A Guide to the Investment Banking Interview: Tips from an Expert
Everything you need to know to ace the investment banking interview process, including tips for landing an interview and acing the qualitative and quantitative portions, written by a Credit Suisse investment banker.
Posted February 3, 2023
Interviewing for Investment Banking
Investment Banking has become a highly competitive and sought-after industry for many in finance and finance-adjacent roles because of the fast career progression, network, and exit opportunities. However, because of the demand, the process to get an internship–and eventually a job–is long, technical, and can be difficult.
Every year, recruiting seems to start earlier and earlier. Frequently, sophomores are interviewing for an internship more than a year before the start date. Because of this, it’s best to decide early that you want to pursue banking. Speak to coaches, advisors, students, and friends with connections to the industry to understand what they do and whether it aligns with your interests. By doing so, you’ll begin to uncover the differences between industry and product groups, large and small banks, and different offices in different cities.
I studied accounting as an undergrad before starting my career at Credit Suisse. I now work at a technology-focused private equity firm in San Francisco. In this article, I outline my tips for success in the interview, cultivated from many years of experience in the industry.
Before the Interview
Landing an Interview
Like many jobs, in order to even land an interview at an investment bank, it’s imperative to find a connection. Networking done poorly is transactional, cold, and uncomfortable. Networking done well can help you develop relationships with industry professionals. They have been through the process before and can help you get your foot in the door at various banks and groups. They can also give you insights into the culture, deal flow, and other details that you’d never be able to learn from a job posting.
Typically, the banks will not even review the resumes that come through the hiring portal; they only consider those that come with a reference. At the end of the day, relationships are what matter. Cold email contacts, attend networking events, and find connections in your own network to get to know the relevant people at the bank.
Furthermore, it’s important to understand that banks are not the same, and knowing what makes them different will give you an advantage in the interview and eventually in a career. Think about whether you’d prefer to work in a big bank or a small/regional bank, in a particular industry like tech, or in a specific city. Whatever your preference, do the research and narrow down your list.
What Makes a Competitive Candidate?
There are different factors that make up a competitive candidate for an internship or job. From a broad perspective, the “better” school you go to, the easier it will be to get an internship. As you go further down the list of competitive schools, the better your grades and standardized test scores will need to be.
Regardless of the school you went to, you should also have relevant work experience. When it comes to investment banking, the caliber of the experience matters more than the quantity. Your previous positions show your path and story. In other words, from looking at your resume the recruiter should be able to tell why you are pursuing a role in investment banking.
The Day of the Interview
Before you go to the interview, make sure you have dressed appropriately. Dress as professionally as the organization requires and look clean and put together. During the interview, remember to present well with non-verbal communication. For example, are you sitting up straight? Do you look friendly, confident, and respectful? Are you making eye contact and listening actively? Are you speaking with appropriate confidence and energy? It’s difficult to practice these things but they are important, nonetheless, because they impress upon the interviewer the type of employee you will be. Also, though the interviewer should have already reviewed your resume, it’s never a bad idea to bring a copy, just in case.
The Qualitative Interview
The qualitative portion will be the majority of your interview process at the investment bank. This is composed of the “soft” questions, or what you may think of as a traditional interview, and its purpose is to discover whether the candidate is a good fit for the role and bank. Questions may include:
1. Why are you interested in investment banking? 2. Can you walk me through your resume? 3. What are your strengths and weaknesses? 4. Why do you want to work for this bank? 5. What is your leadership style? 6. When have you succeeded or failed at something? 7. What are your interests outside of finance and school?
While it’s more difficult to prepare for this portion, the most important thing to remember is to know your story and be able to convey it clearly and succinctly to someone else. You should be able to articulate your interest in both banking in general and the specific bank you’re interviewing at. With this portion, the interviewers are trying to determine whether they would feel comfortable having you in the same room as a potential client. You are trying to pass the, “Would I want to sit next to this person on a plane for two hours?” test.
The Quantitative Interview
The quantitative portion of the interview is where the recruiter will test the candidate’s technical skills and knowledge of financial concepts. Throughout the hiring process, you will likely only have one or two quantitative interviews, but they are very important. You should spend a significant amount of time preparing for these questions. There are plenty of resources available online with free sample questions and answers, as well as videos and books (read our article here: 37 Free Resources to Break into Investment Banking). Basic questions may include:
1. How would you calculate the cost of equity? 2. Can you walk me through how a $10 depreciation or $20 goodwill would affect a company’s financial statements? 3. How will rising inflation rates affect our industry? 4. How would you value a company with a history of cash flow in the negative 5. Tell me about a deal that our company was involved in recently.
The knowledge for these interviews can come from undergraduate business classes or online study.
After the Interview
Once you have completed your interview, consider sending a follow-up email thanking the recruiter for his or her time. If you have any questions or comments, you can also include them here.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that investment banking is an incredibly competitive industry; many people will apply, a few will get interviews, and even fewer will get a job or internship offer. Investment banking is not “everything” and you don’t need to hinge all of your bets on one role. Pursue what you are interested in, but it is not the end of the world if you don’t get an interview or offer at one of the big banks.
Where Can I Start?
Here at Leland, we’ve got many resources to help you get started on your investment banking journey. Here are a few articles:
- What is Investment Banking?
- An Expert’s Guide to Resumes: Five Tips to Make You Stand Out
- What do Investment Banks Actually Do?
- Top Ten Investment Banks in the World
If you want to work one-on-one with a coach for personal help with your investment banking interview or application, browse our world-class, vetted, IB experts here.
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