So by now you may have read all the various career guides. Let me fill you in on a couple of things they leave out. What follows is many of the secrets of investment banking interviews that are either little known, or little discussed...
1.Expect the unexpected
In preparation for your interview you have probably got well-prepared answers for questions that you may well be asked on such as 'Give me an example of a time you worked under pressure' or 'Tell me your three biggest strengths'. Investment banks are not stupid. Your interviewer will know that unless you are truly badly prepared you will have good answers for these questions whereby you explain to them how your role as, say, head treasurer of your college's hockey team shows you possess the interpersonal and organisational skills required to cope under pressure, and so on. As a result they are often trained to ask questions that are intended to fluster, confuse or surprise you. This is because they want to see how you react to spontaneous challenges in the stressful environment of an interview. As they see it, if you find the interview too stressful to cope with their questions then how will you deal with the pressure of working in banking?
One of the most common questions you are certain to be asked, in a somewhat lackadaisical and seemingly innocuous manner is 'so have you got any offers from any other banks?
Do not be fooled. They do not genuinely care about whether or not you have other offers and will hence have a busy and fulfilling summer. What they want to know is if you are a hot commodity. If you say yes and reel off a long list of top banks, they will become keen on having you, as they will assume there is a reason behind your offers. Many people say 'no' to this question, thinking that it shows 'loyalty' to the bank and a commitment to the employer. Investment bankers work all day with statistics and numbers, and they know that if you cannot even calculate that you are likely to be putting yourself in a bad situation by only applying for one bank than there is no way you can work out the complexities of working in a large financial institution. Secondly they may suspect you are lying, which you probably are and so may dislike your dishonesty and may well challenge you on it.
2. Handling the £64,000 question
Another question you may well be asked is 'Are you just applying to this job for money'. A clever question that has many interviewees instinctively responding 'No!' to with a look of shock and fake outrage on their faces. This is a mistake. Interviewers know that if you are applying to work for Firm X and work ridiculously long hours that you are not doing it just for the 'personal satisfaction' or for 'the challenge'. Once again if you respond this way you may come across as duplicitous. The correct answer is 'I am motivated by the challenge of working for one of the world's finacial institutions and also the money' (or something similar that stresses your interest in working there for a reason other than just money). These are the kind of people they want, ambitious people who want to succeed and who are obviously to some extent financially motivated. (If money is not any kind of a factor in your career decision to you, then finance might not be for you.)
3. Keep your cool
Interviewers may deliberately try to upset and antagonise you to see how you respond under pressure, deliberately interrupting you or looking for inconsistencies for CV. For example if you worked for the university theatre group they may question you on if you really would like to do banking and may suggest to you that acting is your true vocation. They are trying to catch you out and do not take it personally and get upset. Try to stay calm and be aware that they are checking your body language and tone of voice to see if you are able to withstand stressful situations. Respond by saying something like 'Whilst I do enjoy acting I have a passion for business and the financial markets and I feel that working in acting would not be able to give me personal satisfaction in this manner.
4. Mind games
You need to know about the psychology of interviews. Many interviewees, particularly men, believe that they have to adopt an 'alpha male' attitude to the interviewers, staring at them in a macho way and leaning back in their chair. Don't do this. It is they who like to feel that they are the alpha males/females and if you do this they will see you as confrontational and not someone they would like to work with. Try and mirror their body language as much as possible. If they lean forward a lot, lean forward and if they use their hands to communicate subtly use your hands also. This unconsciously puts people at ease and makes them feel an affinity towards you, in a way they are totally unaware of. The exception to the rule is if they have an over the top alpha male/female posture, whereby they are sitting back on the chair, looking down on you and spreading their arms out. They are once again trying to see how you react to an unusual situation. Once again respond in a relaxed manner. Don't appear defensive or challenging and avoid crossing your arms, or responding with a defensive posture. Keep a relaxed posture and avoid appearing upset.
5. Shaking on it
And last but not least the handshake and the real meaning of eye contact. I once spoke to a recruiter who told me he did not recruit someone due to their 'dead fish' handshake which they said reflected a lack of assertiveness. Unfortunately for many interviewees there can sometimes be a lack of cross-cultural understanding. In many East Asian cultures it would be seen as aggressive to firmly shake an employer's hand, or to stare at them in the eyes too much. Yet for most investment banks these are seen as key tests of an interviewee. Make as much eye contact as possible as many of these interviewers have been on poorly run 'body language' courses run by charlatans that explain to them that avoiding the eyes is a sign of dishonesty and a weak handshake is a sign of a lack of assertiveness. Both of these are taught to employers as ways of finding suitable recruits, so you will have to get used to it and work on making eye contact throughout your interview and work on a firm handshake. Do not go over the top on the handshake either, particularly if your employer is smaller than you. As strange as it may sound, practice your handshake with your friends and ask them if they feel your handshake is too strong/weak. Many people are unaware of the 'vice-like' nature of their grips and it may cost you a well-paid job.