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How to tell “your story” in an Investment Banking interview

“Your story” is an essential part of the fit questions you will encounter in an Investment Banking interview. “Your story” can be broken down into “Why Investment Banking?” and “Why our bank?”. You start with the more general industry and then move to more company specific points. “Why Investment Banking?” and “Why our bank?” are two very common interview questions. You will 100% get those two questions right at the beginning of every interview. Regardless of whether you are interviewing for Investment Banking, Private Equity, Consulting or Tech. It’s pretty much the default way to start an interview. Variations are “Tell me about yourself” or “Walk me through your resume”. They are essentially the same questions. You can use the same content to answer them.

This is your time to shine. This is the moment you have training for. This is your time to sell yourself as a compelling candidate. This is a high-stakes situation. So, make sure you have a well-thought-out and authentic answer. Make sure you highlight all of your relevant accomplishments without sounding too rehearsed. Preparation is key. The last thing you want is to fumble and stutter when you finally get a chance in the spotlight.

Having been through multiple recruiting processes, both as candidate and interviewer, we have seen the entire range of responses. From suave and convincing to completely unprepared with no clue what they were interviewing for. Notice that we said “unprepared”. Everyone can sell themselves as a promising candidate. Build your profile and put in the work. That’s what we truly believe in. It’s all about preparation and researching the firm and position you are applying for.

How to sell yourself as a compelling candidate

“Telling your story” is about describing how your past experiences relate to the job tasks of the position you are interviewing for. If you are having difficulties telling selling your story, you probably have not understood what you are applying for in detail – by detail, we mean down to the job tasks level.

Interviewing is the first time when you have to sell yourself. Nobody taught you how. Your college courses did not teach you how. There is no right or wrong answer like in an exam. There are, however, more convincing and less convincing answers. In other words, there is no black and white. There are shades of grey. There is some wiggle room, but the more you know about the industry and the bank you are interviewing at, the more of an edge you will have. In other words, you figure out what your employer wants to hear from a promising candidate and you say exactly that.

Here is a three-step process to tackle this problem:

  1. Research all job tasks from the position you are interviewing for,

  2. understand your past experiences and

  3. link those two together by highlighting the commonalities.

1. Research all job tasks of the position you are interviewing for

You should understand what M&A Investment Banking is all about. This baseline understanding of the industry will help you craft your story.

Here is a high-level overview: M&A Investment Banking is about selling and buying companies for your client. It’s a transaction-based business. The bank gets paid only if the transaction is completed. If you are on the sell-side, you are trying to sell a company for the shareholders that mandated your bank. If you are on the buy-side, your shareholders have tasked you with finding companies they would like to buy. Investment Bankers facilitate the transaction process by structuring the transaction process, taking care of valuation, identifying potential buyers and taking care that all necessary data is compiled for the transaction to move forward.

As an intern, you will be doing a lot of research, data gathering, company profiles and compiling lists. You will be working a lot in Excel and PowerPoint. Once you have proven yourself, you will gradually move into valuation: spreading comps and comparable transactions. So, anything that can be linked with accounting, valuation methods, Excel and PowerPoint work, attention to detail, work endurance or drive will all be good points to back up your story.

After researching the industry, research the firm you are applying for. Look at their website. What type of deals do they do? In what vertical are they active? What’s the background of their Analysts and Associates on LinkedIn? The more information you gather, the better. The more you know about a particular shop, the more you can talk about the shop and demonstrate why you want to work there. The more details you dig up, the more likely the interviewer will see the effort you have made.

2. Understand your past experiences

Sit down. Take a piece of paper and think about your CV. Think about your profile. Take a closer look at your CV. What college activities tie in with finance? Any accounting, finance or valuation classes that may serve as your spark? Take a look at your internships and think about the 3-4 highlights that tie in with Investment Banking. Make a long list and then narrow things down to the 3-4 best bullets that you can talk about a little bit. These are your highlights. This is what you bring to the table. Going through this preparation process will help you develop a better understanding of how you can tell your story.

Don’t talk about superficial stuff. Be honest with yourself. Don’t oversell yourself. We have been in your position when we were younger. So, don’t try to oversell us on your fluff. Ask yourself, what did you do exactly and how does it relate to Investment Banking? Did you use databases to compile data for research? Did you present your research? Was there a project where you gained exposure to actual financial statements? Now is the time to dig up all the dirt and sort things out. The more meticulous you are, the more confident and authentic your story will be. “Authenticity” is just digging up more dirt and being able to fluently talk about a subject longer than somebody who is “just winging it”.

3. Link those two together by highlighting the commonalities

Now that you have an understanding of your profile and the specific job tasks, think about the top 3-4 points or experiences that support your story. Your 3-4 points that link the best to Investment Banking job tasks. Your 3-4 reasons why you are a compelling candidate. Not more. Don’t make the common mistake of rambling about your experiences in chronological order. You don’t need to mention every small detail or small project that does not influence your overall profile. People will not understand your case and think you don’t know what you are interviewing for. You have to make it as easy as possible for the interviewer to understand why you want to work for that bank in particular. Pick your biggest drivers. Pick your 3-4 highlights that match with Investment Banking job tasks. Again, pick the highlights. Not your random stream of consciousness.

Next, the proper way to sell is to *show* that you are hardworking. Don’t just *say* that you are hardworking or dedicated. This is just fluff. Add information on your background to support your “thesis” of being hardworking. If your GPA is high and you are top of your class, highlight that you are hardworking and detail orientated. Your high GPA is proof of that because it is an indicator of effort over time. On the other hand, if you are a student and have relevant internships, focus on relevant experiences that tie into Investment Banking. Highlight the points where your past work experience overlapped with Investment Banking job tasks. That’s how you *show* your interest in finance-related topics.

If you are already a professional with more than two years of experience, nobody cares about your finance club in college. Then, you should be shifting towards how your deal experience matches with your new job. Again, pick 3-4 highlights that match with Investment Banking job tasks and the deal flow of the shop you are interviewing for. This is how you connect your profile with the relevant job tasks. It’s about researching what your specific bank wants to hear from a promising candidate.

HINT: Never bring up anything bad during your interview. Don’t address your weak GPA, lack of internships or any gaps in your resume. This is your time to sell yourself and to position yourself as a compelling candidate. Don’t kill your momentum by proactively raising potential speed bumps. You are on the sell-side. However, you should be prepared to answer clarifying questions and defend your past decisions if asked.

Examples: Why Investment Banking?

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 that knowledge in conducting simple financial statement analysis to help the team.

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 all those financial due diligence reports.

From Management Consulting to IB

Management Consulting gave you a good understanding of business models. However, it lacks the finance and accounting part. You want to learn more about companies as an entire entity vs “launching a new shampoo brand in a niche market”. You don’t really know what happens to your work because once the project is done, you leave. Investment Banking is about executing an actual transaction, where you see an actual outcome of your work. Your ability to quickly understand and structure ideas into flawless PowerPoint slides will ease the transition, as Investment Bankers also heavily rely on PowerPoint.

Examples: Why us or why our bank in particular?

The people you’ve met at campus recruiting events [or wherever]

Investment Banking is a relationship business. By demonstrating that you’ve talked to staff members to learn more about the company demonstrates that you can build relationships. Makes it an easier sell if you can say: “I’ve talked to [insert name of Bro-Analyst], one of your Analysts. He gave me a positive impression of your company culture as well as an understanding of the roles of interns and Analysts. I like your collaborative work style and the responsibilities you give to interns once they have proven themselves. I see that you are currently looking for interns.” The first sentence makes it 10x more credible. Don’t just recite recruiting marketing material. You got to dig up some more dirt by talking to some people in the industry.

Know the bank, type of transactions and industry you’ll be working on

Look at their recent transactions. “I’ve seen that you are particularly strong in the industrials sector based on your transaction history. As a student, I think it’s a great segment to start because you see the final product vs tech and software, which are both more abstract.” 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 the transaction-based business of small and medium companies better vs. mega deals. It’s more entrepreneurial and you actually get to know the shareholders. Why you like XYZ = three detailed points that summarize XYZ demonstrating that you know what you are talking about.

Bulge bracket vs boutique

For bulge brackets say something along the lines that you like the size of the bank, which supports bigger transactions, such [insert mega deal 1] and [insert mega deal 2]. It would be exciting to get a peek at such large deals. For boutiques say: You really like working in smaller groups, where you can have a greater impact. You know it may mean longer hours. There is less staff, so everyone counts. On the other hand, you value the more familiar and entrepreneurial environment vs. a more anonymous big bank.

In short: Do your research and say what they want to hear

You may ask yourself whether you are lying if you are spinning and twisting your story around. To be blunt, do you want the job or do you want to interview some more? Your personal opinion does NOT matter. You are here to do business. To make money, you say what they want to hear and highlight the things you have in common. You are only lying if you are over-promising and under-delivering (aka a rip-off).

To debunk this myth even more, say, you are interviewing at a boutique, but deep down you want bulge bracket. If you are only left with your boutique, you will gladly work there. So, it's not lying. It's just focusing the attention on commonalities and trying to highlight them. You are trying to sell yourself as a promising candidate. There is nothing wrong with it. We all have to start somewhere. Get over it. Start selling yourself. Build bridges. That's what interviewing is all about.

Do you see the big theme? It’s taking what you have and spinning it into tasks relevant to Investment Banking. If you are having difficulties selling yourself, you probably have not understood what you are applying for in detail and need to do some more research. It's not lying. Either you say what they want to hear and sell yourself properly or you will end up interviewing a lot longer than you would like.

Additional resources

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