Covering Wall Street for a few years now, I’ve developed one particular vice, or guilty pleasure if you will. Interview blowup stories.
At the end of any conversation with a recruiter or hiring manager, I always gravitate toward one question: what’s the biggest mistake you’ve seen a person make in an interview? I’m not sure why I’m so interested. Maybe it’s because it can help a reader avoid a similar fate, or because it humanizes a process that’s often overly mechanical. Or maybe just because I get a chuckle out of it.
Anyway, we’ve chronicled several of these stories in the past, ranging from showing up to an interview in a football jersey to ordering a sandwich when a secretary asked whether she could get the person anything.
But they all came from the side of the interviewer – and they all ended in flameouts. Recently, I came across two very successful Wall Street employees and, as if by chance, they told me their own personal interview blunder of a lifetime.
The first involved a trader. He graduated from a top school and earned himself an interview with a successful boutique firm. The interview was going well until he was asked a question that stumped him: “When it comes to the market, are you bullish or bearish?”
He froze. Not knowing the common idiom, he had absolutely no idea what they were referring to. To his credit, he was sheepishly honest about his ignorance and the interview continued. He later Googled the phrase.
The second story involved a woman with similarly impressive credentials who was interviewing for a back office position. Again, the interview was going fine until she was asked a relatively innocuous question: “Do you know anyone who works here?”
“Yes,” she said. “She’s a high-heeled bond trader.”
“What?” the interviewer asked incredulously. “A high-heeled bond trader” the woman responded again. After an awkward back and forth, it was discovered that her friend was actually a “high-yield bond trader,” and that she had misconstrued the message. Maybe she had seen the similarly-titled book on Amazon and got confused. Who knows.
The funny thing about each anecdote is that they ended in job offers. Both people are now a decade into extremely successful careers – and both at the very same firm that was witness to their worst interview mishap.
I personally found the stories to be rather inspiring. Two companies looked past boneheaded mistakes and hired extremely intelligent, albeit young and inexperienced people. It paid off for each firm.
But those stories took place more than 10 years ago. In a today’s culture, where MBAs learn the casual art of conversation from an algorithm and Wall Street doesn’t touch anything remotely risky, would banks and trading firms do the same if they saw potential? You tell us.