Your “story” is the single most important part of any investment banking interview.
But most interviewees get it wrong and start every single interview off on the wrong foot.
In The Banker Blueprint, I mentioned how there were 5 key elements to your story:
You probably understand the principles – but the application of these 5 points can trip you up.
So let’s critique a few sample stories and then vote the losers off the island.
What You Must Avoid
These 2 mistakes will sink your story faster than anything else:
If you finish your story and the interviewer has no idea why you’re there then you’ve failed.
Let’s look at a couple sample stories now to see exactly what I mean.
Example #1: The Liberal Arts Career Changer
“Ever since I was young, I had been interested in literature, and I won a few writing competitions back in high school. For college I decided to attend [University Name] because of its excellent reputation and its location right in the heart of Manhattan.
I followed my plan for the first few years, but in between my sophomore and junior years, I had the opportunity to work at a non-profit doing some business and marketing work for them.
I thought it was going to be fairly standard, but midway through we were approached by another non-profit that wanted to merge with us.
Suddenly, I had to learn all about M&A and finance very quickly, and I became much more interested in those fields instead of continuing on the liberal arts path.
When the internship ended, I went back to school and became an officer in the investment club – and started researching stocks and companies to invest in.
I’m here today because I want to pursue my interest in finance and work in M&A on a larger scale at an investment bank.
Although I come from a liberal arts background, this could actually be an advantage in investment banking because I’ll have both the ‘soft skills’ and the technical skills needed to succeed.”
Verdict: This story was OK, but not spectacular.
The best part was his finance “spark” in the beginning – the non-profit M&A story is unusual and will definitely help him stand out.
The main weakness is that he doesn’t explain why he’s here or how it relates to his future very well – it’s fine to say that he wants to learn more about M&A, but where does he see himself in 10 years and how does investment banking fit in?
The other problem: it sounds a little defensive to say “Although I come from a liberal arts background…” at the end. He should turn that into a positive instead of an “Although…” statement.
This story would have been stronger if he had said something at the end about combining his work at the non-profit with M&A and becoming a trusted advisor to the types of companies that this bank works with.
Example #2: The Life-Long MBA Banker
“When I graduated university, I was certain I wanted to be in finance – so I went to Lazard and worked in their M&A group for a few years. I had the chance to work on over a dozen deals there, and got to learn about all types of M&A.
Before going to business school, I wanted to take some time off and explore another part of the world – so I decided to volunteer in China for a few months, teaching English and working at an orphanage there. I also got exposure to the markets and to the economy there because I was stationed right outside Shanghai.
For business school, I wanted a broad education with a strong international focus, so I decided to attend Wharton and go through the Lauder program there. That allowed me to continue studying finance and to apply it to business in China, and I also had the chance to meet a lot of business leaders there.
I want to take everything I learned at Lazard and apply it to more significant transactions, in what will one day be the world’s biggest economy.
In the long-term I want to be an an advisor to Chinese companies, and given your bank’s work in the region and all the transactions you’ve worked on, I see this as the best way of getting there.”
Verdict: This story was pretty darn good.
Since he’s a banker, he doesn’t need as much of a finance “spark” as career changers might – so he combines it with the “beginning” and talks about both Lazard and his time in China.
This story about volunteering abroad will set him apart, and his logic about wanting to work on larger-scale transactions and in the region he’s most interested in makes a lot of sense.
Still, he could further improve this story by adding in details about the bank he’s interviewing with and what they’ve done deal-wise in China.
Example #3: The Fortune 500 Director of Finance
“I spent many years working in technology, but decided I wanted to make a switch and move into the business side. I went to Harvard Business School, and then used my experience there to move to the business development division at Applied Materials.
I got to see a lot of internal M&A deals there, and learned more about the business as a whole – and I was promoted to Director of Finance within 2 years.
Although I did well, I felt that the pace was a bit too slow for me – and at the same time I was getting more interested in the market as a whole rather than just my own company.
That’s what drew me to investment banking, and so I started to do more research on my own and speak with as many bankers as possible.
I’m here today because I want to combine my operational experience in the technology industry with my knowledge and interest in finance, and become a trusted advisor to management teams at tech companies one day.
Since I’ve worked on both the product and the business sides within the industry, I know how management thinks and what their key concerns are – and now I want to advise them and work on transactions that affect the industry as a whole.”
Verdict: This story was decent, but not as good as the second example above.
The main problem: her finance “spark” was not specific enough. She should have gone into more detail on a specific M&A deal she worked on and what about that deal made her interested in investment banking.
Her “growing interest” section could also use some work – “talking to bankers” sounds generic. Numbers and specific people or firms are better.
But aside from those, her the parts at the end on why she’s there and her future are solid reasons for someone in her position to move into investment banking.
Think about your own “story” – or plan it out if you haven’t done it yet – and ask yourself what you’re going to say for each of the 5 most important points:
Are you being specific with each one? Are you connecting everything together logically?
If so, good.
If not – you know what to do.
Thanks for reading, and see you again in a few days.
P.S. Get here from an email forward, a friend’s link, or a random Google search?
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