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Fit questions in Investment Banking interviews: the ultimate guide



Fit or behavioral questions are an integral part of an Investment Banking interview. These questions are about figuring out whether you are a hardworking individual, whether you are a bearable person and whether we can imagine working with you for 16 hours a day. That’s the main point. Can we work with this person? Will that person fit into the team? We are looking for someone who understands what they are applying for and what they are getting themselves into. If you are unsure, veer more on the compliant and non-combative side. The worst thing to happen is to hire somebody who constantly argues, knows everything better and just brings chaos into the team.


People tend not to take these questions seriously because there are no clear right or wrong answers. Since it’s not clear cut, they think they can just wing it or give a generic answer. Yes, there is some wiggle room, but there are more convincing and less convincing answers. So, don’t underestimate these types of questions. They require a lot of preparation before the actual interview. You can’t walk into an interview and just wing it. You can’t just ramble what comes to your mind. You need to have your stories laid out ahead of time. Not having your fit questions laid out is one of the most common interview mistakes.

Fit and behavioral questions can be structured into five different parts:

  1. Your story

  2. Strengths and weaknesses

  3. Leadership questions

  4. Commitment questions

  5. Do you have any questions?

If you are looking for an interview cheat sheet, here are the 42 most common interview questions.



1. Your story


Fit questions usually start with “your story”. This breaks down into two components:

  • Why Investment Banking?

  • Why us or why this bank specifically?

You go from the broader industry down to the more specific bank itself. “Why Investment Banking” is about how you fit into the broader industry. “Why us” is about how you fit into that specific bank you are applying for.

This is where you have to do your research and link all your recent experiences to Investment Banking related tasks. “Telling your story” is about describing how your past experiences relate to the job tasks of the position you are trying to apply for. Here is how to tackle that:

Variations of these questions might be “walk me through your CV”, “why should we hire you”, “why Investment Banking” or “why us”. You can use the same content to answer those questions. Start with “why Investment Banking” as the broader industry. Then, move on to “why this specific bank”. If you are having difficulties telling selling your story, you probably have not understood what you are applying for in detail. This means that you have to go back and understand the highlights of your past work experiences and research Investment Banking job tasks in more detail. This is the research work you have to do to craft your story.



Why Investment Banking?

Here is a bit of inspiration depending on your background:


From finance classes to IB: You’ve got intrigued by concepts of company valuation and financial statements analysis. You are intrigued by how financial metrics, such as revenues or EBITDA, can summarize a company’s size, profitability and performance, making them comparable to one another. You know that M&A is about selling and buying companies. You hope to apply your academic knowledge to help the team by conducting simple financial statement analysis. From Transaction Services to IB: You have worked in Transaction Services, which supports M&A transactions by compiling and harmonizing financial data. This gave you a solid accounting foundation, which you can now use to move into a more deal-making role. You are more interested in learning how deals are made because it’s the most interesting part. You can help the team with financial statement analysis as you are very familiar with accounting, thanks to drafting financial due diligence reports. From Management Consulting to IB: Management Consulting gave you a good understanding of business models. However, you lack the financial and accounting part. You want to learn more about companies as an entire entity vs. “launching a new shampoo brand in a niche market”. Your ability to quickly understand and structure ideas into flawless PowerPoint slides will ease the transition, as Investment Bankers rely heavily on PowerPoint as well.

As you can see, you highlight the commonalities, but then say what your current options lack vs. an Investment Banking job. This is what you can bring to the table (commonalties) and this is what you wish to learn (what Investment Banking has and the other options don’t).



Why us or why this bank specifically?


After talking about the industry, you now turn towards the specific bank you are applying for. Here are a couple of reasons to cite in an interview why you might be a good fit for that bank in particular:


The people – The people you’ve met at campus recruiting [or wherever]. Investment Banking is a relationship business. Showing that you’ve talked to staff members to learn more about the company demonstrates that you can build relationships. This makes it an easier sell if you can say: “I’ve talked to [insert Bro-Analyst], one of your Analysts. He really gave me a positive impression of your company culture. I like your collaborative work style and responsibilities you give to interns once they have proven themselves”. The first sentence makes it 10x more credible. Don’t just recite recruiting marketing material. You got to dig up some more dirt and understand what type of people end up working there (HINT: use LinkedIn for your research).


The type of transactions and industry – Know the bank, type of transactions and industry you’ll be working on. Look at the recent transactions. “I’ve seen that you are particularly strong in the industrials sector for M&A transactions based on your recent transaction history. This is a vertical where I can see myself starting out because it offers a great opportunity to understand business models and learn the craft”. If it’s an industry team, say three reasons why you think that industry is cool. If it’s middle-market M&A, say why you like transaction-based business of small and medium companies better vs. mega deals. Why you like XYZ = three detailed points summarizing XYZ demonstrating that you know what you are talking about.


Bulge brackets – Say something along the lines that you like the size of the bank, which supports bigger transactions, such [mega deal 1] and [mega deal 2]. It would be exciting to get a peek at such large deals and to learn more about the specific industries the bank covers. You understand that only large institutions offer such specialization and opportunities as opposed to smaller boutiques, where you just work on mandates the boutique wins.


For boutiques – Say you really like working in smaller groups, where you will have a greater impact. You know it may mean longer hours because there are fewer people. On the other hand, you value the more familiar and entrepreneurial environment vs. a big bank.


Answering “why us” or “why this bank specifically” is about doing your research about the specific bank you are trying to apply for and telling them that you know what you are getting yourself into. You do so by learning as much about the institution as you can. Try to understand what type of people work there as well as what type of industries and deals they are known for.



2. Strength and weaknesses


Next, we will most likely talk about your “strengths and weaknesses” to check whether you are a humble, hardworking and non-combative candidate.


DON’T take this question by the world and try to answer it with your logical brain. It does not work like that. This question is a pure sales exercise where you say what the interviewer wants to hear.


DON’T discredit yourself by being “honest” and highlighting a character flaw. If you look at it from a sales perspective, it’s a self-awareness test to sniff out overconfident candidates and whether you know what you are applying for. The correct way to answer this question involves citing an unrelated weakness and redirecting attention to what YOU bring to the table. Don’t kill your application with a character flaw.


DON’T explicitly tell that you are hardworking, for example. Show that you are hardworking with a story. Again, everything you highlight should somehow tie into Investment Banking job tasks. Your top-ranked GPA might be proof that you are hardworking or that one group work where you had to cover the entire work because your teammates were slacking. Show proof that you are hardworking. Don’t just tell that you are hardworking.



BAD examples


“I tend to lose myself in details” – No, you are supposed to work in a structured and efficient way. Not boiling the ocean and doing redundant work.


“I’m a perfectionist” – No, you are a beginner professional. Nothing wrong with starting out. But we are pretty sure we have to triple-check your work not to get fired because your “perfectionist” work will be full of typos and formatting errors.


“I’m not a morning person” – Oh ok, so you’re going to miss a red-eye flight to the client. Great.


“Sometimes I can be too overeager” – Just stop. That’s creepy. Just wait until you are crushed with work and have to work 16h straight. Then, you are not that eager anymore.


“I tend to be impatient” – Oh, does that mean you are hot-tempered and start an argument with the client or drop passive-aggressive comments?

In all these examples, you took it by the word to find a weakness/character flaw. However, you have just discredited yourself by highlighting a weakness that might be a deal-breaker.



GOOD examples


Not having specific industry experience – I know that I’m a student without much prior experience or even specific industry experience. It probably means that I will go through a transition period from academic output to professional output. But I bring good grades, which is proof of my strong work ethic — a highly valued quality for this line of work. Plus, I have done my research and know what I’m getting myself into with M&A.


Not having an Investment Banking internship – I know that my recent internships are not within Investment Banking compared to other promising candidates. However, with my background in Big4 Transaction Services/Valuation, I have a solid understanding of accounting/valuation that will ease the transition into Investment Banking. I really want to progress from due diligence work into understanding how deals are made.


Working on improving attention to detail – With my internship in M&A, I have already developed a good understanding of M&A and what typical Analyst does. However, as you probably know, every intern can improve their attention to detail skills to the point where my Analyst does not have to check my work so much. With the M&A experience I bring, I’m sure it will ease my transition into your company.



As you can see, the pattern is identical with all three examples: 1) This is where I’m coming from. 2) This is how it’s different (aka your weakness). 3) But this is what I bring from my past experiences that is relevant to the position I’m trying to apply for (the spin and commonalities). By doing so, you demonstrate self-awareness and humbleness. You cite a “true” weakness without discrediting yourself. You show how your past experiences link to the position you are applying for, both in terms of differences and commonalities. You demonstrate that you know what you are doing (aka I did my research). It’s like comparing your past experiences to your new position and highlighting the commonalities. Don’t take the question by the word. Don’t discredit yourself by citing a character flaw. It’s a sales exercise.



3. Leadership questions


We all know those fuzzy questions: Tell me about a situation where you had to manage a group of people. Tell me about a situation where you had to convince someone to do something they didn’t want to do. Tell me about a project and your impact. These questions can be a bit overwhelming. If you don’t really know what the interviewer is asking for, you might be a little bit thrown off. You don’t want to come off as too overconfident. But also, you don’t want to downplay your achievements.

Leadership questions are where you can show that you are a self-starter and that you figure things out by yourself. Instead of memorizing generic answers to a host of questions, it’s more helpful to pick one to three stories and prepare them in detail. With a detailed story, you can then highlight different angles depending on the question. The answer to leadership questions should be more concise than narrative. Stick to the following format: Problem > solution > lesson learned.

Generally, there are three themes when it comes to leadership questions:

  • being able to work collaboratively in a team,

  • salesmanship and

  • proactively taking care of items without being told to so



Being able to work collaboratively in a team


This is about working collaboratively instead of “my idea is better and I am smarter than you”. You work in a team. You drive consensus. You keep your team members happy and willing to work. Don’t be the douchebag who discusses and micromanages everything. Don’t be that guy who makes a fuss about being “right” and “making a point”. Example: You are interning for around 2 months at a bank. A new intern starts. You are tasked with the same assignment. You are expected to take the lead. The correct way to do this is to be inclusive. You suggest things based on company conventions. However, you always add “if you have any ideas, please feel free to chip in”. If the new intern has a good idea, give him credit and say “you are right”. If you made an error, admit it: “you were right; I made a mistake there”. This will make the new intern feel respected and accountable. He will not revolt and is willing to work and cooperate. You will not argue authoritatively. He may end up throwing you under the bus out of resentment. Bad for you and the company.


Salesmanship

This is about convincing a person to do something they are reluctant to do while focusing on the process of convincing that person. Or to rephrase it: You figure out what the other person is after. You try to connect his view to your view. If there is enough common ground, you have a deal. Example: During your internship, your Analyst proposes a structure for a deck. You start working. You figure out it’s better to change the structure. Now you don’t just walk to your experienced Analyst and say “bro, we need to change the structure”. Instead, you say “There is something I would like to discuss with you. Do you see the problem based on [supporting data 1] and [supporting data 2]? I would suggest changing the structure because this will likely enhance the quality of the deck because of [reason 1] and [reason 2]”. You have successfully sold your idea with a supporting rationale while not trashing your Analyst’s initial structure.



Proactively taking care of items without being told to


Your job is to save your team time. You do so by taking care of items without being told to do so. That’s how you reduce friction during daily operations. And that’s what you should be highlighting for entrepreneurial drive questions. Example: As you start as an intern, you support your team with simple tasks such as printing and binding with zero errors. You do so without complaining because it’s part of the job. Then you gradually progress into submitting company profiles. Then the tasks become more significant because you take care of the entire item vs. just a few slides here and there. You demonstrate task ownership. You proactively ask clarifying questions and take care of any issues that stand in the way of completion. Leadership questions are about being able to work collaboratively in a team, salesmanship and proactively taking care of items without being told to. It’s better to prepare 1-3 stories in detail. The details will make the stories fit for multiple situations. Don’t just memorize a host of generic answers. Details will make your story credible. The interviewer will nod and move on.



4. Commitment questions


Commitment questions are those trick questions you get during the superday or final rounds of interviews with Managing Directors. Those questions can throw you off-guard and potentially kill the entire application (you will get ghosted) after the ordeal you went through. That’s when a Managing Director out of nowhere pops out “would you accept an offer?”, “what would you do with an offer from Goldman” or “why not bulge bracket”?


These are all trick questions and another sales exercise. Until you have an offer, you need an offer. That’s why you have to signal commitment. You can still ask for a couple of days of consideration and push signing back a little bit AFTER you receive the offer. However, on the spot, you have to signal commitment and explain why the option you are interviewing for is the best option for you.


Managing Directors want to grow their business in a non-risky way. The last thing they need is a potential new hire, who might reject his offer or who might quit after 6 months. This is the worst thing that could happen. Recruiting and on-the-job training are expensive and associated with a lot of sunk costs.



5. “Do you have any questions?”


“Do you have any questions?” is how interviews are usually wound down. You have almost made it. It’s a cue that the interview is nearing its end and your opportunity to position yourself as a compelling candidate.


It’s your opportunity to build rapport, escalate the interview into a more casual conversation and end the interview on a positive note. The worst case is not having any questions at all and just leaving. That signals disinterest and that you are more interested in other options. In other words, you always have questions.


You can build rapport by asking Senior Bankers about a memorable deal and how they want to grow their business. On the other hand, you can ask Junior Bankers about their career choices or quality of life. Anything you ask should be related to the interview. So, pay attention to the interview and take notes.


At the end of each interview, you should have a set of questions prepared and bucketed into two groups: non-revenue generating and revenue-generating staff. By doing so, you will make a better connection with both junior and Senior Bankers, as they have different interests.


Non-revenue generating Junior Bankers – Analysts and Associates


Junior Bankers are primarily interested in how you fit in because they have to deal with you 12h-16h a day. This is an appropriate time to ask about lifestyle and culture at the firm.

  • If they started at the firm as an Analyst, ask about their progression to making Associate. What challenges did you overcome since you’ve entered the company?

  • If it’s an Associate who was directly promoted, ask what made you stay longer with the firm?

  • Contrary, if it’s an Associate that switched, ask him about the drivers for his move.

  • What is the size of the team that you’ll be directly working with? How many Interns, Analysts and Associates are there?

  • Excluding the people you work with, tell me what you enjoy most about the job and the firm

  • I saw the bank participated in [insert recent transaction]. If I was working on a similar transaction, what responsibilities would you expect me to take on? What would an Analyst or Associate usually do?

  • Can you tell me a bit about your deal flow and what types of mandates you are working on? What about industries?

  • Tell me about your most memorable mandate or deal experience?



Revenue-generating Senior Bankers – VPs and upwards

On the other hand, revenue generators only care about expanding their business with low risks. If you ask lifestyle questions to higher-ups, they will think you are lazy. Here are some examples:

  • Can you talk a bit about your deal flow? Do you have a lot of sourcing activities (pitching) or is there a strong base of repeat clients you work with?

  • I have read about your [most recent MEGA deal], where Company X was sold to Private Equity Z. Can you give me a Senior Banker’s perspective? What were the challenges and transaction drivers?

  • From your host of experiences, can you tell me a memorable deal experience? The funniest or most challenging. Something that sticks on your mind

  • Where do you see your company going in the next foreseeable future? Maybe from your perspective, the biggest challenge you see and the biggest opportunities

At minimum, you have prepared and rehearsed questions. Better, you paid attention during the interview and asked questions related to the conversation you’ve just had. When you are asking your rehearsed questions, listen to what they say and try to add to the conversation. Show that you’re interested in the people and firm. Make them talk about themselves.

Where does it leave us?


Fit or behavioral questions are an integral part of an Investment Banking interview. Don’t underestimate these questions. We want to figure out whether you know what you are applying for and whether you are a bearable person to work with the entire day. Can we work with you? Are you going to fit into the team?


Take these questions as seriously as your technical questions. Yes, they are different. There is no clear right or wrong answer. However, you still need to have a strong grip on your story to consistently pass Investment Banking interviews. Don’t just wing it. Prepare your stories and research the bank ahead of time.


To recap, here are the main building blocks of your fit and behavioral questions:

  • Your story – Link your past experiences to Investment Banking jobs tasks and sell yourself as a compelling candidate. Research the shop you are applying for to show that you know what you are doing

  • Strengths and weaknesses – Don’t pick a weakness that will kill your application. Pick a legit weakness that shows that you are willing to learn, such as trying to work on attention to detail if you are still junior

  • Leadership questions – Pick stories to highlight your ability to collaboratively work in teams and that you can get things done proactively without being told three times

  • Commitment questions – If you don’t have an offer, you need an offer. So, you always have to signal that you will accept the offer if you are put at point-blank

  • Do you have any questions?” – Ask Senior Bankers about a memorable deal and how they want to grow their business. Ask Junior Bankers about their career choices or quality of life at the firm. This is your chance to show your interest in the company. Don’t just say no and walk away

If you are just starting to interview, you might feel a bit odd and say to yourself that you just “want to be yourself”. But that’s not how interviewing works. You are there to do business. You are there to win a job. In other words, you are there to make a deal. You get paid by building rapport and selling yourself as a competent, hardworking and non-combative candidate. Start selling yourself. Build bridges. That’s what interviewing is all about.

Additional resources


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