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  • Writer's pictureOverheard on Wall Street

Top 5 Wall Street Interview Tips

Achieve the extra in extraordinary interviews



I had a lot of interviews going through investment banking and private equity recruiting, but I’ve spent even more time in my life interviewing candidates. Here are my top 5 interview tips:

(1) Look the Part and Set the Tone of the Interview From the Start

When you meet your interviewer, shake their hand firmly and say it’s nice to meet you, followed by their name. So if John is your interviewer, after you shake John’s hand. Say: "Its nice to meet you John."

It shows that you are a confident person and also makes your interviewer feel special because you said their name.

Secondly, get a really nice resume folder and have your resume printed on some high quality paper. 

One of my fellow investment banking analysts currently works at one of the best private equity firms in the world. 

He would always go out of his way to get the best accessories for his private equity interviews. He had a monogrammed resume folder, had glossed paper for his resume and this black and golden pen.

We all made fun of him in the bullpen, but he did make a good first impression when he walked into his interview. How you look and what you are carrying is your first impression so make sure you make a good one.

Also, if the interviewer tells you something about themselves or the position, make sure you are taking notes. It shows that you care and also makes a good impression.

(2) Don’t Have Anything on Your Resume Unless You Can’t Talk About it For At Least a 2 Minutes

I once got asked about a project I had listed on my resume that I worked on during my freshman year of college. I was getting grilled hard on the numbers and I couldn’t really remember it properly. This should never happen in an interview. If you have something on your resume, you should be able to talk about it for at least a couple of minutes.

A good practice is to go through every bullet in your resume and write out a paragraph or two on it.

I will point out that interests are one of the most important parts of your resume. 

Almost every interview I ever had, I got asked about my interests and everyone I ever interviewed I asked about their interests. This is a chance for you to showcase your personality, let it shine and show them you'd be a great person to have around the office.

Make sure to have really good and even funny answers to your interests. I remember this one guy I interviewed, he had “hot sauce” listed as one of his interests in his resume. I was so intrigued that it was the first question I asked him. And he went off, talking about how he collects hot sauces, and how he’s tried nearly every hot sauce in the world. And the fact that I am writing about this guy many years later should tell how important having interests with good stories are.

Lastly on resumes, don't ever mention or refer to a resume in an interview. You should never say the phrase “if you look at my resume.” The resume does not exist in the interview. It’s your job to explain what is on your resume, it’s not your interviewers job to look at your resume while they are in a room with you.

(3) The 2 Most Important Questions in Every Interview are: 1) Tell Me About Yourself? 2) Why Do You Want to Join this Firm?

Remember interview decisions are made in the first couple of minutes so the first answer you give is the most important.

At my private equity firm, I remember doing a first round interview with a candidate and I asked him “tell me about yourself.” and he gave me such an amazing answer in 2 minutes that in my head I was thinking wow this is best answer I have ever heard and this is going to be really hard to top...

We interviewed over 50 candidates and yes he was the one who finally got the job. He made such a good first impression that honestly even if he messed up later in the interview it wouldn't have mattered as much. So here is how you answer the tell me about yourself question:

You want to structure it in 3 parts.

  1. Give a bit of background on yourself, where you are from, grew up where you went to college etc.

  2. This is the meat of the answer. Here you talk about how you first became interested in whatever you are interviewing for, and then what exactly you did for that interest. So if you are interviewing for an investment banking job, you can say something like: "I first became interested in investment banking when one of my best friends got an internship at an investment bank." Then you talk about any relevant steps you took to break into banking which would include all your internships and any other relevant steps you took e.g. taking a financial modeling course.

  3. You end by saying something like: "I am really excited to be here today. Your firm is a place where I would love to have to have a career and i am happy to walk you through the reasons why!"

Then 99% of the times, your interviewer will say: "Yes please do," which brings us to the second most important question: Why do you want to join this firm?

You need to have 3 good reasons why you want to join that specific firm, that show that you have done your research.

You should scan their entire website and find a few things that stand out or make the firm unique that you can use for reason (1) and (2).

For (3), it would be ideal if you have spoken to someone in the firm, and say that "I spoke to person X and they told me about the fantastic culture at the firm that i would love to be part of."

Talking to a person at the firm really differentiates you as it shows that you 1) took initiative 2) are genuinely interested in that specific firm.

If you haven't talked to anyone then just make sure all your 3 reasons are well thought out and show that you have done research. Please do not give generic answers, unless you never want to get a call back from them

(4) Ask Good Questions at the End that are Tailor-made to the Interviewer 

Remember, it’s okay to ask 6-7 questions at the end of the interview. Whenever a candidate asked me more questions than normal, I would always think wow this person is really interested in me and working at this firm. So don’t be afraid to ask a bunch of questions including some fun ones.

Now what are good questions? Good questions are the questions someone may not have thought about before.

For you to ask good questions, you also need to do some research on your interviewer. Look up their LinkedIn and think about the reasons they made some of their life choices. For example, if someone did an MBA, ask something like "why did you decide to do an MBA and how did it impact your life?" Or ask for advice. Remember people love talking about themselves so if you give a reason for your interviewer to talk, they will like you more.

(5) Treat Interviews Like Conversations and Not Interviews

Thinking about the big picture, especially if it's a big interview, will make you super nervous. The mindset you should go into every interview is that today is a great opportunity for me to learn about a new person and possibly even make a friend. Enjoy telling the other person about yourself and be interested in what they have to say. Do not think about getting the job.

It is also totally okay to ask your interviewer questions back. If your interviewer asks "how you spend your free time?" It is okay to say "how about you" once you finish your answer. Again remember people love to talk about themselves, and if you give someone a reason to talk about themselves, they will remember you and they will like you.

I remember when I had my super day for my investment banking internship, I met so many good candidates at the cocktail event the night before, that I was like there is almost a zero chance I get this internship. I just went in every interview with a big smile on my face, wanting to learn as much as possible about the person that was interviewing me. I think I probably asked them more questions than they asked me. I left every interview feeling like i had had a great conversation, not a great interview and that was the secret to getting the job.

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