Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Know Your Audience

We've spoken with readers who over the last recruiting cycle interviewed with Blackstone, JP Morgan, BoA/Merrill, Goldman Sachs, and others.

These were applicants who ranked at the top of their classes at target schools. Their resumes and cover letters were in top shape, yet they still didn't land offers.

What was the problem?

As good as these candidates looked on paper, they did not understand their audience -- the interviewers.

Here are some important insights on unsuccessful answers to the commonly asked questions in finance interviews.

(1) Why investment banking?
Unsuccessful responses:
"I want to work in an environment where I have social impact -- and given the level of capital and advisory services that your bank offers to clients, I will be in a great position to influence the financing decisions of clients."

"I like the excitement of working with smart people and contributing my background in science to conducting rigorous due diligence on target firms."

These responses, though true, do not convince the interviewers that you understand the significance of your role. Yes, banks in theory do have a social impact, but this is a macro-level view of IBD. The second answer is much more on a micro-level, but it doesn't convey a full perspective of what the IBD role entails.

In our experience, it's essential to communicate that you understand the nature of the IBD role. Here's a strong answer to the question (note that this response is more or less what we said to land offers at GS and other firms):

"As an analyst, I'm looking forward to excelling in a team culture where I get to deliver the highest-level quality in advisory and financing solutions to a broad base of clients. Moreover, from speaking with alumni who work here, I am confident that I will find the work intellectually simulating for the following three reasons..."

(2) Why Blackstone/JP Morgan/another firm?
Unsuccessful responses.
"Your firm is versatile in its specialties - from IBD to risk management."

"Blackstone is always on the top of the league tables."

If you're too broad, it becomes apparent to the interviewers that you didn't do intensive research on the bank and its reputation among those who work there.

If you're too specific, you risk the chance of being completely wrong. As the financial landscape changes, it's important to have the most current, up-to-date information on how the firm stands out.

The best way to understand your audience is to talk to people who work at the firm - get on the phone and speak with alums, friends of friends, and the like. You will pick up on what is important to employees, senior management, and ultimately your interviewers.

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