How to Walk Me Through Your Resume in Investment Banking Interviews: The Top 6 Mistakes to Avoid

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If you’ve read this site for more than 15 seconds, you know how important it is to nail your “story” (the answer to the “walk me through your resume” question) in interviews.

Give a weak response when the interviewer asks you to walk through your resume, and the remaining 25 minutes of the interview might as well not exist.

Give a strong response, and the interviewer might overlook how you incorrectly stated that WACC would increase when a company raises debt.

There’s already a template for walking through your resume and critiques of submitted “stories,” but I still see the same mistakes popping up over and over again.

It’s not entirely your fault: even professional writers and screenwriters make the same mistakes, in movies ranging from Minority Report to The Dark Knight Rises.

Here are the top 6 mistakes that you’re probably making with your own story right now, examples of movies and characters in movies that have made the same mistakes, and how to fix them (yes, the “presentations department” came through once again):

Click here to view the large version of this infographic and see all the details (you’ll have to click it again to magnify it, or download the image).

Walk Me Through Your Resume - The Top 6 Mistakes to Avoid

In Text Form…

Go watch the story-telling tutorial video for a recap of why this is so important and the proper structure to use – now, for the top mistakes I’ve seen and how to avoid them:

Mistake #1: Too Much Setup

This one is particularly common if you’re a university student – you might mistakenly think that interviewers care about every last detail of your life (hint: they don’t).

It’s a big mistake because too much setup bores the interviewer to tears and makes him/her “zone out” to the rest of your responses.

Think about a movie like Minority Report, where it takes almost 40 minutes before anything actually happens: yes, Spielberg directed it so you still watched it, but it’s not good storytelling.

How to Fix It: Is your “Beginning” more than 2-3 sentences? If so, downsize it.

If you’re saying more than where you’re from, where you went to school, and what work/major you were initially interested in, you’re on the wrong track.

Mistake #2: Non-Specific Spark

Many interviewees give generic “sparks” – your family had a business, so you got interested in finance. Or you read a book and got interested in finance. Or you had a great professor in your finance class, and you learned more based on that.

You want to use a “spark” that’s the opposite of all these examples: specific, personally relevant to you, and something that no one else is going to mention that day.

Think about Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction: how many other crime/revenge stories have a character whose “spark” is narrowly escaping death after asking his victim about Hawaiian burgers and preaching from the Bible?

How to Fix It: Name-drop and find a spark that relates back to your hobbies, interests, or family background.

You followed a sports team that got acquired for a price that was way too low, and you were saddened when your favorite player left afterward under new ownership? Yes, getting warmer now.

Mistake #3: Too Many Transitions and/or “Plot Twists”

Just as some films attempt to be “too clever” and introduce plot twists that make previous story developments meaningless (see: the last 30 minutes of The Dark Knight Rises – way to make Bane into a weak / silly villain!), you too may be introducing too many “plot twists” into your own story.

This one is particularly common among career changers at the MBA-level and beyond: you might feel the need to explain all 5 of your job switches, but the interviewer will get bored / confused once you go beyond 1-2 transitions.

How to Fix It: Leave out minor transitions.

If you started out interested in law, then did marketing, then worked in product development, then did corporate finance, and you’re now in an MBA program looking to move into IB:

  • Leave out the part about law.
  • Combine marketing and product development into one role.
  • Make your story: “Product/marketing person –> Corporate Finance –> Apply Corporate Finance Skills to Large-Scale M&A Deals in IB.”

Mistake #4: Illogical Transitions, or No Transitions At All

Another common mistake is to give a “laundry list” of your experiences, with no real transitions between them.

You worked at a non-profit… then did asset management… then equity research… and now you want to do banking. But why?

Why did you make each move and how did each one bring you closer to IB? If you don’t explain this, the interviewer will assume that you were hopping around randomly, like a hungry rabbit in search of food.

So if your story resembles Memento then you need to re-think your approach.

How to Fix It: For each entry, name something you liked and something that you wanted to change or improve upon with your next work experience. Make sure the “wanted to change or improve” part moves you closer to the role you actually want, e.g. from public markets to deals, or vice versa.

Mistake #5: Too Much “Negativity”

This one is common when you have an old boss or job that you absolutely hated – for some reason, consultants moving into finance seem to make this mistake a lot as well (just read the comments to this article).

Even if it was the worst job imaginable, you do not want to say anything close to that in an interview.

Would you hire Peter Gibbons from Office Space if you interviewed him?

How to Fix It: Are you saying something negative about any of your work experience?

If so, re-frame it and make it more about wanting to do something different in a new role and not what the old position lacked.

Marketing didn’t get “repetitive,” you just wanted to continue working with clients but use both your quantitative and qualitative skills.

Mistake #6: That “Vision” Thing

Let’s just say you don’t want your “payoff” at the end to resemble the ending to the Planet of the Apes re-make.

There’s no such thing as being “too explicit” with your long-term goals; if you just name all your previous roles, the interviewer will not necessarily understand how those all led you in a certain direction.

How to Fix It: At the end, repeat exactly how you’re going to combine skills and experience gained from previous roles and apply them to the new one that you’re interviewing for.

So if you worked as an engineer, then did consulting, and are now in an MBA program, you’re going to take your knowledge of technology, combine it with client and project management skills you gained in consulting plus the finance knowledge from your MBA program, and work on deals involving technology companies, eventually becoming an adviser to executives in the sector.

Your Practice Exercise

What better way to improve your interview skills than to assume the role of the interviewer?

Below are 3 sample stories that suffer from some or all of the problems outlined above.

Your task: Find and fix the mistakes.

NOTE: I have changed around personal details, locations, etc. in these stories to make them anonymous – so they are all modified versions of real stories that have been submitted over the years.

Sample Story #1: Managing Director to Managing Emerging Markets?

The Beginning: Grew up in [Emerging Market], moved to the US in high school, and got curious about the stock market from reading newspapers. Decided to major in economics and finance in college and attended a non-target school due to a generous scholarship. Currently working and going to school and involved in several student groups in leadership positions.

Finance “Spark”: Completed accounting internship at normal company, and became more interested in using financial statement analysis to understand stocks (tying back to the stock market interest).

Growing Interest: Interest in finance led him to asset management, where he valued individual stocks; liked the work, but wanted to work with companies on actual transactions instead of just following them. Got a referral to an investment banker through a friend, and started learning more about the industry and made trip to NYC; the field appealed to him because he could make a big impact on companies.

Why You’re Here Today / Your Future: When he advances to an MD-level or higher position, he wants to return back home to use his finance knowledge to advise companies and spur business growth.

My Comments: There are many issues with this one. But I’ll let you pick just one problem and explain how to would fix it.

Sample Story #2: From Industrial Manufacturing to I-Banking?

The Beginning: From [European Country], grew up there, and did a volunteer internship after high school; then studied abroad in another country, got volunteer legal experience there, and then decided to move to that country for university. Majored in finance and joined several investment-related student groups.

Finance “Spark”: Returned to [European Country] and worked for 6 months in M&A at a local bank.

Growing Interest: But wanted to understand how decisions are made at the company-level, so joined the corporate finance of team of [Industrials Company] and got more exposure to operations… but the work got repetitive after a while, and he wanted to do something on a larger scale, so he became more interested in IB and in advising companies once again.

Why You’re Here Today / Your Future: Wants to work on larger-scale transactions with major companies and [Bank Name] has the most international deals and the biggest network – plus, he likes the culture and everyone he’s met there. Not sure of his exat future plans but he wants to advise companies in the future, using his previous M&A experience plus operational know-how from his time in corporate finance.

My Comments: So there are some challenges here because he started out in M&A, then went to corporate finance, and now wants to go back… how to explain that one?

Sample Story #3: Don Draper to Trusted Adviser?

The Beginning: Originally from [Emerging Market] and raised in [Another Country]. Grew up with a father who owned a successful business, and learned a lot about money/business from him. Went to [Well-Known Undergraduate Business School] and wanted to do finance initially, but due to the market crash could not get into the industry at the time; ended up staying in school to finish another degree.

Finance “Spark”: Got an opportunity to work in advertising at a big agency and worked with a lot of finance and finance-related firms there.

Growing Interest: Helped clients increase sales with marketing campaigns, but the work lacked variety and he wanted to get back to his major and original interest, so he moved into a corporate finance role at a normal company and learned how to think through revenue and expenses in granular detail and do internal reporting. He liked the analytical aspects of that, but wants to get exposed to more companies and work on transactions rather than internal reporting.

Why You’re Here Today / Your Future: Wants to combine the project management, client relationship, and finance skills gained from previous experiences and advise companies on large-scale transactions – IB is the ideal career for him because it would let him do just that and eventually become a trusted adviser to these companies. This bank in particular interests him because of its focus on [Industry That is Huge in Home Country].

My Comments: This one is interesting because he’s doing a few things quite well, but faltering in other areas. But it’s your call – how would you fix this one?

Your Turn

So, get going on the sample stories above and figure out what’s wrong with each of them.

Printing out the infographic and putting it on your wall is optional, but highly recommended – if you want to get some strange looks from visitors…

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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30 Comments to “How to Walk Me Through Your Resume in Investment Banking Interviews: The Top 6 Mistakes to Avoid”

Comments

  1. Rebecca says

    Hi Brian, thanks for these helpful tips! Honestly, this is always the question that I struggle with the most in interviews. Could you include a sample story of someone in college? Like a junior who will be recruiting this fall?
    I feel like that would be really helpful to critique for those of us that are still undergrad students.
    Thanks!

    • says

      Thanks! It is actually easier to tell your story as a university student because you do not have much work experience yet. One example from a reader last year:

      -The Beginning: Student in business program at [School Name] and involved in different activities on campus (maximum of 2 sentences spent on this), including a micro-finance organization he started.

      -Finance Spark: Did an internship after his first year at a local commercial bank in his area, which got him interested in the field and in pursuing a finance role after graduating. It was particularly interesting because a lot of banks were restructuring and changing their capital ratios at this time, and he got to see firsthand how those decisions affected the business as a whole.

      -Growing Interest: After the commercial banking internship, he liked the topic but wanted to do more intensive analytical work so worked as a credit analyst at another bank the year after and got more exposure to cash flow modeling, analyzing credit metrics, and understanding the capital structures of banks. That was more of what he was looking for since there was more analysis, but he now wants to move into a role where he can work on larger and more complex transactions and see the process through to the end, instead of just looking at a company’s credit profile before or after.

      -Why You’re Here / The Future: Interested in the FIG sector and in eventually advising companies there, and wants to combine his past experience in the internships with finance knowledge from school and from his activities and work on deals in that sector. This bank / group is ideal because [Point to recent deal activity, people you’ve met there, etc.]

      That would be a “good” example of a story (I have simplified it a bit) that avoids most of the problems above.

  2. Viral Shah says

    Dear Brain,

    Your way of telling about oneself in detail is approachable. The only thing i didnt find is there is nothing mentioned about telling story as per what one have mentioned in the resume. I think the more you tell the story it will look like a fake thing. I hope you got my point what i tried to point out.

    Best regards,
    Viral Shah

    • says

      Sure, but that’s kind of the point: if you simply recite your resume, it won’t be terribly effective because they could just read your resume on their own time. You tell a story to give them color that is not captured on your resume. Making it authentic is your job.

  3. Simon says

    Hi Brian – another great post!

    I have a question related to one of the stories above and generally comes up when asked about long term goal or what do I want to do in the future:
    “Why You’re Here Today / Your Future: When he advances to an MD-level or higher position, he wants to return back home to use his finance knowledge to advise companies and spur business growth.”

    I know this is a pretty bad answer, however what if someone said “in 30 years I would like to start my own shop and the skills I will gain over here will..etc”, does it still imply that you’re not fully committed and a bad investment?

    • says

      Thanks!

      I still think talking about something 30 years into the future is not a great approach, even if you do what you suggested, just because it’s so hard to predict that far in advance, and you want to be focused on the next few years in most interviews.

      It’s not a great idea to walk in saying that you want to work there and then apply the skill set to something different in the future…

  4. Allen says

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for the article! Just have some simple questions:

    In a previous post, you said that the story should be 2-3 min, but in this post you said its 1-2 min…How long do you recommend?

    Also, the beginning and the “spark” part of my story is kinda like this: computer science in the beginning and wanted to do entreprenuership–found an internet startup–work with VC and all the financial stuffs–get interested. In the beginning part, do I need to say something like how I was raised or why I attended my college? Or just start with my initial interest in CS?

    Thank you!

    • says

      I would say 1-2 minutes now based on feedback over the years. Interviewers seem to have shorter and shorter attention spans, and the tendency is to go on for longer anyway, so might as well aim for a shorter amount of time.

      I would skip much on where you were born/raised and why you went to the college you did, unless you can make it really short e.g. “I was born in X, went to Y for college, and I got interested in tech and entrepreneurship from an early age because….”

  5. Viral Shah says

    Hello,

    Can you tell me what should i be saying when giving an interview ?

    Will forward my resume to you in a bit.

    Just confirm me once you receive my resume.

    Best regards,
    Viral Shah

  6. Austin says

    I am seeking a summer internship next summer and am currently focusing on my story. I am pursuing an ECM group. I have worked in PWM and a brokerage firm and then this summer worked in M&A at a boutique. (Simplified version) Can I position myself for ECM effectively by saying I’ve worked with equities and was close to the markets in the first two and added transactional/deal experience while working with corporations the next summer, so put those two together and I’m fit for ECM? Also, in a general IBD interview would it be proper to tell the interviewer right away I want to work in the ECM group?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes, and that you are interested in learning how companies seek financing, and in particular, how IPOs work. If ECM is what you’re interested in and you’re not as interested in other groups, yes I’d say you’re interested in ECM during the general interview. You may want to add that you’re open to other options too.

  7. Marcus Johnson says

    I am searching for a summer internship for next year, (in the UK) and have a quick CV question.

    My current employer is actually my University and has been since this time last year. I’m a Student Ambassador and get paid to work at open days, deliver speaches to potential students and parents, and take part in calling campaigns to get people to come to open days (amongst other odd jobs). This drives up application numbers in the business school.

    However, this summer I did a finance internship at a retail company. Although not directly relevant to the work I’d be doing at an IB, it was valuable analytical experience and I created a project (Excel statistical model heavily using VBA) from start to finish that vastly sped up and simplified the process of analysing the effect of promotions on sales at that company.

    My question is: Can I put my CV in reverse chronological order using start date (i.e. putting the internship at the top rather than the Student Ambassador job as it’s more relevant)? Would it look weird if the job that I’m currently in is second down and has “September 2012-present) on the right?

    Thanks for the help,
    Marcus

    • M&I - Nicole says

      We usually recommend CV in chronological order though if you want to highlight a certain experience you may not necessarily need to adopt that format

  8. Garrett says

    Hey Brian/Nicole,
    I have a superday interview for a summer internship in Citi Bank Capital Markets Origination. Please let me know your thoughts on how I can improve my story.
    Side note: My end goal is to get into venture capital, since I am an entreprenuer/investor at heart. My worry is that I don’t have a great reason for wanting to get into CMO. I don’t have that many options coming out of FSU, so I need to take anything I can get at this point.

    The Beginning: Senior at FSU Majoring in Finance, ever since I was 12 coming up with different business ideas has been a passion of mine. My current business involves selling various educational consumer goods, and has reached over six figures in sales for 2013. Being the businessman that I am, I naturally gravitated towards the field of finance.

    Finance “Spark”: Summer of sophomore year I interned at a retail broker, which provided a first hand look into asset management. Observing the bond trading strategies that were utilized, as well as implementing derivative strategies in higher risk portfolios reinforced my interest in the financial markets .
    Growing Interest: Over the past 2 years I have spent a significant amount of time working in wealth management. I enjoy interacting with clients and helping them meet their goals, but a more transactional environment on a larger scale is really what I am looking for.

    Why You’re Here Today / Your Future: I’m staying in school for another year to obtain a real estate degree, since I love investing and it’s always something I can do on the side. Upon graduating, I plan on leaving my business behind to start a career in capital markets. I want to combine my passion for investing with the rush I get from putting deals together.

    Thanks,
    Garrett

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Your pitch is decent, though you need to address why you want to move to origination, capital markets, perhaps listing a spark there will help. Recruiters may wonder why you want to leave your business and work in corporate, and why you want to make the switch from AM to origination. Unless you have something that ties all the dots together, which is why I mentioned a spark, you may appear slightly “disorganized”/”not committed” to capital markets. If you have had experience getting deals done, perhaps in school, you may want to list that to enhance your pitch. You may also want to discuss your conversations with bankers in capital markets, and how that increased your interest in the division. Good luck on your interview!

      • Garrett says

        Thanks for the insight Nicole!
        Yes, I kind of thought that was my problem before posting this. I’m just not sure if I have any experience I can relate to CMO, other than 1 corporate finance course that I took. But if I said that it seems like it would be pretty generic, plus I only got a b in it :(. Do you have any examples for a spark in this area? I wouldn’t just copy what you say, but I think it would give me a better idea of what I need to think about.
        Thanks,
        Garrett

  9. Crawford says

    Hi there,

    I have an interview coming up for a Spring Insight Week (I am 17, at University). I was wondering if you could give a few pointers on where to go with my story? Here is what I have so far:

    I grew up in Glasgow before moving to Edinburgh for school where I initially became interested in finance after a talk for John Godfrey (Regional Manager of Barclays Wealth in Scotland) in my GCSE year. After speaking with John after the talk about how he found working in finance and the diverse challenges it offers every day, I was keen to take economics at A Level which further deepened my interest in the financial world. I elected to take English Literature at University as I love the deep analysis and need for multiple points of view in order to come to a well rounded judgement.

    I hope that the Insight Week will give me relevant experience so that I may successfully apply to an Investment banking internship in the summer of 2015; acting as a spring board to the start of a career in finance.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes this is decent though you may want to elaborate on why finance. The spark was good and I like that your kept it short and straightforward.

  10. jane says

    Hi Brian,

    Thank you so much for such an awesome infographic!

    I have a quick question. If i had a wealth management internship, then investment banking internship, how should I go about talking about why I am here today at this bank/the future? Can i say something like i did investment banking and really enjoyed working on deals and today I want to do it at x bank b/c I want to work at a bigger bank? Thanks!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes you can talk about that and say that you prefer more exposure to more established deals at a bigger bank

  11. Zach says

    Hey Brian,

    Thanks for continuing to put up info on this subject, great work.

    I saw in the above comments that you said to post a story here and you would comment, could you tear apart my story for me? (This is for a BB healthcare analysts position. I left out specific names)

    I began college in another major, but after a few months of talking with a mentor and learning about finance decided to change into the business school. After continuing to research my interest in banking, I applied to our school’s banking program, through which I was able to obtain an internship with a BB in credit risk. While there, I was able to improve my financial analysis and modeling, but after speaking with people in the bank I became much more interested in transactions. Following that, I interned at Big 4 accounting, working in valuations. I got to work on a wide variety of deals, including X’s acquisition of Y, which peaked my interest in the healthcare industry. Most of the work was great, but the drawback was that my end product was often used for financial reporting purposes. So i am here today because my goal is a position in IB, because I am attracted to the role banks play in the business world, the type of work bankers do, even at the junior level, and I believe that your group is unique (due to X and Y) and is very interesting to me.

    Best,

    Zach

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Overall good story. Please see below for my feedback. In fairness to our paying customers, we can only give you brief comments on the forum here. Readers may also have more to add on this front.

      – but after speaking with people in the bank I became much more interested in transactions. – Can you elaborate on why?
      – Good accounting transition
      – So i am here today because my goal is a position in IB – Why? because I am attracted to the role banks play in the business world, the type of work bankers do, even at the junior level – Can you be more specific and elaborate?

  12. Peter says

    Hey Brian, I have a quick question. A while back I started doing freelance graphic design as a hobby on the side (logos, business cards, letterheads, etc), and ended up getting some good money out of it. I was wondering what the best way to put this on my resume would be? I brand my services as a name, so would I put that name (as a company) under professional experience and list myself as “founder and owner” or something similar? Or would it be better to just put “freelance graphic design” under “Other information/interests” and just talk about it rather than put it into writing?

    Thanks!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes you would list that under professional experience as Founder/Owner; this sounds more authoritative vs. freelance graphic designer

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