscure technical questions, especially at some of the top boutiques (he was interested in Restructuring as well).
  2. Another friend had worked in a non-finance field for years and was coming into banking at the Associate level. Despite having an MBA, he received relatively few technical questions in Superday interviews – they were more concerned with his background and interests.

If you’ve had substantial previous experience, expect to get tested on it.

But even if you’ve had 2 internships with Goldman Sachs and your father is Steve Schwarzman, keep in mind that you never get hired on the basis of your technical knowledge.

You get hired because your interviewers like you.

Other Differences

Everyone knows that you’ll go through more rounds of interviews for Superday (usually at least 4 interviews and sometimes more than that).

The interviewers will be more senior, though you’ll still speak with Analysts and Associates in most cases.

The actual content of the interview doesn’t differ dramatically, though technical questions may be more in-depth.

This takes us to a surprising conclusion: in terms of length, interviewers, and question types, there is not an obvious or consistent difference between 1st round and Superday interviews.

But that doesn’t mean there are no differences.

The Real Difference Between 1st Round and Superday Interviews

So what can we say about consistent differences?

In the 1st round they’re assessing whether or not you’re smart and you can do the work.

In the 2nd round, they’re assessing whether or not they like you.

In the 1st round bankers find out who is capable of working for them and in the 2nd round they find out who they want to work for them.

What This Means for You

You need to do 2 things to prepare for Superday interviews:

  1. Improve upon your weaknesses.
  2. Make yourself interesting and likable.

On the technical side, your weaknesses should be obvious: are there any categories of questions you know nothing about? Is there anything you still struggle with or can’t answer effortlessly in interviews?

Focus on those areas – but don’t go overboard pulling all-nighters or asking friends to help you with 30 mock interviews.

On the fit side, your weaknesses may be harder to pinpoint and it helps to have someone who has gone through the process before tell you what you might be doing wrong.

For #2, it’s hard to change your personality over the span of a few days.

So I’d recommend a more gradual approach: insert what’s interesting about yourself into your answers, and pretend that you’re having a conversation with a friend rather than going through a formal interview.

How to Be Interesting

You don’t have to have lived in 63 countries and won an international beat boxing competition to come across as “interesting.”

When I interviewed my angle was working abroad in Asia – which isn’t even uncommon. But if you properly position such experience (“We climbed Mt. Fuji, learned dragon boating in China, and learned traditional Korean cooking” vs. “It was a cool experience”), you have no choice but to stand out.

Think about when you’re meeting someone new or playing one of those ice-breaking games where you have to tell everyone else a fact about yourself – what do you usually say? What are you known for?

Whenever I interview readers and ask about their experiences breaking into the industry, I notice one common trend: each one has a unique angle or a certain aspect of their backgrounds they highlight to make themselves stand out – whether it’s their interest in photography, scuba diving adventures, or theatrical productions.

How Being Interesting Helps You to Avoid the Most Common Superday Interview Mistake

With 1st round interviews, many people are unprepared or don’t know what they’re getting into.

For the 2nd round, you see the opposite problem: many interviewees too prepared.

As a result, they give scripted answers to everything – and that’s the biggest mistake with these interviews.

Do not write down exact responses for interview questions – it’s better to have a rough idea and take it from there.

Think about how many other people have had private wealth management, operations, or even investment banking internships – after awhile, everyone starts to sound the same.

The experience itself is not bad, but failing to differentiate yourself from everyone else definitely is bad.

Interview Preparation Zen: Less Is More

So here’s the big shocker:

Over-preparation for interviews is a bigger mistake than under-preparation.

There are diminishing returns to each hour you spend on interview practice once you reach a certain level – if you have a handle on the technical side, have your “story” down, and have anecdotes in mind for each fit question, you’re in good shape.

But you still may not get offers – and that’s most likely because you’ve been through too one too many interviews, written out everything in too much detail, and memorized all your answers.

In other words, you’re telling them what you think they want to hear rather than being yourself.

Figure out what your unique angle is – what makes you different from everyone else interviewing – and focus on that.

Less Is More… But You Still Need Something There

It’s not that you shouldn’t prepare for interviews.

It’s just that the preparation you need is probably not what you’ve been doing up to this point.

Going out and making 10 new friends, or thinking about your background and what makes you stand out are both better approaches than sitting down to memorize 200 questions on LBO models.

What Should You Say to Be Interesting?

I get a lot of questions on this topic: what exactly you should write in emails, what you should say to bankers at information sessions, and what you should mention to come across as likable.

But there’s no blueprint.

There are no scripted questions or answers you can always use in every situation.

So stop looking for a template, and be yourself instead.

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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43 Comments to “Superday Zen: Why Less Is More When It Comes to Interview Preparation”

Comments

  1. Biswajeet Pattnaik says

    Thanks Brian, that was informative. The only add-on I can provide is that in Asia, where countries don’t have English as their native language; the first round is HR round (which is telephonic), where communication and listening skills are judged.

    Warm regards,

    Biswa

  2. Ginny says

    hi,

    I was wondering, for someone who does not have a finance background and manages to get an interview, when he/she is asked a question regarding something she does not know, or was not prepared for,what should you then do?

  3. Sunny says

    Hi Brian Thanks for this. I’ve interviewed with several senior private bankers who are very serious, calm and prudent. They don’t have any facial expressions, which even made me feel stupid when I smiled while telling my experiences.

    Just wonder in this case, would I appear indiscreet and immature to tell something “interesting” though not so related to the job itself? eg. In order to demonstrate my communication skills, I would say I’ve got friends all over the world, and I can say “Hello” in eleven languages, or I’ve met some really really prestigious people, and a company CEO even gave me 100 shares of his company as a gift. How do these two examples sound to you?

    • says

      I would probably just mention the places you’ve traveled to as opposed to mentioning 11 languages / friends all over as those sound a little odd to mention in an initial conversation.

  4. says

    Hi Brain,

    Thank you so much for your blog, which helped me a lot in the first round interviews.

    I am currently master student at Columbia, applying for summer internships in Beijing and Hong Kong. I will have several superdays this weekend. I am wondering would you like give me some suggestions to my below story? I put my hobbies into my story to make it interesting, but I am not sure whether it is nature or not…

    “My name is Guyan. In Chinese, “Gu” means valley and “Yan” means ink stone. I was born and raised up in Shanghai, where I did my undergraduate. I spent most of time of my first two years in college climbing beautiful mountains, playing baseball, soccer and bridge card. In my junior year I had my first exposure to investment banking. I led my team ranked top 8 in JPMorgan “The deal” M&A case competition. At that time I found I like studying a company, building financial models, preparing pitchbooks and eventually making value for clients through financial transactions. I interned in many places after that to find out what position in financial industry suits me best. My first internship was in Citibank, that experience makes me more detail-oriented. After that, I worked part time for a private equity for half year, where I did involved in a real investment deal. Before I came to United State, I worked as an equity research analyst for two months. That experience enhanced my accounting knowledge and makes me more resourceful. After internships in commercial banking, private equity and equity research, I still find investment banking is my favorite, because it is a perfect match to my knowledge-set, skill-set and mind-set. That is why I am here.”

    After my story, I am expecting questions like “why do you think you are match in knowledge-set, skill-set and mind-set?” I am not sure whether it is a good tactic.

    Thank you in advance.

    Best Regards,
    Guyan

  5. Colin says

    Hello,

    Great service here, the website and guides have been a life saver.

    In my case, I have a Superday on Friday and I want to stand out. In addition to significant finance experience, I am the market newspaper editor and a skilled player of the oboe, tenor saxophone, and guitar. I also compose classical and jazz music. I’ve been tying my musical passion to my affinity for numbers and ratios (as the two are surprisingly related) in recent interviews yet I was curious as to exactly how I might articulate these attributes to my interviewer in person.

    Thanks.

    • says

      I don’t know that you want to tie music directly to finance as it might sound a little contrived even though they are related – maybe just talk about your passion for music and how you spend a lot of time on that – few others will have that experience so it already sets you apart.

  6. Sam says

    Hi Brian,

    Happy New Year. Thanks for this awesome website. I have a superday coming up next week and would really appreciate it if you could help me with few tech questions. 1. Company A & B have same P/E but different EV/EBIDA, which one is more leveraged? 2.If two companies are exactly the same, except one is about to give out 100mil dividend, one is not. After the dividend day, which stock would you buy?3.In an all cash acquisition, where are the money from? Thank you for your help a lot!!

    • says

      1) This is an odd question because it’s usually the other way around. More debt will push the P/E down due to the higher interest expense, so 2 companies could easily have the same EV/EBITDA but the one with more leverage will have a lower P/E.

      For the reverse of that, I don’t know if you could actually say definitively because both the EV and EBITDA will be different for the more highly leveraged company.

      2) Depends what you mean by “exactly the same.” If you’re referring to the P/E multiple or expected dividend payouts, it shouldn’t matter which company you pick after that initial 100 million dividend. You could argue that picking the company that has not issued the dividend would be better because then there’s a chance that they may issue a similar dividend in the future.

      3. Not sure I understand this one. In a 100% cash acquisition, the money is… cash that the buyer has saved up. They earn this cash by operating and generating profits over time, and then saving up those profits, or by selling assets, raising equity/debt, and so on.

      • Sam says

        Thanks for answering my questions. For the first question, I am not sure why “more debt will push the P/E down due to the higher interest expense”. Wouldn’t higher interest expenses lead to a lower net income(EPS) and hence a higher P/E multiple? Thanks.

          • Ryan Sima says

            Hey Brian,

            I think you’ve made a mistake there. The higher the debt should yield a lower P/E. You said debt pushes down the EPS, so P/E will rise? That’s only if you hold your current price constant, which with more debt, current price will change.

            The higher the debt means more risk for equity holders, thus they must demand a higher return, thus a lower P/E.

          • says

            Ryan: I agree with you that over time, the share price would change so the result may not be exactly what is described above.

            But you need to consider the context for the question: in interviews, with a question like this, they are almost always testing if you understand how P/E is affected in pure accounting terms by these types of changes… not what the “after-market effect” of the share price changing is.

            The point of this question is that certain items such as debt, cash, and stock repurchases/issuances will affect some multiples, but not others.

            In real life, of course, those items change a company’s capital structure and therefore the discount rate may be different and the share price will change over time.

            But the change won’t be immediate right after the change takes place.

            How do you know this?

            Look at any company’s share price in real life after debt is raised, or equity is issued / repurchased… does it suddenly jump to the new level?

            If a company’s share price is $12.00 now, and it’s predicted to be $9.00 based on the new WACC after a change like this takes place, does it suddenly drop from $12.00 to $9.00?

            No, it does not. In fact, sometimes it doesn’t even move in the prediction predicted by corporate finance since real life diverges from reality and the market isn’t rational.

            For more, please see this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYlqdoIJOqY

  7. Johnathan says

    Hi I have a superday coming up. I am actually going to be graduating in 4.5 years but on my resume it says May 2013, which indicated 5 years since when I applied I thought I was going to be taking 5 years but now plans have changed. Should I mention this during the superday that I am only staying until December of 2012? Is there some kind of stigma against “seniors” going for internships? What would I say if they question my age? Thanks!

  8. Thom says

    I was wondering whether it is a good sign when MD asks about your family (occupation etc.), hobby, activities and very little about finance or economics during the interview at AC. To my knowledge, MDs usually are decision-makers. Could it mean that he liked me or smth?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      It means he wanted to understand your background, who you are as a person and whether there’s a fit. Very important questions indeed because such fit questions can make or break you, not the technical ones

  9. Steve Evans says

    Had a superday, and afterwards for one of the thank you letters, I made a grammatical mistake twice. Am I screwed?

  10. Johnson says

    Hi,

    just did an interview with an IB for the 9th time on Tuesday this week. (superday was last week, got a call from them asking me for another interview with Head of Ops)

    Usually they get back to me within 2 days, but its already Friday (GMT+9)

    Will it take longer for them to respond if the previous 8 interviews I had, were in my country and the last one out of my country?(Video)

    Or is it over for me?

    Sorry but the wait is tormenting..

    • M&I - Nicole says

      It might take longer if the last one was out of your country. I’d give it till early next week. If you don’t hear back from them, give HR/hiring manager a ring.

  11. Gabe says

    Thank you. It is very useful.

    I have a question. What if the MD and the associates want to have lunch with me after the interview? Is there anything important to make me look smart?

    • says

      Not really, if anything, keep it casual and be down-to-earth. Last thing they want to hear at lunch is you asking questions about WACC – focus on interests, hobbies, travel, etc.

  12. Tilda says

    Hi,

    I had a superday today in IBD. My background is in Psychology, but I have learnt the basics about economics and finance on my own. While my first round was focused on economics, my knowledge of current deals etc, today I had 3 interviews and I did not get a single technical question. Apart from that, I was asked whether I had applied to other banks, I said I had to a few. My ‘story’ relates my background in Psychology to a long-term goal of being a relationship manager / advising clients within M&A. The MD told me that perhaps I should also think about applying to consulting firms as there is more client-related work on earlier stages than in IBD (I am aware of that). Does that plus lack of technical questions mean he basically wished me luck elsewhere..?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I don’t think the lack of technical questions demonstrated that you didn’t get the job, though “The MD told me that perhaps I should also think about applying to consulting firms as there is more client-related work on earlier stages than in IBD (I am aware of that)” is more of a red flag. I would still follow up and send a thank you note to the interviewers. Don’t assume anything yet. Wait for their formal response.

      • Tilda says

        Thank you Nicole!

        I sent thank you emails anyway, and in fact the MD replied and said ‘I wish you good luck, fingers crossed’ so it is a bit confusing. Will see what happens, thank you once again for getting back to me. It is a great website, keep up the good work.

  13. Scruffy says

    I have. An interview with a BB in IBD coming up soon. I am worried about the question about my background – I worked as a city street dept worker through college and only got into IB during the summer of my MBA program and the year after at an asset manager. Would such past experience be looked down upon, or thought of as interesting?

  14. Mandy says

    I did a superday and haven’t heard back from them. I got a thankyou response from a MD saying that “please let me know if there is anything I can help” I am not sure if this is common to say that for them. Or I can actually ask something (like just give me an offer!). Or this is a bad sign meaning I should keep looking for other opportunities.

    Thank you so much. Waiting is such a torment.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I’d suggest you to be patient. You can drop him a line to reiterate your interest in the opportunity. And perhaps you may also ask him when you should expect to hear back.

  15. Long says

    Hi Brian/Team,

    I have an assessment center for Citi IBD Singapore coming up. I know nothing about its procedures as literature is pretty scarce on line. Do you have any tips/experiences on that? Thank you!

  16. Steve says

    Hi Brian,

    I have an upcoming superday with a convertible securities advisory group. The first round was a very brief screen and the second round involved a long phone interview with multiple bankers and a modeling test. I was wondering If you have any suggestions on how to prepare for this and what sort of questions night be asked. Thanks

  17. James says

    Hi!, how would you tailor this approach a superday interview in Sales Trading? I have a superday coming up at goldman’s sales and trading office and was wondering if the same things written here for Ibanking applied to Sales and Trading. Thank you!

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