Superday Zen: Why Less Is More When It Comes to Interview Preparation
“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:
- 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).
- 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.
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:
- Improve upon your weaknesses.
- 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.
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