COMMENT: How to sneak out of your banking job and interview on the buy-side

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interview excuses

Let's face it - if you're an analyst or an associate in an investment bank, you're probably interviewing with other firms. The chances are that you want to move to the buy-side - either into private equity or a hedge fund, but you can't say this to your colleagues or to your manager. However, absence from the desk for a few hours on multiple days at short notice is a scream to everyone that you're interviewing elsewhere. You want to avoid this rumour going round, and you also want to ensure your bonus is downgraded, so what can you say?

It's not easy. You don't want to lie to colleagues you're close to and buy-side interviews are almost always irregularly scheduled at very short notice (2-3 days warning is the norm). To make matters worse, many of these private equity and hedge fund interviews last for an eternity (you could find yourself being invited to repeat interviews of a two to three month period), so you will quite probably need to be absent from your desks on multiple occasions.

Personally, I was lucky. During my time at Goldman Sachs I liked my team and my work and so I didn't go through these interview processes. When I eventually left, it was for personal reasons. However, I was the sounding board for a lot of my friends who needed an urgent excuse whenever they were given short-notice interviews with other firms. These are some of the suggestions I made.

The excuses that need to be used with care

The following excuses are not great because you can only use them once. Some are also a little morally suspect. Either avoid them, or use them with care.

  • Diarrhoea and/or food poisoning: This one should only be used in emergencies. If you activate it, you need to email your boss at an unlikely hour (eg. wake up at 4:00am then go back to sleep), with an email along the line of, "I had a Chinese takeaway last night and have experienced terrible food poisoning ever since. I wonder if I can take the day/the morning off".
  • Doctor's appointment:  This is usually ok, but needs to be used with care. Some firms have been known to ask for proof of doctors' appointments when they mean cancelling the attendance of important meetings or pre-arranged travel and roadshows with the team. It's easy for them to check-up when they have a doctor's office onsite in the same building, and they may not grant you a whole half day off.
  • A relative passed away: This can just about be acceptable if you know for sure how many rounds of interviews you will have. For example, the excuse for your first round of interviews could be that you're checking on your Aunt Betty in the hospital, and your excuse for your second round of interviews could be that you're attending her funeral. You may or may not be comfortable with this, but don't use it if you have a bad memory. - You don't want the excuse to catch up with you and to be asked things lie, "Didn't your aunt Betty already pass away last year?" This excuse also definitely does not work if you have six aunts passing away during the recruiting season - use with common sense.
  • Your car broke down on the way to work: When you work in finance you mostly will not drive to work.
  • Your wife/girlfriend has some medical emergency: If she is not pregnant, you should use this excuse once.
  • Anniversary with your wife/girlfriend; or parents in town: Use this excuse when you have more advanced notice.
  • Testicular exam, or health check-up: This can only be used very sparingly.

The good excuses that can be used over and over

These excuses will grant you the time off work for several rounds of interview at once. When you're going for a job on the buy-side, they work best.

  • The dental check-up: First was a regular dental check-up. Then you have a cavity, and then you have to come back for more serious work. Find dental processes involve two or three rounds of treatment.
  • Apartment-related excuse: This is a treasure trove. There is furniture delivery, flooding and installing broadband. These are good excuses as you can cite a longer time window (e.g. 10am - 2pm) to be off work. "The pipes in my apartment broke last night, so my entire apartment is flooded," is one of the best. Structural issues for houses take months to fix and you can therefore use these excuses for any follow-up interviews.
  • Home repairs: If you are lucky enough to be a homeowner or landlord, you can also cite several repairs (e.g. flooring, electrical work) at the apartment.
  • Moving houses or potential flat viewings: This excuse may only give you a couple of hours each time off but can be excused on a consistent basis for a short period.

Be creative, you can mix and match these excuses based on your situation. I hope that these examples can give you decent time-off ideas for your upcoming interviews. Good luck!

Mai Le was an investment banking associate at Goldman Sachs before she left to found several of her own ventures. Besides writing on her own blog (lequynhmai.com ), she also runs a cover-letter sharing community called Cover Letter Library ( coverletterlibrary.com ) and a learning and community platform for analysts called Next Analyst (nextanalyst.com ).

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