“Help! I went to my final round interviews but the interviewer didn’t like me from the start and kept harassing me with irrelevant questions. I asked for feedback afterward and they said, “Improve your technical skills.” How can I do that? They didn’t even ask me any technical questions.”
Final rounds are over.
Banks are done giving out offers.
While most of the articles on this site teach you how to improve yourself and land offers, this one has a different message: interviews are random.
Sometimes it’s not your fault if you don’t get an offer.
Really Beyond Your Control?
And you can always improve your technical knowledge.
But sometimes, no matter how many interview guides you’ve read or how many finance classes you’ve taken or how many internships at Goldman Sachs you’ve had, you won’t get an offer.
Problem #1: The Interviewer is Having a Bad Hair Day
Maybe your interviewer just got chewed out by his MD – or maybe a nightmare client ruined his weekend by calling him into work on a Saturday night.
Maybe he broke up with his fiancée right before his planned wedding, or maybe he saw your CV, realized that you’re from a rival school, and decided to hate you as a result.
If you walk into the room and the interviewer is hostile from the start, you won’t overcome that.
What To Do About It: In this scenario you can’t do anything to change the interviewer’s mood – all you can do is control your own emotions.
Always assume the worst when walking into an interview – expect that it will be horribly stressful and that your interviewer will antagonize you the whole time.
And then if it’s better than what you expected, you’ll have it easy – and if it’s as bad as you expected, at least you were prepared.
If it was so horrible that you know you have no chance of landing an offer, you can also ask directly at the end what you could have done to improve your performance.
Not everyone has the guts to do that, and you should only consider it if it was a train wreck of an interview – but that type of question lets you see whether you actually messed up or if it was the interviewer.
Problem #2: The Interviewer is Wrong About a Technical Question
Here are just a few of the incorrect technical questions I’ve seen before:
- The interviewer has the wrong formula for the terminal value in a DCF and claims that he’s right and you’re wrong.
- The interviewer claims that 1 valuation methodology “always” gives a higher value than all the others or that there’s always an exact ranking (there isn’t – it depends on the assumptions).
- The interviewer claims that Depreciation “always” shows up as a separate line item on the income statement (it doesn’t, sometimes it’s partially or fully embedded in other expenses).
There are 3 possibilities when the interviewer has his facts wrong:
- The interviewer genuinely thinks he’s right, even though he’s not.
- He’s testing you to see whether or not you’ll call him on his mistake.
- It’s an advanced or industry-specific topic and his group does things differently from everyone else.
#3 is not terribly likely unless he’s asking extremely advanced technical questions or something where there’s no universally correct answer (e.g. how to project revenue and expenses, which depends on the company and the industry).
#2 is also unlikely because it’s silly to play mind games like that in an interview, but it does happen.
#1 is the most likely scenario – remember, not all investment bankers know finance perfectly.
Some groups get limited exposure to modeling, and banks hire plenty of people without finance backgrounds – so you could always run into an interviewer with weak technical skills.
What To Do About It: If it’s a basic question – e.g. standard formulas in a DCF or how to link the statements together – don’t immediately give in if the interviewer claims that you’re wrong.
Say that you understand what he/she is saying, but that you said something different because [Explain Your Reasoning] – that handles the case where he/she is “testing” you.
Do not do this unless you are 100% certain and it’s a standard question or formula that you’ve seen in books, guides, and other resources before.
But if the interviewer cuts you off or it’s clear that he’s not just testing you after you explain your reasoning, don’t get into an extended argument: sometimes interviewers are just wrong.
But hey, would you want to work somewhere where bankers don’t even have basic technical knowledge?
Problem #3: The Interviewer Keeps Asking Why Your Grades are Low / Why You Didn’t Go to a Top School
So you thought grades and school prestige would only matter for interview selection – but your interviewer disagrees:
- “Why do you have a 3.2 GPA? Are you lazy or just stupid?”
- “Why didn’t you go to Harvard, LSE, or Oxford? I’ve never even heard of your school.”
Unlike problems #1 and #2 above, you can actually prepare for these questions ahead of time – just don’t get blindsided by them in an interview without a plan or you won’t be able to do much.
What To Do About It: You can’t do anything to change your GPA or where you went to school – you only have 2 options:
- Have a good story explaining why you have lower grades or why you didn’t go to a top school.
- Apply for Master’s in Finance programs (or MBA programs in the longer-term) and use those to get a brand name and higher grades.
To explain a low GPA, emphasize improvement over time rather than making excuses (you think they haven’t heard the “family emergency” line before?): acknowledge that you screwed up in your first year but then improved and took classes more seriously.
To explain a less prestige school, say that your family could not afford an expensive option and that you made the most of it to get where you are – remind them what a challenge it was to even get an interview at this bank.
If GPA and school name are a repeated problem in every single interview and they prevent you from getting offers everywhere, then a top Master’s program is your best bet (click here to read all about them).
Problem #4: You’re Put On Hold
You finished your final round interviews and performed well – but a few people were better than you.
You can improve your own performance, but there’s no way to tell what the competition will be like – so this one is out of your control as well.
So you’re on hold, either officially (they tell you) or unofficially (you don’t hear back from them).
You’re tempted to follow-up to “sell yourself” once again and boost your chances…
…but please, don’t do that.
Persistence is good, but there’s a thin line between persistence and desperation.
Sell yourself before and during the interview, but resist the urge to do so after the fact: it looks desperate and interview decisions are made almost immediately afterward anyway.
What To Do About It: In this case you’re dependent on other interviewees, where they accept offers, and who turns down offers.
So you can’t do much other than continue to interview elsewhere, follow-up and check in each week with the bank that put you on hold.
All you can do to accelerate the process is get an offer from another bank, bring it to the first bank, and tell them that you need a decision ASAP due to this pending deadline.
Just make sure you don’t make up an imaginary offer elsewhere and lie about it.
No Offers – What to Do?
Sometimes your offer status is beyond your control – just think about how random the interview selection process is, and now add in all the additional irrationality that comes from meeting bankers in person.
So you need to figure out why you didn’t get an offer and whether you can actually do something about it.
If not, chalk it up to bad luck and move on with life, continue networking, spread your net wider, and follow the advice here if you end up with no offers as recruiting is wrapping up.
And remember: it was the interviewer – not you.