How to really stand out in an interview with an investment bank

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How to really stand out in an interview with an investment bank

Don't hold back in mentioning your horror move pastime.

It's interview season for junior jobs in investment banks. If you're a graduate trying to get a first role as an analyst or intern in bank next year, I have some advice for you. - Think very carefully about what you are actually good at and passionate about, not what you think you should be good at and passionate about.

Passion will get you the job. Ticking imagined boxes will not.

I've attended many, many junior interviews and I've observed a growing tendency for interviewees to talk about tales of investment clubs and toastmaster competitions as if these will get them the role. They almost certainly won't. 

If you're 21 years-old, it's grossly unlikely that you will have benchmark-beating proprietary investment model with a 2+ sharp ratio. So, while your involvement in the investment club is interesting and important, it's not going to make you stand out. What will make me remember you is personality and passion. 

If you've made it past the Hirevue interviews you will have already met the relevant academic/skill-set pre-requisites, so the interview process is where you need to show a bit of personality.  Give the interviewer a reason to hire you. Don't just discuss the same subjects as everyone else. The interviewer will be meeting at least eight other candidates that day and already has your CV in front of them. If they don't ask you about the investment club, don't bring it up.

A candidate from the Masters of Financial Engineering program at Berkeley illustrates my point. I interviewed her a few years ago. Her CV was spectacular: 95% was seemingly the worst she had ever scored on a test and she had 3 previous internships spanning private equity and derivatives. However, she was part of a cohort of equally sensational candidates and may have disappeared without a trace were it not for two words listed under hobbies: 'horror movies.'

When I enquired, she was almost apologetic. Upon further investigation, it turned out that she had actually directed and produced several low-budget horror movies. Whilst studying and working a part-time job, she had managed to siphon off enough time to pursue a real passion. This led her to have to pitch for financing, source actors, scope out locations and write scripts: all clearly very relevant skills to the banking industry

Before you step into the interview, you need to think about what's potentially unique to you and your life. This will make you more appealing and more hirable than if you focus on the ‘interests’ that every other graduate also has on their CV. I will never forget the horror-movie-making A-grade student from Berkeley, but I will almost certainly forget the head of the finance club at Imperial College.

What if you don’t have any passions? Then you need to go out and find some! They will certainly enrich your life and they will very likely help you into a bank. Interviewers can tell when you’re feigning interest in subjects you think they want to hear about, but real passion is memorable. And in an increasingly competitive market for junior positions it’s passion and personality that make all the difference to getting you the job, or not.

Brennan Huff is the pseudonym of an ex-MD with 20 years' banking experience

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share?

Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com in the first instance. Whatsapp/Signal/Telegram also available. Bear with us if you leave a comment at the bottom of this article: all our comments are moderated by human beings. Sometimes these humans might be asleep, or away from their desks, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. Eventually it will – unless it’s offensive or libelous (in which case it won’t.)

Photo by Daniel Jensen on Unsplash

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