Graduate Investment Banking Interview Questions – Part 1

Opening City Doors is about more than both Graduate Programmes and Investment Banking. However, for you aspiring Bankers, whether looking for an Investment Banking Spring Week, Internship or Graduate Programme here is a list of core questions (Part 1 of 2) you need to expect and suggestions on how to respond. Don’t over-prepare or learn answers; more think about the question and competency being asked and then draw from your own experience examples that fit the question which you can deliver in a natural and impressive manner.

After you have dealt with the question Tell Me About Yourself”  be ready for:

Your suitability for Investment Banking

Why do you want to work in Investment Banking?

An obvious question: You need to have a clear story on why you are applying for Investment Banking (IB). Like any story it should have the interviewer thinking “..and then what happened ?” How did you find out about the industry? Maybe you met someone from the industry, perhaps at university. Maybe a finance course or module inspired you. A clear straight-forward compelling, yet simple, story is required.   

Why do you want to work in Sales & Trading over Research or Mergers & Acquisitions ?

Even if you have some doubt in your mind you over which division you really want to work in, unfortunately perhaps, you need to express yourself with a clear preference as you are competing with others who will show this. Again a simple compelling story. Perhaps you are attracted to the roller-coaster nature of FX, Fixed Income and Equity markets and the daily dynamics that exist in S&T. Perhaps you are a problem-solver and are drawn to the complexities of Derivatives. Perhaps you are drawn to the detail and depth of analysing companies and valuations found in Research. Again each preference should be backed up by some sort of experience or exposure to the business stream not necessarily due to work experience at an IB but perhaps from your university course or outside life.

Your degree is in Engineering not Finance. Why have you applied to us ?

This is quite a common question if you are coming from a non-Finance background. Having a compelling motivational simple story is key here. If you have some Finance related experiences clearly refer to these. It is perfectly reasonable to say how you have explored various areas, including your current degree course, and this makes you more confident than ever that this is the right career path for you. This turns a potential weakness into an advantage if expressed well.

Why have you applied to our bank in particular? 

This is a good opportunity to show you know how the bank is different from it’s competitors. Research will give you the answer. Does the bank have a huge global client base?  Is it a leader in Mergers & Acquisitions? Does it lead the Investment Bank Equity or Debt New Issue League Tables? Has it won any awards showing strength versus competitors. Has it been involved in any big deals that have recently hit the headlines? Does it have a regional strength that interests you e.g. Asia?

It’s perfectly fine to refer to university campus presentations: Did you meet anyone from the bank and did they inspire you? Why? What did you learn from these visits? Did you learn about the bank’s strengths or how it differentiates itself? Was anything said about the culture of the bank that fits in with your own values?

Try and cover what ground you can here whilst keeping it personable to you.

What does the average day look like in Investment Banking?

Be careful of this one. It depends on what division you are applying to. If its Sales & Trading refer to A Day In The life Of A Bond Trader. It’s a very similar day for traders in other asset classes e.g. FX and Equities. If you are on the Sales side, you’re not trading, but the day is again quite similar as you interact with traders and your clients. If you’re working in Mergers & Acquisitions there is no typical day as it will depend on what deals the bank is working on at the moment and what stage each deal is at. Research and Operations will have more standard days. Time for a little research.

It is worth adding you know a typical day at any division of the bank involves long hours and considerable commitment and how you a ready for this.

Questions on your capabilities  

Again its all about having multiple examples at your fingertips that you can draw on for each capability so you can assure the interviewer you have the appropriate abilities.

Various questions could of course be asked here. Best to take a STAR approach in answering.

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result

Try and answer these questions with a little depth because if it’s not clear what your contribution was to the situation the interviewer will likely press you on it and, at the end of the day, you want to make sure you have delivered this information to shine. Like any interview, they won’t know the information about you unless you tell them!  

As a minimum be prepared for “Give me an example of………..”

  • “………….where you have demonstrated outstanding leadership ?”
  • “………….a time where you have exercised your ability to be a great team player ?”
  • “………… when you had to deal with a difficult team member and how you approached this ?
  • “…………a time you utilised your ingenuity to solve a complex problem?”

Remember to use STAR!

What is your greatest weakness?

It’s all about being prepared for this question; see link

How have you overcome adversity in the past?

Your answer to this can quite honestly be anything – but don’t use anything too personal. Perhaps you failed at something once and then you managed to achieve it second time around. Perhaps you have come from a very difficult background but managed to break into a top university. Perhaps on the sports team you failed to win the cup but through practice and perseverance you triumphed the following year etc… An example of anything that was a real blow to you personally, how you reacted, what action you took and how this resulted in you overcoming the issue is what recruiters want out of this i.e.STAR.

There is an absolutely huge variety of the questions which could be asked. Do not over-prepare answers to these. Find a few key competency areas such as teamwork, communication, leadership, adversity, problem-solving and so on. Then find examples from your own experience that fit those competencies and think about how you could articulate an answer which really demonstrates the competency well or frames it in a way that looks impressive.

If your friends could sum you up in a few words, what would they be?
Keep it simple and something genuine and personable to you which fits in with today’s more ethical Investment Banking world e.g. “Determined. Integrity. Inclusive.”. 

Where else have you applied to?

They might follow it up with ” Do you have any offers?”. As ever being honest is the best approach expressing yourself well. If you haven’t got any offers say you’re still waiting to hear back from a number of application processes you’re still involved in if you can claim this. If you do actually hold an offer or two then try and use that to your advantage likely expressing a preference for the bank your’re interviewing with today. But remember integrity is the core theme running through Investment Banking today. The slightest hint of a lie or a meaningful exaggeration and your interview and application will be over. Real honesty is crucial and refreshing.

Interview formats will differ by bank. At some you will just be interviewed by HR personnel. At others perhaps by HR and an Analyst or Associate. Others will use more senior Vice Presidents. Some will have initial telephone interviews others not.

Whoever interviews you you will need to convince them

  • you have a real passion for the industry 
  • you can fit in
  • you have the capabilities to perform  

At any stage of the interview it is fine to ask a clarification question; remember it is a two-way conversation. I will talk a lot more about questions you may consider asking in the second part of this blog post after November’s Financial Market Summary. Good Luck.

About Paul McCormick

Paul McCormick is the founder of Opening City Doors and is a Financial Market Specialist having worked for several leading Investment Banks and financial technology institutions additionally.He therefore provides a unique insight, and unusually broad perspective, into the opportunities available in London Financial Markets and related sectors and how to launch your career in the ‘City’.