Mar 29, 2015
Here goes my second article. Check out my first one here.

Rounds of rounds of rounds of interviews.. why? What does it take to make someone standout? How do I become good at interviewing?

I’ll summarise in this post the reason for why interviews (exc. Assessment centre) play such a vital role in the application process, and leave you with some tips to ensure you perform to the best of your ability.

Interviews (generally speaking) are used to further filter candidates post psychometric tests. They can either be your best friend or your worst nightmare, depending on the perspective you take. I’ve always seen them as an opportunity to get ahead. Simply they’re the chance to get the interviewer to like you. There are various types of interviews:

Competency/Strengths Based
Normally with a HR representative over the phone, assessing a candidates ‘fit’ for the firm if you will. Asking questions which allow the applicant to draw on previous experience to demonstrate their soft skills (teamwork, leadership, time management etc..)

For competency interviews, HR want to see whether you understand their values and the competencies required for the role. When giving answers they want to see you’re not boring and have a variety of examples you can draw from (academics, extra-curricular activities, sports, travelling). You should also use the STAR (see google) technique in the breakdown of your answer. For example:

Tell me about a time when you invited or encouraged others to offer a different perspective or opinion in order to deliver a better solution.

During my time interning at [firm] over the summer period, I liaised with other summer interns and undertook a CSR project outside my departmental role. Our objective was to plan and pitch a campaign project to Managing directors in support of the firm’s charity of the year ‘Alzheimer’s Society’. I took on the responsibility in this task to ensure all the relevant materials were gathered such as drafting the articles and emails, posters, lift screens etc.

There were various conflicts in the beginning, as to what we should include in our project to make it effective. Our primary concern is what approach we should take with the project. I decided it would be best to split into groups and research different companies that had undertaken similar projects, as I believed secondary research is fundamental to recreating success.

From this, we gathered again to present our findings. It was clear there was some level of consistency in the way other campaign projects had been designed and through my suggestion of research we were able to single out the elements that had made such projects successful. For instance, there was a clear trend to interactivity within these projects at corporate institutions, i.e competitions or getting employees involved. From this, my team was able to effectively come to decisions as to what would be relevant and effective to include in our campaign and the plausibility of what we could achieve given our resources.

Normally with a junior biz representative (Analyst, Associate or VP), assessing candidates technical understanding of the work, or how they break down information to solve complex problems. Depending on the group you’ve applied, these questions may vary. Having done the full spectrum of FO IB placements, I’ve seen these questions range from valuation, derivatives calculations to even calculating the number of people who order Starbucks in London each morning.

For motivational interviews, you must ensure you know the business function and what they do. You should look at past achievements from that business area (so for M&A look up recent deals – dealbreaker/FT/Bloomberg is your best bet). For technical interviews make sure you understand the basics of what that team does (for trading what are bonds/equites/derivatives, for M&A – what is a DCF/comparables etc..). Also know the source of revenues (trading – market making, M&A fee revenue from transacting deals). Sources are readily available online to learn the basics, so there really is no excuse to not pass this stage, given you’re sincere in your interest to the business area. If you’re smart to pass the initial screening, your ability to learn this information shouldn’t be an issue.

Brainteasers are tricky one as they range so much. Sometimes it can be quick mental maths.. “what’s the square root of 0.9”. Or “how many phone boxes are there in London”. For the mental math, it’s generally down to your ability to think under pressure, whilst you can practice this, your best bet is to just take a deep breath and work through it in your mind, and if it helps break down to the interviewer what your thought process is. Similarly with the more complex brain teasers, the truth is, the interviewer probably doesn’t know the answer, the whole point is to test your thought process and how you break down complex problems into smaller parts, and work using reasonable assumptions to come to an answer. For this you want to walk the interviewer through every stage of a problem.

Final Round
More often than not, this will be led by a Director/Managing Director, who will ultimately decide whether you receive an offer should you get this far. These interviews are the most unpredictable, as they could literally ask anything they want, but more often than not, they just want to assess whether they like you or not. So bring out the charm in this one, but be sincere and have a conversation. As this is where you can find more about the team and the firm and really bring forward your interest in the role.

My 8 Golden Rules For Every Interview
1. Speak clearly and smile

2. Understand what type the interview is (competency or technical)

3. If you know who will interview you, do a bit of research beforehand

4. Ensure you have viable questions to ask at the end (don’t ask HR to explain bond convexity, in fact don’t ask anyone in an interview to explain anything of the sort)

5. Have a glass of water (this can buy you crucial thinking time)

6. Dress appropriately (business smart)

7. Be confident in what you say

8. Respect for the interviewer, e.g. shake their hand properly and maintain eye contact
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Feb 9, 2016
Should I spend more time preparing for the competency or technical part of the interview? How many people usually make it to the final round?
Mar 29, 2015
Both are important, competency interviews become a natural thing with time, so at first this is important to get down. Although without passing the technical round it's pointless submitting an application. Spend sufficient time on each. In terms of numbers who make it to final round it's entirely dependent on how many spots are open and how well candidates did in other rounds. There's no real figure or % but as long as you impress the director/MD in the final round you should be set. Hope this helps.
Feb 13, 2016
I just want to add one thing, which is for mental math it's not about your 'genius', it's about knowing the technique how to square, cube numbers ranging from 1 to 100/multiply two-digit numbers by two-digit numbers, etc. There is a trick to go about each. Also the more you practice the more they become second nature and you will also be able to reply very quickly.

I can't relate to IB much but for trading being able to answer the 'make me a market' question is crucial as well.
Mar 7, 2023
Thank you for this post. Really insightful, seems one can never go wrong being too prepared. The specific technical knowledge you highlighted was particularly helpful as the cliché 'learn technicals' is quite vague so you definitely cleared things up.