Advice > Finance

15 investment banking interview tips (how to stand out)

By Jonathon Yarde on June 17, 2022 How we wrote this article
investment banking interview tips

Below you’ll find a list of 15 powerful investment banking interview tips.

We compiled this list after analyzing data from over 240 interview candidates at Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Morgan Stanley.

So if you want actionable tactics to help you stand out in your investment banking interviews, then you’re in the right place. 

Let’s get started!

Click here to practice 1-on-1 with IB ex-interviewers

Tip #1: Be prepared to discuss 1-2 deals in depth

Real-world deals come up frequently in investment banking interviews, as interviewers want to see if candidates really understand the industry and the important things to consider when looking at a deal. 

So, you should prepare to discuss a couple of recent IB transactions in depth. Be ready to give your opinion on whether the deal was a good (or bad) move, and memorize some key numbers to back up your analysis. If you’re applying for a particular group within your target firm, make sure you prepare to discuss deals that are relevant to that group. 

You can find information about recent deals by reading the Investment Banking section of the Financial Times, which frequently covers stories involving leading firms.

Tip #2: Get your industry highlight reel ready

You never want to be taken off guard by an interview question about the current state of the economy, or about recent industry news. And these business questions definitely do come up, so you’ll want to be ready to answer them intelligently. 

At the same time, it’s impossible to know EVERYTHING that’s going on in the world. 

So, a strategic approach is to prepare a mental “highlight reel” of what’s going on in the broad economy, and what significant trends or deals are happening in your industry. 

To help you with this, it is really helpful to subscribe to news publications like The Economist or the Morning Brew newsletter

Then, you should prepare answers to economic and industry questions like “tell me about a current news story” or “what’s something you recently heard about Goldman Sachs?”. You can find more questions like these to practice with in our business sense guide

Tip #3: Prep for technical questions first

There are three general types of questions in investment banking interviews: behavioral, business sense, and technical. While you should take the time to prepare for each of these types of questions, technical questions can be especially detailed and complicated, meaning they require the most preparation to get right.

There are 14 technical questions that made up 88% of the real interview questions that we studied from interview reports at Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Morgan Stanley, and we recommend that you start with those. Here is the full list, with sample answers for each of them.

If you’re short on time, you can focus your preparation on these three questions, which came up repeatedly in our research: "Walk me through a DCF," "What are the main methods of valuing a company," and "How does X affect the financial statements."

Of course, it goes without saying that you should start your preparation as early as possible. Some of the people we work with start studying up to 6 months before their interview. Starting that much in advance may not be necessary for everyone, but the earlier you start, the higher your chances of getting an offer.

Tip #4: Practice with REAL financial statements

Questions around financial statements are guaranteed to come up in your investment banking interviews, and the best way to learn about them is by studying publicly available companies.

For example, you can examine Microsoft's financials for free and see how the different statements flow together. This is important for a couple of reasons:

First, the financial statement examples provided in interview prep guides are often simplified for illustration. As a result, you’ll be missing key details unless you also study the details of real-world statements. 

Second, by looking at real statements for large publicly traded companies, you can get a better sense of the underlying financials for the kinds of clients you’d be working with at big-name firms like Goldman Sachs.

You can also try making spreadsheets with the company’s data and manipulating the information yourself, to get a deeper understanding of how the statements work and how they connect with each other.

Tip #5: Know what to expect from your target firm

This is an important tip for 2 reasons: firstly, you need to be able to answer the “why this firm?” interview question, and secondly, because you need to do your research to be sure that this is the right firm for you.

Look into how it compares to competitors, where its strengths are, and what distinguishes it from other firms. Include these details in your answer to “why this firm?” in order to make it specific to the firm you’re interviewing with, and take them into consideration when you’re deciding which is the best fit for you.

For a deep dive into the specific interview process of three top firms, as well as resources to learn more about the culture of each of them, take a look at one of our comprehensive interview guides:

Tip #6: Know your resume inside and out

Working on your resume doesn’t stop at the application stage. Questions like “walk me through your resume” and “tell me about yourself” made up 13% of the behavioral questions that we researched for IB roles at Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Morgan Stanley.

These questions typically come in at the start of an interview, as a way for interviewers to get to know the candidate. Your answer will set the stage for the interview as a whole, and it does not stop there.

Interviewers typically ask a range of follow-up questions as well, which will require you to dive deep on your past experiences. Everything on your resume will be fair game, so make sure that you come prepared to talk about it.

Tip #7: Nail your answers to ice-breaker questions

Ice-breaker questions like “tell me about yourself” or “why this company?” are guaranteed to come up in your interviews.

As your answer to this type of question will determine the interviewer’s first impression of you, it’s best to come with a set answer prepared for the most common ice-breaker questions.

Think of these questions as an opportunity to give your elevator pitch: to tell your story and why this is a good fit for you in one to two minutes.

We’ve written in-depth guides on how to answer the most common ice-breaker and behavioral questions at Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Morgan Stanley. We’d recommend you consult those guides for the most common questions and for sample answers, but if you’re short on time, here are the most frequent questions we found in our research:

  • Why this firm?
  • Why investment banking?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Walk me through your resume.
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Tip #8: Use a repeatable answer framework

Behavioral questions made up 54% of the 250+ interview questions that we collected from Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Morgan Stanley candidates, so you need to be prepared to answer them.

Repeatable answer frameworks are your best bet for answering this type of question on the fly, because they allow you to tell your story in a concise and structured way. Here is the one that we recommend:

  1. Situation: Start by giving the necessary context of the situation you were in. Describe your role, the team, the organization, the market, etc. You should only give the minimum context needed to understand the problem and the solution in your story. Nothing more.
  2. Problem: Outline the problem you and your team were facing.
  3. Solution: Explain the solution you came up with to solve the problem. Step through how you went about implementing your solution, and focus on your contribution over what the team / larger organization did.
  4. Impact: Summarize the positive results you achieved for your team, department, and organization. As much as possible, quantify the impact.
  5. Lessons: Conclude with any lessons you might have learned in the process.

For a full sample answer using this framework, take a look here.

Tip #9: Refresh your memory with a cheat sheet

When it comes to technical questions in particular, a cheat sheet is useful for a quick refresher on accounting and valuation concepts.

Of course, bringing one to in-person interviews is not the best idea, and even using one for video interviews would not look great. However, it can be useful to reference during initial phone screens (assuming you won’t be on video), while answering practice questions, and as a refresher immediately before an interview begins.

Plus, we’ve already made a cheat sheet for you, with information around DCF, Valuation, the financial statements, and a few additional formulas.

Tip #10: Network, network, network

Talk to as many people from your target firm as possible before interviewing. It’s a great way to learn more about the firm from an inside perspective.

You can also give yourself an advantage by name-dropping the people from the firm whom you’ve made connections with during the interviews. This shows the interviewers that you’ve gone the extra mile to get to know the firm and that you already have connections with your future teammates.

If you don’t already know anybody at your target firm, you can use LinkedIn to reach out to current employees. Search for people with a connection to you: alumni of your university or high school, people from the same hometown, a mutual connection, etc.

This will help you find a point in common to start the conversation and get to know each other with less of the awkwardness of a cold email.

Tip #11: Make a connection with your interviewer

This tip may seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget in the context of an interview. Remember that the interview is first and foremost a conversation, so that the interviewer can find out if you’re right for the job, and for you to decide whether or not you want to work there.

So don’t forget to smile here and there and to make eye contact as you speak. Investment bankers work long hours, so your interviewer is looking for someone they would enjoy working with on the longer days. Try to make a personal connection.

Tip #12: Catch the hints

Most interviewers have good intentions. They're here to help you perform at your best. During your interviews, they may give you subtle hints about where to take your answer.  

If they try to steer you in a direction, follow them, as they're trying to help you. This might sound obvious, but candidates sometimes get so stressed out that they don't pick up on the hints interviewers give them.

Tip #13: Ask original questions

Neglecting to ask questions to the interviewer is a big red flag. Investment banking jobs require employees to use data to make major decisions. A candidate not asking any questions is a sign that this candidate is not collecting enough data to make a major career decision.

So come prepared with a few questions for the interviewer, and try to make them original, so that you can get the most out of the discussion. In fact, it’s a good idea to throw in a few questions that can ONLY apply to the firm/position you’re applying to. 

For example, if you’re applying to a team/office that specializes in the Energy industry, you could ask the interviewer what they think the unique challenges in the Energy industry are over the next 6-months. Or you could ask them if they can tell you anything they learned from a recent deal they worked on (which is even better if you can name a specific deal!).  

Tip #14: Don’t forget the thank-you note

Thank your interviewers for their time. It may seem old-fashioned, but many interviewers appreciate this gesture and expect it from the candidates they’ve interviewed.

Ask for the interviewer’s card at the end of the session, in order to get the most direct email address to which to send the thank-you message. If you forgot to ask for cards, check in with your recruiter to see if they can give you the interviewers’ email addresses or pass the message along.

As you draft the message, personalize it to the interviewer. Reference one of the points you talked about, rather than sending a generic thank-you to every interviewer.

Tip #15: Do mock interviews

Ultimately, the best way to set yourself up for a great interview experience is to simulate interview conditions in your preparation. That’s where mock interviews come in.

Set up mocks with friends or peers to start, and prepare for them as you would the real thing: with prepared answers, having studied your cheat sheet, etc. Take notes after every session of what went wrong and of what you can improve, and repeat the cycle until you’ve addressed everything on your list.

Ideally, you should also set up mock interviews with experienced finance professionals and ex-interviewers as well. They’re the only ones who will be able to give you the kind of targeted feedback that will set you apart in IB interviews.

Of course, not everybody is fortunate enough to have an IB ex-interviewer in their network, which is why we’ve created a coaching platform where you can find ex-interviewers from Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Morgan Stanley to practice with. Learn more and start scheduling sessions today.

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