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The biggest differences between interviewing at the associate and VP levels

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Jeremy Gallagher* is a VP with nearly 10 years of experience on Wall Street who has made lateral moves as both an associate and a VP at bulge bracket banks. Below he breaks down the differences between the interview processes and the potential stigmas associated with lateral moves at both levels.

“Your associate interview will likely occur when you only have a year or two of experience (most people don’t move as a 2nd year associates because then they need to get promoted in the first year at the new firm, which is a little scary – remember it’s up or out). So your interview is going to focus on your technical skills and the general fit you have with the team you are joining.

You typically have two rounds of interviews. The first is really to screen you and make sure you are someone they think can do the job. You are also going to need a good reason for why you are looking to move. The easiest answer is that the firm pays below the Street or if there is obviously a big jump in quality (a no-name firm to a bulge bracket, for example). If it is a truly lateral move as an associate (bulge to bulge), that can be tricky because everyone is going to ask why you are making the change and you need to have a good answer. If you don’t, everyone is going to assume the reason you are trying to move is that you are not well liked and that you haven’t been well compensated, which is not going to inspire them to hire you.

Once you get through the first round, you will typically get a call back from the internal recruiter / HR at the firm. If the first round went well, they will ask for your compensation history. Don’t lie, they will verify it. This compensation history is important because they know how any given firm paid any given class (it’s all pretty public for the internal HR teams). As a result, they will know if you were paid at the top, middle or bottom of your firm’s particular range and that will be a good signal for how good you are. If you are paid at the top of the range, and you can back that up, you will have a much better chance of getting a job than if you are paid at the bottom.

Once they get your comp history and assuming your first rounds go well, they will ask you to interview with more senior members of the team. This is more of a fit interview and if it goes well, you are on your way to an offer.

As a VP, the process is very similar; however, here are some of the differences:

  • You will have more comp history as a VP, so they will look back three years or so to determine how you have performed at your existing firm.
  • You will have worked on more transactions so they will likely really dig into the deals you chose to present on your resume.
  • You have more experience and are generally better known in the business as a VP, so questions will also focus on what bankers you have worked with, what clients, what sectors, what expertise and relationships have you built up.
  • You will be known better in the business so they will ask around about your reputation and how you have performed on transactions where members of their firm have been involved.
  • You will have more deferred compensation so you will need to make sure you negotiate the appropriate vesting of that into the new firm’s stock.
  • You are giving up a lot of personal capital – you’ve been with the firm for 3 or 4 years so you are going to have to have a very good reason for why you are focused on moving.

In general you are not going to be surprised by where a VP goes. The good VPs will be able to go to better firms and the lesser VPs will go to worse firms and the VPs in the middle will go to comparable firms. With associates, you can sometimes be surprised.”

*Jeremy Gallagher is a pseudonym

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