by Brian DeChesare Comments (78)

How to Dominate Your Industry-Specific Interviews: Real Estate, Energy, FIG, and More

Investment Banking Industry Specific InterviewsYou’ve applied to over 100 banks, networked with 230 bankers, and have been pounding the pavement since August.

And now you’ve lined up 10 first round interviews, most of which are for the M&A and generalist pools.

But then you notice that you’re also set to interview with a mysterious FIG (Financial Institutions Group) banker, followed by 2 oil & gas bankers from the Houston office.

And who knows, maybe you’ll land a real estate, mining, airlines, or healthcare interview to make things more fun as well.

So how will it be different? And how can you get up to speed on all the accounting and valuation differences, recent deals, and everything else if you only have a few days – or a few hours – to prepare?

Definitions

Everyone lumps investment bankers together, but that’s not really how banks operate.

Banks have product groups that focus on specific deal types – M&A, Leveraged Finance, Equity Capital Markets, and so on – and then industry groups that do all sorts of deals – but all within a specific industry, such as technology, industrials, healthcare, financial institutions, energy, real estate, and so on.

At a bank, you might interview specifically for one of the product groups, or you might interview for one of the industry groups – or you might just interview for a “generalist” position, be placed in the generalist pool, and then select your group later on.

Most investment banking interview guides focus on standard questions that you might get in any group.

But there are important differences when you interview with specific industry groups – so let’s get started with the festivities.

Most of the Time…

Interviews are not dramatically different – if you’re interviewing with a FIG banker, he’s not going to say, “Since this is FIG I want you to build a detailed model and valuation for Citi right now – you have 30 minutes.”

You still need to know the standard “fit” and technical questions, and you will still get questions on those.

You still need a great story, you still need to know why you want to do investment banking, and you still need to know what it’s like being an investment banker.

Industry-specific interviews require you to shift your answers rather than come up with completely new ones.

How to Shift Your Answers

Focus on these 4 questions (or categories of questions, as in the last case):

  • Why This Group?
  • Tell Me About the Industry
  • Tell Me About a Recent Deal in This Industry
  • Industry-Specific Technical Questions

The first 3 are not terribly difficult as long as you’re prepared – the technical questions can be more problematic, but there are ways to get up to speed quickly.

Why This Group?

Answer this one by linking it to something in your background: a school project, an internship, someone you met while networking, family, friends, and so on.

Let’s say that all your experience has been as an engineer in the technology industry and there’s no obvious reason why you’d want to work in an oil & gas group.

But maybe you have a distant relative who is in the business, or maybe one of your friends started working at a big energy company recently – you can take something small like that, spin it, and turn it into a “I had always been interested in tech, and still am, but recently I started talking to [Person Name], who made me really interested in energy…” story.

If you don’t have something specific in your background, you could always talk about industry news or recent deal activity making you more interested.

Once you’ve established this spark, give 1-2 solid reasons why you want to work in the group after someone or something made you interested.

Going back to the energy example, you could talk about how it affects not only everyone and every economy in the world, but also geopolitics. You could also talk about being interested in promising but controversial technologies like hydraulic fracturing and how quickly the industry is changing due to rising energy demand in emerging markets.

They don’t expect you to be the next T. Boone Pickens – they just want to hear something intelligent from you.

Do not attempt to BS something on the spot here – and don’t say something silly like, “I’m interested… because… it’s so interesting!” (yes, I’ve heard that one before)

Tell Me About the Industry

It’s easy to go “off the rails” and ramble with this type of question.

Use the following structure to describe an industry:

1. Give an estimate of the total market size if you can get it, and say whether it’s growing, mature, or declining. Also mention a dominant recent trend.

Example for FIG: “Financial services are the biggest industry on the S&P 500, so it’s a huge market in the US – it is relatively mature, though there are pockets of growth in some areas such as risk management. The major issue in the industry, especially post-financial crisis, is regulation and how capital requirements for banks will change in the future.”

2. Next, sum up the major players and the sub-industries in 1-2 sentences. Most industries have a few global, diversified companies that do everything and then have smaller companies that focus on more specific segments.

Example for FIG: “It’s split into segments such as commercial banking, insurance, investment banks, wealth management, and investment firms. A couple huge banks, such as BNP Paribas, RBS, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, and JP Morgan, operate in all these segments, while there are also more specialized firms like Goldman Sachs that may focus on just one or only a few of these segments.”

3. Close with a recent trend or recent news in the industry. This shows that you’ve been keeping up with deal activity and reading the WSJ, DealBook, and other news sources.

Example for FIG: “Recently as banks have been recovering from the financial crisis, everyone is thinking about new regulation and the adoption of Basel III – that will have a big impact on banks’ capital structures, how they do business, and how they issue dividends.”

Bankers don’t expect you to know everything, but they do expect you to have done some research – otherwise you won’t seem interested and they’ll give the offer to someone else.

Where Do You Find This Information?

Now I’m going to save you 10 hours of time spent frantically searching online by sharing these resources:

Yes, you read that correctly: Big 4 firms like PwC and Deloitte regularly publish industry and M&A research for free.

Some of the reports on those sites are too specific to be helpful – the “Outlook” or “Overview” ones for entire industries are the best.

But that’s the best way to get this information quickly assuming that you don’t have access to Capital IQ, Factset, or other tools that bankers have.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for there, Google searches for [Industry Name] + M&A or + “Market Size” also work, but take longer.

You can also look in industry-specific publications like the Oil & Gas Journal – but they’re more useful for researching deals rather than industry trends.

Tell Me About a Recent Deal

M&A deals are the best ones to discuss and the easiest to find information on, so here’s the structure you should use:

  1. Name the buyer, seller, purchase price, and multiples.
  2. Give background information – what does the buyer do? What does the seller do? How much revenue and EBITDA do they have (or other metric if those are not relevant, e.g. total assets for a bank)?
  3. Explain how the deal came together if it’s public knowledge, and why both parties were motivated to get it done.
  4. Conclude by summarizing what Wall Street thinks about the deal, and how the industry will be affected in the future.

You can find all this information on the WSJ Deal Blog – they do all the work for you with their “Deal Profile” reports that give the relevant financial stats and multiples.

Let’s say you’re looking for information on the Intel – McAfee deal for a technology group interview. Do a Google search for “wsj intel mcafee deal profile” and you get the deal profile page as the first result.

Most of the information is right there: Intel, the huge semiconductor company, was the buyer, McAfee, a security software company, was the seller. It was an all-cash deal worth $7.68 billion, with an EBITDA multiple of 17x and revenue multiple of 3x (rounding multiples is less controversial than rounding your GPA).

This one’s not a great example because the profile doesn’t list anything besides the numbers – but if you do a few searches you can find other articles on how most investors were scratching their heads at the deal – there were no obvious synergies and it came as a surprise to everyone.

The official rationale was so that Intel could target more of the mobile chip market and get into network security, but few others thought it made sense.

Going forward, more companies might start to focus on security for mobile devices and solutions that protect everything from desktops to laptops and mobile devices to web-based applications.

But What About…

If you’re having trouble finding recent deals, look in the M&A reports from Big 4 firms I linked to above; simple Google searches for “[Industry Name] biggest M&A deals” can also give you names at the very least.

If the WSJ and searching online don’t give you good results, you could take another approach and find equity research instead.

Yes, you can find this research without working at a bank: just sign up for a TD Ameritrade account and you can get free Credit Suisse reports on most large companies.

Other brokerage accounts can work as well – Scottrade, for example, also offers free research.

So if you can’t find analysis of a deal in the WSJ, find equity research on the buyer or seller just after the deal was announced and look up the multiples, numbers, and rationale there.

If you can’t find relevant metrics, just get the purchase price for the deal and get the financial metrics yourself by looking at the acquired company’s annual report on their investor relations site.

Technical Questions

You’ll find conflicting reports on technical questions for specific industry groups: some interviewees claim that they’re uncommon, while others (especially in Canadian mining groups) claim that interviews can be extremely technical.

So there is no universal rule – the only generalizations that apply are:

  1. It’s good to be familiar with the basics and the high-level view of how companies in the industry are different.
  2. Some industries are more different than others. Financial institutions (banks and insurance firms) are by far the most different compared to normal companies; oil, gas, and mining are also different but less so than financial institutions, and REITs are also different but less so than banks.

Technology, consumer, and retail are the most “normal” industries because they have straightforward business models; others like healthcare, industrials, and utilities are not quite “standard” but are also far less different than the 3 groups above.

Here’s a quick run-down of what you should know for the “most different” industries:

  • Banks / FIG: Understand how they’re different (balance sheet-centric, loan portfolio drives everything, traditional metrics like EBITDA are meaningless because Interest is Revenue for a bank); also know how valuation differs (P / E and P / BV multiples and the Dividend Discount Model) and why regulation and regulatory capital are important.
  • Oil & Gas / Mining: Understand how they’re different (balance sheet-centric, energy/mineral production drives everything, can’t control prices or revenue); also know how valuation differs (Production and Reserves multiples and the NAV model).
  • Real Estate / REITs: Understand how modeling individual properties is different from REITs; know the key metrics and multiples like FFO and AFFO and key lingo such as NOI and cap rates and how the business model works.

I can’t list every single industry here because I just don’t know enough personally – but most other industries have much smaller differences, such as slightly different metrics and multiples and revenue or expense projections.

For example, an Internet company might project revenue based on unique visitors and conversion rates rather than # of products sold to customers; a key metric might be EV / Unique Visitors, especially if it’s unprofitable.

Resources for Technical Question Prep

Everything useful I’ve found is listed below:

And then there are good old books, but you probably don’t have time for that if it’s 3 AM right now and your interview is at 9 tomorrow.

Models & Models (and Interview Guides)

If you want to learn these concepts in more depth, you can also check out the Breaking Into Wall Street Bank & Financial Institution Modeling course (based on JP Morgan), the Oil & Gas Modeling course (based on the $41B Exxon Mobil – XTO deal), and the Real Estate & REIT Modeling course (based on AvalonBay, a multi-family REIT).

These are not introductory-level courses. If you cannot build a 3-statement LBO model easily, stay away because these are both more complex than even the Advanced Modeling course.

And before you ask, if you’re in Canada or Australia, mining is 95% the same as oil & gas and lessons specifically on mining will be added in the future.

More?

That’s how industry-specific interviews are different, the key questions and concepts to focus on, and how to do the research necessary to answer the new questions you might get.

If you have any other good resources for these groups and these types of interviews, post a comment below and I’ll add it.

And if you actually made it to the end of this one, congrats – hopefully you don’t have too many questions, but ask away if you do.

M&I - Brian

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.

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How to Break Into Finance as a Consultant

How to Break Into Finance as a Consultant

I’m not gonna lie: I haven’t treated consultants very well before – and even though that infamous Leveraged Sellout video is ancient history by now, it still pops into my head whenever I get questions from consultants.

But despite that, I still do get lots of questions from consultants on how to move into the world of finance, mostly to investment banks and private equity firms.

In some ways, you’re in a better position than engineers, lawyers, or accountants trying to break in – but the bad news is that a lot of bankers don’t like consultants.

So here’s what you do to get around that and break into finance:

What You’re Up Against

Just to recap what you’re up against vs. other professions moving into finance:

  • Engineers: They are great at math, but can they talk to people and work a lot more than they would at Google or Facebook?
  • Lawyers: They can put up with sociopaths and work 100 hours per week, but can they count?
  • Accountants: They know accounting and Excel, but are they hungry enough to work without sleep for days at a time?
  • Liberal Arts Majors: They can communicate, but can they crunch numbers and burn the midnight oil?

As a consultant, here’s your challenge:

“I know you can work with clients and that you understand the business world. But can you build an LBO model? Do you have any discernable skills? And are you prepared to work true banker hours?”

So it’s a combination of what lawyers and accountants face, with some extra prejudice thrown in since many bankers don’t take consultants seriously – especially if you’re an IT or HR consultant rather than a management consultant.

What Will Help You

But you do have a few things working in your favor:

  • You “get it” – you’re not some engineer with no business experience who doesn’t understand how to work with and manage clients.
  • If you’re working at a top firm (MBB), you have a prestigious name that all bankers recognize.
  • Better networking opportunities than an undergraduate – Partners are well-connected, and your clients might be investment banks.

Your Story

Just take the story-telling tutorial and template here and apply it to your own situation.

Here’s a sketch of what you might say:

“I was really interested in business and advising companies on major strategic decisions, so after graduating from [University / Business School Name], I decided to take an offer at [Consulting Firm]. I’ve done well there and have gotten good reviews, but I also realized that what I did as a consultant was rarely implemented by clients.

I had worked on a few M&A and due diligence-related projects, and realized that in [investment banking / private equity] you have much more of an impact on the company you’re working with – and I was more interested in modeling and valuation than in qualitative work.”

That is just a sketch of the basic idea – you would expand on that in interviews.

If you’re moving in from something less business-related – like IT or HR consulting – then you should also include something about wanting to see the trees for the forest and understand the business at a much higher level.

Point to specific clients or cases you worked on and the finance-related analysis you did that made you more interested in finance.

“I worked with a $50B telecom company in its restructuring process and learned about what management considers when it decides to declare bankruptcy rather than restructure its debt – and I got to assist bankers with analyzing the best debt structure going forward” sounds much better than just saying you think financial modeling is cool.

And before you mention it, yes, I know that common stereotype of consultants’ advice not being implemented is not necessarily true.

Plenty of work you do as a banker never sees the light of day, either, and it’s even worse in PE.

But what matters here is perception, not reality – and financiers like to think of themselves as shaping industries and companies and “having a really significant impact” (even if they don’t get home by 7:15).

Networking

So you have your story… now how do you pound the pavement and make sure someone actually hears it?

I’m not going to repeat the dozens of tutorials on networking, informational interviews, weekend trips, cold-calling, and so on because those still apply if you’re a consultant moving into finance.

The main differences lie on the sourcing side – where you find names in the first place:

  1. You have access to an additional “alumni” network – from your consulting firm. Leverage it and contact everyone who now works in finance.
  2. Partners at consulting firms are very well-connected and will know bankers. Don’t be shy about asking, especially since you’re expected to move elsewhere after working in (management) consulting.
  3. You could move to a finance-related group at your firm, or go to a banking or PE group that has overlap with your background (e.g. if you consulted with energy companies, you could target oil & gas groups).

Those 3 represent a big advantage over anyone else who’s moving into finance.

You could still cold call rather than using the strategies above, but don’t start there unless you are targeting boutiques and have absolutely no connections (unlikely).

Should you focus on boutiques rather than bulge brackets?

That may improve your odds, but it may not be necessary depending on how well-connected your firm is: if you can contact bulge bracket bankers, at least give that a shot.

Finance-Specific Consulting Firms?

Similar to industry-focused investment banks, there are also industry-focused consulting firms.

So it must help to go to a place like Oliver Wyman that is well-known for financial services consulting rather than a firm that does everything, right?

If you have the choice between 2 smaller or 2 specialized firms, yes, go for one that has the financial focus.

But don’t pick a finance-specific firm over McKinsey (or Bain, or BCG) just because you get to work with more finance companies – brand name makes far more of a difference if you’re breaking into banking or PE.

Resume/CV Spinning

You have it easier with your resume/CV than an engineer because at least you’ve worked with clients before and can point to specific projects and “deals.”

Click here to download the “Experienced” resume template and view the tutorial, and then make the 3-4 most relevant clients you’ve worked with into separate “Project” entries.

Your main challenge will be spinning what you did into sounding relevant to finance:

  • If you worked on anything related to due diligence, M&A, or capital markets, obviously list that and hype it up.
  • If you don’t have anything directly related, take what you have and highlight the quantitative work you did rather than the qualitative side. Numbers and dollar/Euro/other currency figures are good.
  • Even if you have not worked with financial statements, you can highlight market-sizing analysis, cost analysis, or anything that involves numbers.

And remember the golden rules of spinning: re-adjust the focus, magnify small details, and omit facts that do not make you look good.

If you write something like this:

  • “Worked with Fortune 500 Company to analyze hiring and retention strategy for sales force and make recommendations that improved retention by 50% by better aligning incentives, target customers, and sales rep performance.”

That might be a good bullet for consulting jobs – you have a specific number and your recommendations were even implemented by the company.

But for finance you should write the following instead:

  • “Worked with Fortune 500 Company to boost revenue and profitability by improving sales rep productivity and revenue per sales rep and by reducing G&A costs associated with sales force hiring; led to estimated [$xx] increase in revenue and [$xx] increase in pre-tax profit.”

You’re still writing about the same client engagement, but you’re framing it differently and focusing on finance rather than operations.

You probably won’t have exact numbers in this situation, so estimate and make it clear that it’s just an approximation.

Interview Domination

Interview questions will focus on the key “objections” that bankers have to consultants:

So you need to address both of those and presenting solid “mini-stories” that prove your points.

For #1, talk about how busy you were due to the infamous consulting travel combined with client demands and how you had to pull banker hours for an extended period.

Even if you work less than bankers on average, just point to a particularly busy period and use that, and then turn around and use the same story for the other standard fit questions as well.

To prove you know something about finance, either talk about finance-related projects and analysis at work, or how learned on your own from classes, training programs, and self-study.

While I’m not a fan of the CFA, it would make sense to bring it up here if you’ve somehow had the time to complete it.

Other than that, all the standard fit and technical questions covered in the superday interview guide and the investment banking interview guide still apply here.

Technical Questions

As a consultant, you may receive more technical questions than others because bankers will be skeptical of your financial know-how.

While the CFA is overkill and isn’t realistic given how much you work and travel, a crash-course on the technical side is not a bad idea.

You already know about the financial modeling training programs offered through this site, and I’m too lazy to insert a sales pitch here but you can read all about them on your own and decide what’s right for you.

You could also look at the books recommended on IBankingFAQ for a solid grounding in accounting, valuation, and finance.

Remember that you are competing with ex-bankers, undergraduate finance majors, and others who know the technical side very well – you don’t want to give banks a good reason not to hire you.

And For Private Equity…

I’ve been lumping banking and PE together, but there are a few differences if you’re focused on the consulting –> PE transition.

First, it’s very difficult because private equity firms recruit almost exclusively from the investment banking analyst pool.

So it might actually be easier to get into banking first and then make the move to PE.

If you don’t want to do that, you need to target firms that have a tradition of hiring consultants – the classic one is Golden Gate Capital, which was founded by Bain consultants and still hires mostly Bain consultants.

Focus on firms that emphasize operational improvement and turnaround strategies over financial engineering (actually easier to do in a recession or quasi-recession).

Your chances of getting into KKR, Blackstone, TPG, and so on, are slim because they only make a few hires each year and only hire those few from the top banks – the vast majority of bankers at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan don’t even have a good chance of working at those places.

So target operationally-focused firms or anything with a complementary industry focus – if you worked with entertainment companies, maybe you can join Bono at Elevation Partners.

Venture capital is also a possibility – they care far less about financial knowledge than PE firms, and if you’ve worked with tech or biotech companies you can easily spin yourself into a “strong cultural fit.”

Hedge funds are more of a longshot because so many are about hardcore finance and don’t care about operations or strategy – if you want to go there, you’ll have to find one that is more strategy/operations/long-term investing-focused and less about short-term trading.

Plan B Options

So what if you’ve done everything above but still can’t break into finance?

1. Move to a Bigger Consulting Firm

Specifically, M/B/B – see Kevin’s thoughts below for more on this one, but generally the brand name makes far more of a difference than your actual industry focus as a consultant.

Plus, Partners at the top firms are more likely to know bankers and financiers than the ones at smaller firms.

2. Go to Business School

If you go this route, you’ll have a much better chance at post-MBA investment banking positions than PE ones: as interviewees on this site and I have mentioned before, your chances of getting into private equity without having been an IB analyst are slim.

And you should still do a pre-MBA internship that brings you closer to finance or you may not be able to re-brand yourself as easily as you expected.

3. Go to Something Other Than IB/PE/HF

There are plenty of other, less competitive finance industries out there (and yes, before you mention it, they also pay less).

So you could network your way into an asset management or commercial banking role, then get to know people in the investment banking division and move in like that.

This one is a better idea if you have no connections and have no other way in – otherwise you are better off staying a consultant rather than moving to a more finance-related but less “prestigious” role.

More Thoughts from Kevin

To get another perspective, I asked Kevin from Management Consulted for his thoughts on this topic and used some of what he mentioned above – here’s what he said in more detail:

  • It’s all about brand name – get into the best consulting firm possible. While Oliver Wyman is marginally better than, let’s say, Kurt Salmon (boutique retail), M/B/B is far better than any of the rest in helping you get there.
  • Most consulting firms have internal finance groups/sectors – get as many cases under your belt in these groups as possible.
  • Most partners in those practices have serious connections – leverage those connections by over-delivering with your cases and networking heavily with partners.
  • Ask for intros to the banks you’re targeting – they might be your clients and you can build relationships first that way.
  • Go to NYC. Just like entrepreneurs move to Silicon Valley, you must be in NYC to have access and credibility. In Europe, go to London. In Asia, go to HK.
  • It’s all about your network and less about financial knowledge, at least in terms of getting interviews in the first place – organize internal networking events in the finance practice to meet even more people.
  • A lot of consulting firms have externships and special programs to give you corporate exposure outside of strategy consulting. Leverage those as much as possible.

So there you have it – thoughts from someone who knows consulting inside and out.

Still Can’t Buy Bottles with Starwood Points?

So if you’re tired of flying up to Saskatchewan every week to tell a company what it already knows, follow everything above.

And you just might be able to get rid of those Starwood points and buy a few bottles with your banker friends.

Series: Career Transitions

M&I - Brian

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.

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Free Exclusive Report: 57-page guide with the action plan you need to break into investment banking - how to tell your story, network, craft a winning resume, and dominate your interviews

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by Brian DeChesare Comments (71)

Why You Didn’t Land an Offer in Your Final Round Interviews at Morgan Stanley

Why No Final Round Offers“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.

…and you came close, got a few Superdays (or assessment centers), but you didn’t walk away with any 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?

There are some things you can always control: your story, your “why investment banking?” answer and the 2-3 mini-stories you can use to answer most “fit” questions.

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:

There are 3 possibilities when the interviewer has his facts wrong:

  1. The interviewer genuinely thinks he’s right, even though he’s not.
  2. He’s testing you to see whether or not you’ll call him on his mistake.
  3. 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:

  1. Have a good story explaining why you have lower grades or why you didn’t go to a top school.
  2. 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 – at least, don’t do a “hard sell” immediately after.

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: Instead of moving to an immediate “hard sell,” follow-up with everyone within a few days to express your continued interest in the firm.

If they don’t give you a direct answer and time keeps dragging on, call one of them and ask directly what you can do to improve or become a more attractive candidate.

And if it’s something you can fix (e.g., technical skills, communication skills, etc.), do so by submitting evidence of your improvement.

Beyond this, 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.

M&I - Brian

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.

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