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Jon Moulton’s favourite interview questions, and how to answer them

Jon Moulton has told us what he likes to ask candidates in interviews. If you are ever in an interview with Jon and you have read this article, you will therefore be at a substantial advantage.

For those of you who have not heard of Jon, he is a very well known private equity investor and has fairly recently founded a new firm, Better Capital.

This is his photograph:


Gail McManus, founder of recruitment firm PE Recruit has kindly offered advice on how to answer Jon’s questions. This is Gail:


Jon’s first question: What do you do badly?

Gail’s advice: This is a good question, and better than the typical question people ask about what your weaknesses are. It’s also harder to answer well.

If you’re responding to the weaknesses question, there’s an obvious solution: simply focus on things you haven’t learnt yet or that aren’t relevant to your role.

With this question, however, you need to think carefully. Avoid glib answers such as, “I don’t suffer fools badly,” and think of the things you won’t need to do in a private equity role.

For example, private equity is about evaluating and making informed decisions. It’s also about working together in a team. You might therefore say, “I make hasty decisions badly – I’d rather have time to reach the right conclusion,” or, “I’m capable of spending a lot of time working on my own, but I work much better when I’m working with people towards a common goal.”

Jon’s second question: What do you think you need to be paid?

Gail’s advice: There are two elements to this: what you need to be paid and what you believe you should be paid. You might answer it by pointing out the difference between the two. On one hand, you need X to live. On the other hand, you’d like to be paid something which reflects the value you’re able to add to the investment process and the value you bring to the organisation. If that value is nil, you’d expect to be paid nil. However, it won’t be zero as you expect to add a lot of value if you’re hired.

Jon’s third question: What is your normal working week?

Gail’s advice: If I were asking this question, I wouldn’t be looking for someone who says, “I work 9-7 each day and produce a lot of spreadsheets and analysis of potential investments.”

I’d want someone who could give me a much more qualitative answer about their work and who could focus on the value added elements of what they do.

For example, a good answer might be: “I usually spend more than half of my week assessing investment decisions and trying to identify the critical elements of businesses which will make them a good investment. I devote a lot of time to this: in my opinion assessing an investment isn’t simply a matter of reading the business plan, it’s also about following up with my own due diligence, talking to management, clients and customers, and visiting premises.”

Answering this question well is about showing the qualitative value you’re able to add during your working week.

Comments (13)

  1. The best interview question I was ever asked was who would win in a fight between Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Needless to say it was for a quanty role.

  2. depends.. do they get weapons? Lightsaber vs whip I think I’d go for Solo, fisticuffs and its Indie

  3. Best question I had was: “In the 1990s cult American TV show ‘Sliders’, four friends travel alternate realities. In some worlds the English still control the US, in to others John Kennedy is still President of the US and so on. If you could travel to an alternate reality, what sort of world would it be?”

    This was for a pretty senior job – my answer is not suitable for printing here, but suffice to say I got the job….

    Prof Arturo, one of the characters in Sliders (as I later learnt) also appeared in Indiana Jones (so there is an element of flow to this thread). A fine actor by the name of John Rhys-Davies.

    Maybe all good interview questions have something to do with Indie?

  4. Good one to trip up MBA zombies with.

  5. Han Solo with a light saber….which reality are you working in! He was no Jedi.

  6. Sliders ROCKS!

  7. My fav Sliders character was Remy the Cryin’ Man. Who did others like?

  8. Remy was a bit annoying methinks. As was Wade.

    Capt Beckett, however, was a decent character. The series picked up on series 4.

    The highlight for me, however, was the 3rd series episode with the talking flame.

    In my ideal reality eFinancialCareers would be as important as the BBC. In this reality, as these posts and story suggests, it is still but a joke.

  9. Trick question as they’re both the same actor…

    Still, I think Indy would edge it – he has the knack of finding useful implements nearby to deal with his foes (rock crusher in Temple of Doom, plane / petrol in Raiders…)

  10. How about “Can you pinpoint the personal flaws which led to the implosion of your last VC role? And your departure from the previous ones?”

  11. Beetroot,

    mba’s rule specially the ones with engineering backgrounds. Zombies are like you, let’s see maybe you are one of thsoe idiots with an accounting or maybe economics or what masters in finance degree.

    I’m in IB and I love kicking the rubbish out of idiots with limited intelligence.

  12. Poor responses – the point of phrasing these questions like this is to encourage direct, honest, non formulaic answers from candidates.

    So an answer to what do you do badly of “I make hasty decisions badly – I’d rather have time to reach the right conclusion,” is an instant fail. Simply limiting yourself to a work related response when the question is open would be a negative to me – much better to say what you do badly – surfing, socialising, whatever!

  13. “What do you do badly?”

    Well, I’m very bad at selling myself in interviews. I’m actually a lot better than I seem to you at the moment…

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