In ten years of interviewing graduate candidates both here in London and in Asia, I can remember only one truly excellent response to this bog standard question.
It came from a young man who was very much in the middle of his assessment centre group that year. He had scored reasonably well but not brilliantly on the various tests and activities and his fate was, therefore, going to be decided entirely by his interview.
When asked the entirely predictable, ‘So why do you want to work in investment banking?’ he answered, ‘I’m a naturally lazy person and I need to work in an environment that doesn’t allow me to be because everything is immediate and everyone is accountable’ (or words to that effect).
This was clearly a risky answer: admitting to laziness in an interview is not a technique that will always work; but it has stayed with me and certainly put him at the top of my list at the end of the day. The unexpected nature of his response woke me up from my fairly robotic, going-through-the-motions interviewers’ headspace, and forced me to engage with him in a much more active manner – not least to discuss whether his assessment of the investment banking environment was accurate.
It may not always be possible, or indeed sensible, to adopt such a risky strategy but as it is certainly a question you will be asked, it makes sense to prepare something better than ‘I want to make lots of money’.
Money, or rather earning power, tends to be the elephant in the room when you’re asked about your motivation for going into banking. By all means mention it, no one joins an investment bank to make the world a better place, but have something else to say as well.
Here are a few other angles you could take….
Pick something that you believe fits into the investment banking model and spin it to show you have stretch capabilities and ambition. Eg. A mathematical background can easily turn into a desire to work in program trading or derivatives because you want a career that allows you to combine the use of complex mathematical models with client contact and see the traditional gap between the skill sets as a challenge.
A specific area of interest
If you’ve had experience as an intern or even covered an area in your dissertation or degree course then feel free to focus on your supposed love for a particular product area.
Saying that you were dumped on an FX trading desk during a summer internship but grew to love it because has real weight because you are speaking from experience rather than through rose tinted ‘trading is glamorous’ spectacles. Equally, explaining how something in your course relates to your burning desire to be at your desk at 6.30 in the morning works well.
Ambition is fine in small doses, and as long as you really know what you’re talking about.
Put simply, investment banking is somewhere where results matter and you are judged on your production and promoted accordingly. Wanting to work in a competitive atmosphere because you believe it will bring the best out of you is fine and perfectly acceptable, but be prepared to provide some original real life examples. Otherwise, bear in mind that whoever’s interviewing you will probably have heard this hundreds of times before.