Monday, February 16, 2009

Accepting the Offer

One of you asked, "In one of my interviews I was asked:"If I give you an offer now, will you take it?" How would you answer this question?"

The answer, like pretty much everything else in the world, is that it depends. When I was interviewing, even though I sold myself to every bank as if they were my top choice, I clearly had my top choice in mind. In fact, I ranked all the banks based on my own measures of "culture", "prestige", "exit opportunities", "analyst experience", "group / industry opportunities", etc.

I'm sure everybody has their top choice, so if you are interviewing with this bank, and they ask you the question, it's not a lie to go ahead and say that you would accept. BUT, you want to be cautious in how you answer. If you say that you would accept, take it as another chance to show that you've done your homework and understand exactly what you would be accepting.

I would say something like, "You know, I would be glad to accept that offer for a few reasons. First of all, I've taken time to meet with people at pretty much every bank on the street, and I feel like the people here not only care about the analyst experience, but they are very intelligent and will challenge me to be better. Second, it's important to me to be able to contribute a lot, and your bank is known for giving analysts lots of responsibility. I know this is a great challenge, but it's one I would gladly take on. Third, I feel like your bank is the best positioned to take advantage of the current market situation, due in large part to [XYZ]."

But, because you might get offers from banks other than your top choice, you want to be very careful not to pin yourself in a corner. Don't commit to accepting an offer just so you can get the offer. If you say you'll accept, get the offer, and then reject it, that not only reflects poorly on you, but also reflects poorly on your school, and could lead to big problems you don't want to face. In short, it would be unethical to lie, so don't do it!

If I'm not sure I'm going to accept, I would answer by saying something like this:
"You know, if I were lucky enough to receive an offer from you, I would treat it like I do any important decision [or you could say, any investment I've made or whatever] in my life. I would take some time to think about what is important to me, what the costs/benefits will be of either choice, and then I'll sleep on it. As it stands right now, I don't see any reason why I wouldn't accept, and surely interviewing with many people here today has helped me get a much better understanding for the "feel" of the firm."

If they give you the offer and press you to accept it or lose it (another variation is when they say that there are three spots and five candidates, and the first three to accept get a spot), I might reply like this:
"Frankly I would like to work for a bank that hires me because I fit the qualifications of the job and am the best person for the position, not because of my willingness to accept on the spot. Like I said, I think your bank is great and am honored to have an offer. I'd just like to think it through before I make a decision that will have a potentially huge impact on my life and career going forward."

Take this all with a grain of salt - it's all just my opinion. I think it is very unwise to accept anything on the spot unless you have already thought through the implications of taking the offer. If it's a take-it-or-leave-it deal, then I'll leave it 99% of the time unless I can think it through first. I hope this helps!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Phone Interviews

One of you asked about phone interviews, so here are a few quick thoughts.

Phone interviews are usually a candidates first official interviews with a bank, and are usually conducted by people in HR. Occasionally they will be conducted by analysts or associates who are usually alumni of the school. Interview questions are just about the same on the phone as they are in person for a first round interview, so make sure you can answer the big three:

(1) Walk me through your resume / tell me your story.
(2) Why banking?
(3) Why [insert name of bank conducting interview]?

You might get a few technical questions, but especially if it's somebody from HR, you probably won't get anything too deep, so just know the basic Vault Guide stuff and you'll be fine. The big focus will be fit.

Phone interviews present unique challenges and benefits to you as the person being interviewed. For one thing, it's a lot harder to get your personality across over the phone. You have to try extra hard to be animated without sounding like a cartoon. On the phone, though, it is easy to sound like a robot so be conscious of your tone and vary it as you describe different things.

Another challenge is that you can't see your interviewer, so you don't know how they are responding to what you're saying other than how they inflect their voice. It's still a good idea to use humor and be easy going, but pay more attention than normal to how they are responding to you.

One of the benefits of a phone interview is that you can have all of your information right there in front of you. You should never be stumped by a question on a phone interview. Usually before an interview, I'll get out my phone interview resume. This is my normal resume, but with examples of different stories or qualities that are related to every bullet. It's actually about three pages long, but I never have to scramble to come up with a story to tell about X experience because I have it right there in front of me.

I'll also have all of the information about the company, including awards they've won, their stock price, recent deal information, and my reasons for wanting to work at that bank. I have a calculator there, a blank page with a pen, and the name of my interviewer all right in front of me (side note - if you use the calculator, make sure to do it quietly - you don't want them thinking you're not paying attention. Same goes with using a computer - don't type while you're on the phone because it's distracting and they can hear it.

Normal principles of good interviewing still apply. I even will wear my suit for the phone interview because it helps me to remember to be professional and not too casual. Make sure you have a reliable number for them to call, and don't have a stupid voice mail message, just in case you miss their call.

Good luck with the interviews!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"The Best We've Ever Seen"

Hey all - I'm back. The two months have been crazy for sure, but it's been fun. I've been mostly focused on helping students at my own school, doing homework for my classes, and practicing building LBO models, but I figure that a two-month sabbatical is enough.

This time last year I was just getting into final rounds with most of the banks I was interviewing with. I thought it was a rough year last year, and now I think it's even harder to get a job. With that in mind, I wanted to write a few thoughts on interviewing - specifically final rounds.

As a disclaimer, I'm not by any means an expert on interviewing. All I have is my own experience and the experiences of my friends. I can say, though, that I feel confident in my own abilities to interview, and I hope to share some of the things that work for me. Over the last year I've interviewed with many firms, and every single place that I've interviewed at has given me an offer (except for the firms that I cut off the process with after accepting my internship or full-time offer, but even with those firms I had made it to final rounds and am confident that I could have received an offer if I would have kept interviewing). I don't share that to be boastful, but just to point out that there are some tangible things you can do to be ready for interviews, many of which will come off as impressive.

A lot of my success in interviewing is due to good old preparation. My end goal was to go in, totally destroy every answer, and leave having the interviewer thinking, "That was the best candidate I've ever interviewed. We have to get this guy to come back." You don't want to leave any doubt in their mind that you are the right person for the job.

Analyzing the Competition
When I am preparing for an interview, I'll do a few things to get ready. First of all, I think about who else will be interviewing that day. Often for final rounds, the firm will fly you out the day before interviews, and many times you'll get to meet other people you're interviewing for. If you don't meet them the day before, you'll meet them in some sort of pre-interview meeting for all the people attending the Super Day.

I come from a non-target school, so I needed to know how to tell my story to come across in the best way. If the other people interviewing were from target schools (usually the case), I would really focus in my interviews on how hard I worked to get the interview and the fact that absolutely no one they could hire would out-work me over the summer. I would usually not dwell on my school too much - I let my GPA and test scores speak for my academic background. Instead I would focus on my work experiences and show that I already was a great analyst.

If the people I was interviewing with were either from my school or from other non-target schools, then I would focus a bit more on my school work and what I had accomplished. Because I would assume that everyone had worked hard to get there from a non-target school, I would focus on my experiences that made me unique, whether it was talking about interning at Treasury during TARP, living in Eastern Europe, or working with regional private equity firms to manage their portfolio companies.

Technical Powerhouse
In addition to tailoring your interview based on who you are interviewing against, it goes without saying that you need to know your finance. I really believe that the technical stuff is nothing more than a hurdle you have to get over (fit is way more important than if you really know accretion/dilution because they expect you don't know anything anyway). If you can absolutely crush the technical stuff, they'll not only check the box, but they'll remember that you knew more than the average interviewee. There are plenty of places around the internet that will prepare you for technical questions (I've covered a few, and is my favorite site for quick refreshers on corp fin). Just be ready for anything and show them that you can think on your feet.

Make 'em Laugh
One of the best things I did in interviews was to incorporate my personality in the interview. I would often try to make funny (but appropriate - not childish or vulgar) comments during the interview, and the feedback I got was usually that the interviewers thought I was a funny, nice guy.

One example comes from my final round interviews with Lehman Brothers (Barclays) last year. When I got off the elevator on the 24th floor, I noticed a big sign saying that they were having fire drills throughout the day, and they listed the various times that each floor would need to be evacuated. In many of my interviews, when the interviewer would ask me how things were going, I would usually say something like, "Oh fine. You probably noticed this morning when I pulled the fire alarm though..." It was a little thing, but the interviewer usually laughed a little and then we carried on. Using humor to endear yourself to the interviewer is one of the best ways I can think of to come across as "somebody they'd want to spend 8 hours in the airport with."

Final Thoughts
Before you go into the interview, you should quickly check the stock price of the company (assuming they're a public company), read the WSJ one time quickly, and go to the company website to see a few reasons why they are great. I usually knew of 4-5 awards the company had recently won for being a good employer, being kind to working mothers, or whatever it was they wanted to brag about on their website.

When they ask, "Why do you want to work here?" You tell them personal reasons you like their bank, then you say, "And plus you guys were named one of the 50 best places to launch a career, Forbe's said you were the M&A house of the year last year, you are one of Working Mother's top 25 firms, and your CEO was just named CEO of the month in Investment Banking Weekly." They're not expecting you to know all that, but listing off random facts shows that you took a little more time than the average candidate to prepare for the interivew.

I could go on for a long time about all the ways I prepared for interviews, but it basically came down to preparation. Knowing the company and what they stand for, knowing the qualities they were looking for and telling stories specifically to show I had those qualities, and using some humor or good manners to impress them enough to remember me.

Good luck to all of you who are out there interviewing. I'll be back in a more normal schedule of writing, so you'll hear more from me about interviewing in the coming days/weeks.