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GUEST COMMENT: Instant M&A interview death

Beware the ejector seat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Beware the ejector seat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There have been one or two articles on this site about interviewing for jobs in M&A/corporate finance.

As someone who has been both interviewer and interviewee in M&A/corporate finance, I read these with interest. And I concluded that whilst they were accurate, they were far from complete.

What these articles did not address is the key variable – interviewer petulance, more prevalent in corporate finance than almost anywhere else.

If you are to succeed in your interview, if you are to fulfill your intention to become a big swinging dick and to avoid relegation to a life of transaction services, you will need to be an accomplished reader of mental states. Judging the mood of your M&A interviewer and adapting your demeanor as appropriate will be a key determinant of your future career path.

If it is the day after the closing dinner for a big transaction, expect jubilation. You can afford to be upbeat. If your interviewer has slaved over a beauty process for weeks and failed to win a transaction, expect despond. Be humble.

A sleep-deprived and mercurial VP I was once interviewed by, for a role inLondon, was enraged that I didn’t know where the Nikkei closed at the previous day. Everybody checks the FTSE and the Dow’s closing levels, but I wasn’t prepared for this particular curveball. I came to regret this as I wiped his saliva from my forehead.

Another Associate I met in an interview for a European bank poured scorn on the Excel skills listed on my CV. I hadn’t heard of an obscure Excel function which he claimed to use every day at work. In retrospect, I know that I’ve never used that function after years in the industry.

If you’re a mid-ranking M&A banker in today’s market, you need to be both humble and charismatic to get by. Teams are lean after rounds of layoffs. You’ll need to convince that you’re both a junior spreadsheet jockey and a client facer, as suits the whim of your MD.

Above all, remember these golden rules, designed to avoid instant death.

1. You are an investment banking lifer. You don’t ever want to do anything else. Not private equity, not corporate development, not merger arbitrage. Not charity work or biking aroundAsiaand then writing a book about it.

2. Keep your front. Never let it down. Not during brain teasers. Not during curve balls. If you drop it, your interviewer will imagine you doing the same thing in front of clients, and you will be toast.

3. Don’t relax. The smiling question in the last five minutes is the one which is used to find out what you are really like. Bear this in mind.

The author has worked in M&A, leveraged finance and private equity. 

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