Sometimes you absolutely nail a job interview and you pretty much know that you’ll be called back in for another one or – in a best-case scenario – receive an offer. But sometimes you crash and burn in frightening fashion, often due to saying or doing something you shouldn’t have.
Here are examples Wall Street interview failures, all of which were self-inflicted.
Lying to the interviewer
Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, co-founder of career coaching firm SixFigureStart, shared two examples of how lying during a job interview can hurt you.
“The first example doesn’t happen often, but it’s frightening nonetheless: An Ivy league MBA student accepts a Fortune 500 company sales and trading offer, only to let us know her mother is ill and she needs to go to her home country for the summer to take care of her,” Thanasoulis-Cerrachio says. “Three weeks later we merge with another company and there she is on the trading floor. Horrible!
“A young man with eight years of experience at one of the top financial services firms is desperate to move to another firm because the hours are killing him and he doesn’t care for his manager,” she says. “Finally, he gets an offer from the firm he most wants and tells the interviewer that he is going to be made a VP this year, which was a lie. The manager was about to give him an offer and withdrew it saying he couldn’t make him a VP so he should stay at his firm.”
Being too honest or showing a lack of commitment to the firm
An investment banking analyst who is interviewing for a lateral IB analyst seat gets through the initial interview rounds and the technical and model exercises, and then on the final meeting mentions to the group head that long-term they are planning to transition into private equity, according to Michael Brothers, manager of financial services at recruiting firm Michael Page.
“The bank that is interviewing this candidate sees this as a major non-committal red flag and removes that candidate from the process,” Brothers says. “There is really no coming back from that.”
Showing up late to an interview – even if you have a legitimate excuse
The most basic advice is to show up on time no matter what, stresses Janet Raiffa, career coach, the former head of campus recruiting at Goldman Sachs and the former associate director of the Career Management Center at Columbia Business School. Know where you are going to interview, and don't just show up on time, show up a few minutes early.
“There may be a long line at a security desk that you didn't anticipate or a slow elevator – you want time to take a seat in a waiting room and gather your wits,” Raiffa says. “One of the worst interview disasters I remember involved a candidate showing up for a banking superday at least 20 minutes late.
“He had somehow looked up the address of the firm and found an old address or a different location and had gone to the wrong address,” she says. “Not only was he incredibly flustered upon arrival, but the entire interview schedule had to be adjusted to accommodate him."
Leaving your cell phone on during an interview
Leaving your cell phone on during an interview is bad enough. Actually answering a call? How rude.
“A candidate left her phone on during an in-person meeting that could have led to an official interview – it rang, she glanced down and it was someone who she’d been waiting to get in contact with for a very long time and had a chance to make a difference in making introductions at firms she was interested in,” says Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.
“My client took the call, because it was an important call, but not important enough to interrupt the meeting – she used bad judgment,” he says. “If her phone was off, she wouldn’t have even known the call was coming in.
“The person she was meeting with was offended and was not forthcoming with making introductions, and he could have been very helpful in her job search.”
Scheduling a phone interview in the open-plan office of your current employer
Beware open-plan offices when you’re job-hunting, and use common sense.
“I had a client who thought his colleagues would be out of the office at a conference, and he arranged a phone interview, even though it was an open space office setting,” Cohen says. “Sure enough, in the middle of the call, in walks his boss and two of his colleagues.
“His boss overheard him, so he put himself in jeopardy,” he says. “The person interviewing him thought, ‘[WTF?!] This guy is a moron’ – actually, he used the word ‘idiot’."
Springing an unpleasant surprise late in the process
Surprises are rarely pleasant for hiring managers or HR executives, especially late in the recruitment process.
“A VP-level candidate enters into an interview process with a major institution, proceeds through to late-stage conversations and then makes us – both myself and the hiring group – aware of the fact that they have left their position several weeks prior,” Brothers says. “This raises too many red flags to recover from: Were they fired? Did this have something to do with performance? Did they know this was coming prior to engaging in the current interview process?
“This has happened countless times, because candidates tend to be nervous of how this type of status update can affect and potentially jeopardize their candidacy,” he says. “I advise that candidates be as transparent as possible in these circumstances.”
Not proactively – and politely – resolving a misunderstanding or miscommunication
One candidate displayed inhuman patience when he should have been getting to the bottom of a curious situation – and then he blew his top inappropriately – at a hiring manager returning to the office from a funeral.
“He showed up at a company and was kept waiting for four hours, and he just sat there – he didn’t question the receptionist, but when the interviewer actually arrived, he got angry at the hiring manager,” Cohen says. “It turned out that there was a miscommunication – the receptionist was a temp and the interviewer had been at a funeral, not in the office.
“My client looked like he had an anger-management issue because he was overly upset, whereas if he’d pressed a little bit earlier on, simply asking, ‘Can you find out what’s taking so long? Could you please look into it?’ he would’ve got to the bottom of it, they could’ve rescheduled and he could’ve used his time more productively.
“Instead, he made it look like he was the problem.”
Asking the interviewer about work/life balance
If you’re applying to an investment banking position, then you should know the deal. You will work long hours. The work/life balance will not be good. Don’t ask the interviewer about it.
“There are countless examples of candidates at all levels who mention or ask about the topic of work/life balance when interviewing for a banking position,” Brothers says.
“Despite the fact that quality of life is a major factor for most individuals as it pertains to career path, having the candidate initiate this as a topic of discussion during any stage of an investment banking interview can be construed by the interviewing group as a sign of weakness or a red flag in terms of commitment level to the role or opportunity,” he says.
Groveling or being presumptuous
Don’t do anything presumptuous that could be perceived as sucking up.
“I had a senior client who was going into an interview with a fairly successful hedge fund, and on the way, he stops off at Starbucks, picks up one for himself and the interviewer, presuming the guy would want coffee and guessing how he takes it,” Cohen says. “This Master of the Universe has people who get coffee for him, so this candidate diminished the interviewer’s status by bringing coffee – he came off as presumptuous and dumb, like ‘What are you doing?’
“The candidate misunderstood that this guy didn’t want to see him as a lackey or a gopher – he wanted to see how smart he was.”
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