Morgan Stanley behavioral interview (questions, answers, prep)

Today we’re going to cover Morgan Stanley behavioral interview questions, which account for about 50% of all questions asked at Morgan Stanley investment banking interviews.

This percentage is based on an analysis of 60 interview reports from real Morgan Stanley candidates, which were recorded from 2016 to 2022. 

Mastering these questions will prepare you for the majority of interview questions asked at Morgan Stanley. Crack the top 4 behavioral questions alone, and you’ll be ready for almost half of all behavioral questions reported by Morgan Stanley candidates. 

Let’s jump straight into the questions. 

1. 4 most common behavioral interview questions

Before we see the full list of Morgan Stanley behavioral questions, let’s take a look at the 4 questions that you’re most likely to be asked during your interviews.

These questions come up in both the initial HireVue video interviews and during the final Super Day (or Assessment Centre) rounds. In the HireVue interviews, you’ll only have thirty seconds to think before recording a two-minute response, and the final-round interviewers will expect you to have clear and concise answers.

So it is key that you prepare answers to these questions in advance. You can use the examples that we offer below as inspiration.

Let’s get started.

1.1 Why Morgan Stanley?

The question “why Morgan Stanley?” accounted for nearly 20% of reported behavioral questions at the company. Your interviewers will want to know what made you choose Morgan Stanley specifically, over other investment banking giants like Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan.

Of course, you’ll need to examine your personal reasons for joining this company, but we'll give you an example of a good answer to get you started. For more detailed information on how to answer this question, take a look at this guide.

Sample answer: “I would like to work at Morgan Stanley for two main reasons:

First, I’m as passionate about sustainability as I am about investment banking, so Morgan Stanley’s commitment to reach net-zero financed emissions by 2050 really stands out to me. My goal is to work for an industry leader that acts responsibly given its global footprint. That’s why I jumped on this position in your Global Sustainable Finance division as soon as I saw that it was open.

Second, a close friend of mine, Jerrica Holt, runs a startup that was supported by the Multicultural Innovation Lab. I’ve stepped in here and there to lend a hand as she launched the business, and I was very impressed by how much her startup was transformed with the help of your accelerator. While I’m not applying to join the Multicultural Client Strategy Group specifically, I’d be happy to contribute to the larger company that puts out such powerful programs.”

1.2 Why do you want to work in investment banking?

This question accounted for nearly 15% of reported behavioral questions at the company. Clearly, interviewers are interested in what drove you to choose this industry, other than the attractive paycheck.

Of course, you’ll need to examine your personal reasons for working in investment banking, but we’ll give you an example of a good answer to get you started. Note that it uses concrete examples from the candidate’s personal experience, rather than leaning on a generic response.

Sample answer: “When I was younger, my family went through quite a bit of financial turmoil. My parents ran a small furniture restoration business that started struggling and ultimately had to close. It was a difficult time, and my siblings and I all had to take jobs in addition to our studies to help us stay afloat.

I committed myself to learning more about investing and finance, to help my family make better financial decisions, and to ensure a more stable upbringing for my own children. While studying economics at NYU, I was able to help my parents put together a plan to pay off their remaining debts by the end of this year. Since then I’ve completed a summer analyst internship at Credit Franc, and I’m now looking for jobs in the Fixed Income Capital Markets team, where I can share more helpful advice and solutions with clients.”

1.3 Walk me through your resume

Many interviewers will use a question like this, or “tell me about yourself” (see next point) in order to break the ice and start off your interview. That makes this a particularly crucial question, as it establishes the interviewer’s first impression and sets the stage for the rest of the interview.

You’ll want to know your resume inside and out and be prepared to answer follow-up questions on each of the experiences you included. Anything you have put on your resume is fair game for the interviewer to ask about.

Sample answer: “I started getting interested in finance at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where I majored in math and economics. I was really drawn in by the rigidity and rules of mathematics, combined with the creativity of financial strategy.

I got to do a summer analyst internship in leveraged finance at LP Freeman while I was a student, and then they brought me back to work full-time after graduation. During my first two years there, I worked primarily with international clients, structuring and syndicating their debt to fund refinancings, M&A initiatives, and so on. 

I found that I felt the most challenged and invigorated when I was helping clients fund M&A deals, so in my final year I asked to be transferred to the IB Mergers and Acquisitions team. The first deal that I worked on with the team was a nearly $1 billion acquisition, and I was responsible for creating the financial models that determined the valuation of the company our client acquired.

Now I’m here because I want to leverage that experience at LP Freeman to work on larger and more impactful M&A deals like the merger between Kansas City Southern and Canadian Pacific Railway, which Morgan Stanley advised on just last year.”

1.4 Tell me about yourself

As we mentioned above, ice-breaker questions like this one are what set the tone for the interview as a whole. The interviewer will likely follow up on one or more of the details you share in your answer, so be prepared to dive deeper into certain points of your past experience.

Here’s a sample answer to this question to give you an idea of what to aim for:

Sample answer: “Right now, I’m a few weeks away from finishing my final exams of an MBA at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Previously, I worked in healthcare consulting for three years.

During my time in healthcare consulting, I loved digging into our clients’ operations and pinpointing areas to make them more efficient. However, I realized that I really wanted to be able to work toward meaningful social and environmental change. A friend of mine who worked on Morgan Stanley’s Investing With Impact Platform told me more about the company, and it sounded perfect.

So I devoted my last year at the consulting firm to preparing for the GMAT and getting my application ready for the MBA, on top of my full-time work. During my studies, I was able to intern as a Sustainable Investing Fellow at Morgan Stanley, which transformed my understanding of capital markets and environmental outcomes. Now that I’m graduating, I’m aiming to return full-time as an analyst in Global Sustainable Finance.”

2. Complete list of Morgan Stanley behavioral interview questions

Now that we’ve dug into the four behavioral questions that you are most likely to encounter during an investment banking interview at Morgan Stanley, let’s take a look at a list of every Morgan Stanley IB behavioral interview question reported on Glassdoor since 2016.

Use the list below to prepare your answers to different types of questions. We’ll give you an answer framework to practice with in section 3.

Note: the questions below come from Glassdoor interview reports by Analysts. While the interview process for Associates or other roles may be slightly different, this list will still provide an excellent starting point for your preparation.

Here are the questions:

21 behavioral questions asked at Morgan Stanley

  1. Why Morgan Stanley?
  2. Why do you want to work in investment banking?
  3. Walk me through your resume
  4. Tell me about yourself
  5. What are your career goals?
  6. What is your understanding of the job you will be doing at Morgan Stanley?
  7. How would your friends and family describe you in 3 words?
  8. What do you do for fun outside of work?
  9. What would you major in if the financial services industry didn't exist?
  10. Tell me about the hardest thing you have experienced in life. How did you overcome it?
  11. Why wouldn't I hire you?
  12. Why Morgan Stanley and not Goldman Sachs?
  13. If you could be any animal what would it be?
  14. If your sister’s wedding was tomorrow and a live deal was closing tomorrow, which event would you prioritize?
  15. Tell me about a time you worked in a team
  16. Tell me about when you handled a problem in a team
  17. Tell me about a time you demonstrated superior leadership skills
  18. Tell me about a time when you were persuasive
  19. Tell me about a time you used data to make a recommendation
  20. Tell me about a time you did the right thing
  21. Tell me about a time you made a big mistake and how you dealt with it

3. How to answer behavioral interview questions

You may have noticed that all of the questions above fall into two basic formats: 

  1. General questions, such as “why investment banking?” or “why should we hire you?”, which require individualized responses
  2. Scenario questions that typically begin with “Tell me about a time…”, which can be answered using a repeatable framework

For general questions, you’ll need to craft your own answers in advance. All of the top 4 most common behavioral questions that we covered earlier are general questions, so you can use our example answers as a start pointing for writing your own answers.

There are a few more questions in the complete list, such as “why shouldn’t I hire you?”, which will require individualized responses as well. 

All of the other questions are scenario-based questions (e.g. “Tell me about a time”), which you can answer using a repeatable framework. Let’s dig into behavioral question frameworks in more detail. 

The STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) is a popular approach for answering this type of behavioral question because it’s easy to remember. You may have already heard of it. 

However, we’ve found that candidates often find it difficult to distinguish the difference between steps two and three, or task and action. Some also forget to include lessons learned in the results step, which is especially crucial when discussing past failures.

So we’ve developed the IGotAnOffer method to correct some of the pitfalls we’ve observed when using the STAR method.

3.1 The IGotAnOffer method

Let’s step through our suggested five-step approach:

  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.

You’ll notice that this method covers very similar themes to the STAR method. We like it because a lot of the candidates we work with find this framework easier to use, as there’s no overlap between any of the steps in your story.

3.2 Example answer using the IGotAnOffer Method

To give you an idea of how the IGotAnOffer method works in practice, here’s a quick sample answer using the framework.

Try this question:

Tell me about a time when you made a big mistake and how you dealt with it


Situation: “This was actually an experience I had prior to my career in investment banking, when I was a teaching assistant in the Berkeley economics department. It was the first time I’d ever been given the responsibility to teach an undergraduate class, and I was grading the students’ midterm exams.”

Problem: “I came across surprisingly good work from a student who had been struggling in the class. His answers were similar to those of a student who usually sits next to him, so I accused him of cheating and gave him a zero.

I came to find out later that, while he did work with the other student to study prior to the exam, they were not sitting together on exam day. In fact, he had not cheated at all, but had prepared extra for this exam in an attempt to bring up his struggling grade.”

Solution: “My first move was to apologize to the student in person. I gave him the 95 that he had earned and apologized to my advisor as well, for failing to consult her before making a rash decision concerning a student’s grades and future. As he went back to struggling on the class assignments following the incident, I went out of my way to lend him my help and tutor him during office hours.”

Impact: “The student was able to even out his grades and earn a 90% average by the end of the semester. During the last month, he was also much more involved in class discussions.”

Lessons: “There were two main lessons in this experience: first, to check my biases when working with an individual and not let them get in the way of a productive relationship. If I had checked in with the student earlier, rather than assuming that he had a bad attitude, I may have helped him bring up his grade and work harder in class much sooner.

Second, to consult others when making impactful decisions. If I had checked with my advisor prior to accusing the student of cheating, she would have reminded me of the seating chart during the exam & counseled me not to jump to conclusions.”

4. How to prepare for Morgan Stanley behavioral interviews

Now that you’ve seen the list of Morgan Stanley behavioral interview questions and how to answer them, let’s talk about four steps you can take to prepare for the interviews.

4.1 Learn about Morgan Stanley’s culture

Before you spend weeks (or months) preparing for Morgan Stanley interviews, you should pause for a moment to learn about the company’s culture. 

This is important for two reasons. 

First, it will help you to clarify whether Morgan Stanley is actually the right fit for you. Morgan Stanley is prestigious, so it can be tempting to apply without thinking more deeply.  But, it's important to remember that the prestige of a job (by itself) won't make you happy in your day-to-day work. It's the type of work and the people you work with that will.

Second, having a clear understanding of Morgan Stanley’s culture will give you an edge in your interviews, because it will help you frame your skills and experiences to align with what the company values. In addition, you will almost definitely be asked about your specific motivations for applying to Morgan Stanley.  

If you know any current or former Morgan Stanley employees, see if you can chat with them about the company’s culture for a few minutes. In addition, we would recommend checking out the following resources:

For some fascinating insights into how Morgan Stanley works from the person at the very top, plus plenty of talking points that you can refer to in your interviews, we recommend watching some of this conversation with the CEO, James Gorman.

 

4.2 Practice by yourself

Acing a behavioral interview question is much harder than it looks. You’ll stand out if you put in the required work to craft concise and direct answers.

4.2.1 Prepare your answers

First, work out your answers to general behavioral questions such as those in section 1. Write them down, and time how long it takes you to say them out loud (aim for 1-2 minutes). Make sure that you’re hitting the key points without rambling.

Next, for scenario-based questions, work out which stories you’d like to tell. Make a list of key moments in your career (e.g. accomplishments, failures, team situations, leadership situations, etc.) that you can use to answer one or multiple questions. 

After you’ve finished your list, write out a story for each key moment in your career using the structure we've laid out in section 3. Be sure to emphasize your impact in each of these examples, quantify the results of your actions, and explain the lessons you learned from the experience. 

Once you have a bank of stories, go through the questions in section 2 and make sure you’d be able to answer all of them either by using one of the stories you’ve written directly, or by adapting it on the fly. If you identify any gaps, add stories to your bank until you’re comfortable you can cover all the questions listed in this article. For reference, we suspect this will require around 10-15 stories for most candidates. 

4.2.2 Practice your answers out loud

After you've written everything down, a great way to practice your answers is to interview yourself out loud. This may sound strange, but it will significantly improve the way you communicate during an interview. 

You should be able to tell each prepared answer and story from your bank naturally, neither missing key details nor memorizing them word-for-word.

Play the role of both the candidate and the interviewer, asking questions and answering them, just like two people would in an interview. Trust us, it works.

4.3 Practice with peers

Practicing by yourself is a critical step, but it will only take you so far.

One of the main challenges of interviewing at Morgan Stanley is communicating your answers in a way that is clear and leaves a strong impression. 

As a result, we recommend that you also do some mock interviews. This is much closer to the real interview experience. Plus, the feedback you get from an interview partner could help you avoid mistakes that you wouldn’t notice on your own. 

You can practice with a friend or family member to start. This will help you polish your stories and catch communication mistakes. However, if your interview partner isn’t an experienced ex-interviewer, then they won’t be able to give you the kind of targeted feedback that will bring your answers up to the next level. 

4.4 Practice with ex-interviewers

If you know someone who runs interviews at Morgan Stanley or another investment bank, then that’s amazing! They'll be a great person to practice interviews with.

But most of us don’t, and it can be REALLY tough to make a new connection with an investment banker. And even if you do have a good connection already, it might also be difficult to practice multiple hours with that person unless you know them extremely well.

Here's the good news. We want to help you make these connections. That’s why we’ve launched a coaching platform where you can find ex-interviewers at Morgan Stanley to practice with. Learn more and start scheduling sessions today.

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