Sunday, January 21, 2007

Interview Tips

I've had a few people - interns and grads - applying to investment banks asking me about interviews. I've been through the whole interview process at various places when I first left university and am now involved in interviewing candidates for positions in investment banking technology.

There are a few routine questions which everyone asks, so you should prepare them beforehand. There are also lots of interview question and answer banks online where you can find really good sample answers to common questions. Just Google around. I will try to think of the questions that I have been asked over the years and will categorise them so that they are easier for you to prepare. I will try to give you as many tips as possible. But remember that what works for me may not work for you!


Greet the interviewer with a firm handshake and a smile. You will probably be nervous but try to stay relaxed, always be polite (e.g. accept a glass of water if offered), smile, make eye contact and pay attention to the questions. Sometimes I forget what the question was, halfway through the answer! Always give clear and concise answers. I also like to take a notebook and a pencil with me to the office. It looks professional, you can make notes while the interviewer explains the company and you can also jot down some questions to ask later. At first, the interviewer will ask you some harmless questions, but answer these nicely because these create the first impression:
  • Hello! How are you?
  • How was the journey? Did you find us easily?
  • Where do you come from?
  • One of my favourite things is to comment on the building (e.g. Nice building / office!) when the interviewer is walking me to the room. It is a nice ice breaker and opens the interviewer up.

Know the company

Interviewers always ask about the company. Research:
  • Core values / principles / morals
  • Company structure i.e. business divisions, hierarchy etc
  • News articles e.g press releases from the companies website or search for the company in Google News. This is important so that you can comment on something read in the company’s annual report, web page or latest news report.
  • You may also want to read about other companies in the same field and update yourself on what is happening currently in this field even though it may not be related to the company you are applying to.
  • Why did you choose this company?
  • Have you heard about us in the news recently?

Know the industry

  • Learn banking jargon e.g. what is an investment bank, stock, bond, share, risk etc. (I was once asked to define an investment bank)
  • What are the main problems facing banks today?
  • Future of banking? (globalisation maybe? More mergers)

Know yourself

Be confident in your abilities and sell yourself! Keep in mind that there are hundreds of candidates applying and you need to make yourself stand out and be remembered.
  • Tell me about yourself (very open ended question: you have to give a brief history of your life including university, work, extracurriculars)
  • Why do you want to work in IT? (be passionate e.g. I like the rapid pace of change of this field, you can’t predict where it will go in the future; I love learning new cutting edge technologies)
  • Why should we hire you? (Sell yourself with lots of keywords: ambitious, energetic, adaptive, versatile, juggle multiple priorities, enthusiastic, an agent of change, I like to be stretched and challenged, I’m the best!)
  • What motivates you? (self motivated, recognition, good work atmosphere, work colleagues etc but NOT money)
  • Why did you choose to do a Masters in this degree?
  • Why did you choose a bank and not an IT company? (I’m interested in the financial world too)
  • What are your short / long term goals in life?
  • What are your strengths / weaknesses? (Strengths: flexibility, teamwork Weaknesses: Everyone has weaknesses, don't say you don't have any! Say how you combat your weakness. e.g. I get nervous during presentations but I always prepare well beforehand)
  • How do you measure your success?
  • How important is money to you? (not very)
  • What are your extra curricular activities?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • Work experience

Team Work

Companies are looking for team players, so expect lots of questions on team work.
  • Describe a project
  • What was your role in the team?
  • How do you handle conflicts?
  • What makes a good team? (a good balance of characters)
  • Desribe a situation in which others in the team did not agree with you. How did you persuade them to see things from your perspective?
  • Describe something that went wrong or a wrong decision you made and what you learned from your mistakes? (Everyone makes mistakes but you have to say what you learnt from them and how they made you stronger)
  • Are you a team player or do you enjoy individual research?
  • How do you handle multiple jobs with conflicting deadlines?

Know the Technology

You have to be well-versed in various technologies especially for a technical interview. Common questions are asked on:
  • Java (especially Threading and Collections)
  • XML / XSLT
  • Web Services and Technologies (e.g. .NET, SOAP)
  • UNIX vs Windows
  • Databases - SQL and Oracle
  • Security issues (e.g. in Wireless Networks)
  • E-Commerce and e-banking
  • .NET vs J2EE
  • What factors would you consider in choosing a programming language (e.g. Java or C++)?
  • Recent Viruses (e.g. Slammer had a big effect)
  • Outsourcing (most banks do it)
  • UML
  • Open Source
  • Up and coming technologies that will have a big impact in the future e.g. AJAX, Ruby, Linux
  • Read recent tech news items - check out my del.ici.ous page for technology links

Brain Busters

These questions are asked in order to find out whether you are able to think quickly and under pressure. I hate them! The trick is to keep talking about what you are thinking / reasoning. Do not sit quietly while you try to solve the question in your head. The ones I got were:
  • If you were an animal what animal would you be and why?
  • What is the cube root of 81?
  • How many tennis balls were used in the Wimbledon Men’s Singles tournament?
  • How many pennies can you fill in this room?
  • Why are man-hole covers round? (so that they don't fall in)


I know that you will be relieved when the interview is over, but do NOT run away quickly. Stay relaxed and thank the interviewer for his/her time. Say that you enjoyed talking to him/her and have learnt a great deal about the company and that you would love to work there. Its always good to have some questions to ask. I have found that interviewers like to be asked questions about themselves! Be nosy about their life:
  • How did you end up working here?
  • What do you like most about working here?

If you have their email address send them a thank-you email as soon as you get home.

Good luck with the interview and if you have any further questions, don't hesitate to ask me!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:29 PM

    Thanks a lot for providing the interview tips.
    I have my first round interview tomorrow for GTO and this has helped with my preparation.


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