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How To Interview for MBA Jobs (Part I)

How To Interview for MBA Jobs (Part I)

Ah, how quickly times have changed.  I remember when I started this website, our financial system was crashing around us and armageddon was near.  Now, a mere seven months later, the skies are clear, opportunity abounds and today’s MBA classes are again brimming with youthful optimism.  Back in March, I looked forward to being able to help those wayward MBA students who would be scratching and clawing for fulltime employment by relaying the gritty tale of how I managed to secure employment a month after 9/11.  (And after having one of the least successful summer associate experiences ever).  Now, I’m quite certain that, at least on Wall Street, pay will continue on an upward trajectory, with January 2009 bonuses being a mere bump in the road and jobs will be as plentiful as Subway commercials on an NFL Sunday.  So it’s all good – like I said, when they start perking up with some Lambos for VPs, I’m back in the game, too.  But what the hell, I can still give some of my hard-earned sageness out for free.

I’m not going to start at the most basic of levels, ie how do I get on the interview list – if you don’t have that kind of shit lined up tight by now you are probably a dumbass.  My experience is in banking interviews, but I think the process is pretty similar for most service industries or big corporations. (Consulting will be case-based, whatever that is.  Actually if you are into consulting then please go ahead and hit that “x” up in the right hand corner of this page (left hand if using a Mac, and if you are a consultant you probably love Macs.))  So I’m assuming here that all your closed list, open list, bizness is locked down.  If you aren’t on most of the closed lists for your sector of choice, you may want to consider expanding your options (including not for profits and the education sector).

Things To Consider In Advance Of Your Interviews

1.  Know something about your prospective employer – This seems pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t know shit about the company they’re talking to.  In banking, you should figure out 2-3 major deals the firm has worked on and just know some very cursory information about them.  You don’t have to have SDC runs done for the last 5 years and back into their M&A fee schedule, but you should perhaps know if they worked on the $250 billion Exxon – Wal-Mart merger that my old firm used to look at every few months.  Know a couple of big deals and some very basic information about how the stock has done lately – market cap and how high/low it’s gone over the last year.  (Actually this is fairly tricky now as there is all that preferred stock for some of these busto banks so Yahoo! finance might be off by a few billion or so.  Doesn’t really matter, just don’t be like the kid who I asked what Tarp Bank’s market cap was and he responded “a trillion dollars.”  That was fucking stupid.)

My personal experience – Most of the people I ever interviewed did fine in this regard.  A touchy area is “do you have any questions for me?”  Most kids would ask stuff about the CEO and macro implications of this and that.  That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t have shit to do with the job you are trying to get.  Don’t sweat what the CEO is doing when you are going to be a first year associate.  Although some interviewers love that macro stuff, I recommend the old “you’ve worked here for X years, what do you like about the firm and its culture?”  That’s easy, doesn’t require any homework and people will generally give you a very personal and time-consuming response, allowing you to compose yourself and put together one final advertisement of your awesomeness in your closing.

When I was an MBA student, I thought I’d help improve my chances of getting a nice gig by signing up for a few interviews outside of finance.  Who can’t wing a fucking interview?  Apparently, me.  The lady at BCG was unimpressed with my ability to estimate the number of walnuts in Montana or whatever.  (Probably didn’t help that I’d never done one case interview.  Seriously, consulting is retarded.)  I really hit it off with the Booz Allen team, but they were a little surprised that I didn’t have any idea how their major business units were organized (government and management or some shit like that, really basic).  If you can’t put in an hour or so to figure out the company or the business, it’s pretty much a waste of your and their time.

2.  Don’t shitcan your chances before you even start the interview – You might ponder how this is possible – it basically boils down to don’t be a dick or a dumbass.  Sometimes too much exposure to the interview team can be a bad thing – go to the pre-interview events, but don’t hang around too much drinking and talking about stupid tv shows.  You want to be a little bit of a desirable mystery going into that first round interview.  Making idiotic mistakes like misspelling the company’s name on a cover letter (note to self: it’s Siebel, not Seibel and TD Securities is in no way related to JP Morgan) will get you nixed immediately.

My personal experience –  I am nothing if not a realist; I realized early on that (dearly departed) Lehman was my best shot to secure my first gig on Wall Street (this was for summer, but still).  I went to all their events, trotted down to New York and did some informationals, talked to dudes in advance of interviews, exchanged emails with school team captains, etc.  That left little of the aforementioned mystery, however; in fact, all that exposure led me to leave my guard down a few times and reveal myself as something of a dipshit.  I will always remember getting that call from LB saying “no thanks” on making the second round.  I was at a ML dinner and proceeded to knock a glass of red wine on the 325 lb powerlifter from ML.

As a school team member, we would sometimes encounter students who’d wear out their welcome a little bit.  I know everyone’s driven, motivated, etc and wants to prove it, but use some common sense.  Don’t bother the shit out of people who are working an intense full-time job in addition to leading the recruiting process.  Give yourself just enough exposure so that people know your name and have a sense of your strong points.  Make them peel the onion in the interview room to reveal your inner dipshit.

3.  Don’t knock a glass of red wine on a 325 lb powerlifter from ML

Perfect if you are interviewing to be a private investigator or subpoena server
Perfect if you are interviewing to be a private investigator or subpoena server

4.  Take a look at yourself in the mirror before the interview –  Again, this sounds stupid, but you’ll be amazed at the poor dressing decisions people will make.  Also, no brown or green suits.  No brown suits with green pinstripes.  No black suits, unless you are going to work as a contract killer or Johnny Cash impersonator.  No large cufflinks featuring Calvin peeing on a Ford logo.  Don’t bring a diamond-encrusted chalice filled with pimp juice into the interview room.  Think pretty conservative here.  (For the 3 ladies on this site, I don’t have much to offer.  I know business dress for guys is a suit and tie, but for women I’ve seen it range from a halter top with a jacket to a burka, so I’m at a bit of a loss.  None of you 3 are looking for a job anyway.  Oh, hi mom!)

My personal experience – I once wore grey pants with a blue suit jacket to an MBA interview.  In my defense, it was pretty dark in my room when I was getting dressed.  After getting canned from the Street, I flew to the West Coast to talk to a client about a possible gig out there.  I packed my Ferragamo loafers as I was keeping it on the more casual tip.  Except that I only packed one of them – the other was a lace-up.  Both left feet.  So had to buy some new shoes.  You wonder why I’m unemployed – my attention to detail is for shit.  Or needs work.

To be continued – if you have any stories to share, drop in the comments or email me for addition to the next segment on this.


Investment Banking Stereotypes: A Deeper Dive

Investment Banking Stereotypes: A Deeper Dive


Given our robust recent bump in traffic from hard-charging soon-to-be MBA student types (thanks and Businessweek forums!) I’ve decided to preempt my scheduled banalities for a closer look at the personalities you will find in banking.  So enjoy one of the few truly educational posts you’ll find on this site – and don’t be afraid to leave comments.  (For more stereotypes, you can read about the sweet sound systems in the cars I’ve owned)

But before all that, let me offer three bits of legit wisdom for the legions of folks breathlessly updating the BW boards and getting all lathered up over the whole business school thing.  Allow me to assuage some of your fears:

What if I don’t get into H/W/S/K/M/C/Z/R/Q?  Will my life be effectively ruined? I didn’t take much away from my seven years in banking, but I do recall that no one gave the slightest fuck about where you went to business school.  There may be some marginal advantages in the recruiting process at some schools compared to others – but you may also be a small fish in a big pond at said school, putting you at a relative disadvantage.  I can’t speak for P/E, VC, consulting, etc but my gut feeling is that it doesn’t fucking matter at all once you get your foot in the door (assuming you get into one of the Top Ten Schools, of which there are probably 16).

Will B-School be hard for me?  I’m not actually that smart. You don’t need to sweat this one either – no one in business school is really that smart.  Everything is done in teams and – this was not intuitive to me – most of the students seem to enjoy doing more work rather than less!  So even laziness is not really a negative trait – there’s always someone to pick up your slack.

And most of the classes utilize the “case” method, whereby you read a short story (often business-related) and then form a vague opinion on the story based on something your professor discussed in class a few days before.  B-schools largely eschew “textbooks” these days, so if you aren’t book smart, but are good at raising your hand and filibustering, then you will flourish in the system.

(Caution: do not embrace your true laziness until after the first semester – the point of this whole thing is to score a sweet job and you can’t do that if you don’t do shit from the get-go.  And even at those elite institutions where they don’t reveal grades, you still run the risk of sounding idiotic during the interview process if you aren’t a frickin WACC expert.  After you get a good summer job, feel free to coast.)

What if I don’t get a job and end up with $120k in debt? You’re fucked. (Or: insert bailout joke here)

At some point I will get around to telling the story of how I got a full time offer a month after 9/11 after having had a disastrous Summer Associate experience.  I need to let the healing hands of time wash away some of the shame first.

OK, enough with the community service.  As discussed here, bankers exhibit basically three broad personality types: robots, jargon fanatics and douchebags – most bankers are some combination of the three.  Within this spectrum there will be sprinkled bits of moodiness, passive agressiveness, “let’s grab a coffee”-ness, etc that make each banker unique.  Through this veritable blizzard of banker snowflakes emerge a few stereotypes that you will find at every investment bank (and likely at just about any professional institution).

Jargon Boy

Description: I have already described this guy a bit: he’s the one who wants to prove how much he’s into the job and what an integral cog he is in the institution by talking so idiotically that he makes everyone he comes in contact with want to kill him.  Even summer analysts smell the desperation upon first meeting a JB; commands zero respect from anyone in the office, including the mail guy and the car service drivers.

Substitute "doin deals?" for "making copies?" and you've got the idea
"Doin deals?"

How He Will Impact You as a Junior Banker: Jargon Boys are on a constant quest to find someone to mentor/be their friend.  You will be regaled with stories of the tickets he printed as a junior and besieged by requests to get lunch or coffee so he can expound upon best practices for “spinning plates,” “making sausage,” and “chopping wood” (all euphemisms for needless bullshit work he’ll have you spend the next 4-5 days on)

Recommended Strategy: While JBs are pretty harmless, make sure you don’t work with them exclusively or you may be in danger of catching the Stockholm Syndrome.

Doctor Urgency

Description: This is what Jargon Boys grow up to be: passive aggressive asswipes that make any simple client request a weekend Three-Alarm emergency that will require extra staffing and a special convening of whatever committee would be required to approve the (hypothetical) transaction.  Typically driven by deep self loathing and an extreme dislike of their home lives.  Have a great desire to be perceived as a hero by their bosses and believe that generating internal hype/panic is the best method for this.  (This has actually proven to have the exact opposite effect)

Dr. Urgency as a pre-med
Dr. Urgency as a pre-med

How He Will Impact You as a Junior Banker: Will use primitive brainwashing techniques to convince you that: a) the hypothetical crap he’s having you pull all-nighters for is really, really important; and b) working closely with him forever is the only way you’ll last in the industry.  Every Friday afternoon he will come to your cube to grandiously announce how, [fill in name of non-fee-generating client] has asked for [analysis/profiles that will in no way generate any fees] and you will need to stay late tonight and be in early tomorrow to do the [analysis/profiles] and the committee memo that will never appear before any committe, except for the hypothetical transactions committee.

Recommended Strategy: Stay far away.  Nothing good can come of it.  Have a set list of excuses for the inevitable “Hey, you wanna grab a coffee” requests.

The Family Guy

Description: Unlike Peter Griffin, these guys usually aren’t barrels of fun.  Generally hard-working and focused but will always contour work to meet family requirements (who said family values are dead?).  This sounds well and good, but when 80% of the deal team is 28 years old or younger (or an extremely immature 39 year old) the “let’s have an 8:00 AM conference call Saturday morning” to discuss whatever (hypothetical) deal can get really old.  Family Guy usually favors aggression over passive aggression; likely gleaned from child rearing manuals and need to get straight to the point on shit so as to have ample time for kindergarten interviews.

The original Family Guy
The original Family Guy

How He Will Impact You as a Junior Banker: Excessive embrace of human side when at home often translates to more demonic presence in the office.  The aforementioned inconvenient conference call times are often accompanied by screaming/crying interruptions.  Can be highly irritable – particularly when delays in work process jeopardize seeing the kids one last time before long trip.  

Recommended Strategy: Tread carefully.  There’s a bit more upside for working with FGs as they at least have some non-work interests.  They tend to be pretty volatile though, so if you cry easily you might want to keep your distance.

The Diva

Description: Typically a more junior banker who experiences early career success and then leverages this recognition via carefully targeted jargon bombs and discrete yet appropriate ass-kissing.  Is eventually annointed a “superstar” by senior bankers while being widely reviled by peers and juniors.  Actually has done little to no work in career (beyond planning exotic vacations every 2-3 months).

How He Will Impact You as a Junior Banker: (That’s right, “he” – trust me, this is non-gender-specific)  The Diva will get credit for successes that he had no part in, but paradoxically will always escape blame for failures that he was directly responsible for.  The Diva will always work less than you and get paid more than you.  Just accept it.  Don’t embrace the hatred.  In fact, I strongly believe we should be commending the Divas for their adroit navigation of the piranha-filled waters of the Street.  (Particularly since we may need them to give us a job some day.  And given that they don’t ever do shit, they’re going to be looking for strong wood-chopping types).

Recommended Strategy: You won’t have any say in the matter.  Divas always get what they want.  If you pretend to be an idiot they will probably not want to work with you since they need someone to pull their weight (that’s called “providing leverage” in banking)

Mikey was a textbook Bitter Guy, but Double down was all Diva
Mikey was a textbook Bitter Guy, but Double down was all Diva

The Bitter Guy

Description: Routinely driven insane by illogical pay/ranking as compared to Diva classmates.  Despises himself for coexisting with investment bankers.  Cannot bring himself to utter jargon even when required to do so by the powers that be.    Refuses to play the game and eventually quits over perceived rampant injustices; later takes glee in the downfall of former colleagues and organization.

How He Will Impact You as a Junior Banker: The Bitter Guy is mostly pretty amusing; can be tough on the junior folks at first as his caustic memories of his early days on the job recall him putting in 23.5 hour days 6-7 days a week.  Diatribes following pay announcement are youtube-worthy.

Recommended Strategy: BGs are generally fine to work with; sometimes they will take it out on you, but hey – you are going to get screwed over by someone, right?  Might as well listen to some vitriol while you’re at it – just don’t let their bitterness creep into your system.

The Mom

Description: Common career arc for female robots: they handle their personal and professional lives as methodically as someone crossing items off a grocery list.  This grocery list always includes ample amounts of two things: maternity leave and bonuses collected.  Kudos to the ‘bots for figuring out the maternity leave/bonus arbitrage before the quants.  (Moms follow the exact opposite strategy as that insane Octomom – they would ideally be constantly pregnant for eight years rather than dropping double quads at one time – the IRR is much worse)

Tasteful yet stretchy business dress, will hold up through many bonus cycles!
Banker Moms practically created the maternity business suit market

How She Will Impact You as a Junior Banker: Exhibits some Family Guy characteristics, but is typically fairly junior (if at the still-pumping-out-kids stage).  Will generally need to leave the office earlier, so may result in more “carring” of documents and 9:00 PM conference calls (whereas everyone else would normally still be in the office).  Motherhood often lends a compassionate edge to the robotic personality, particularly in those Moms that are just hanging in for x more bonus cycles.

Recommended Strategy: I would say Moms are generally fine to work with, particularly the ones who lose a bit of their robotic edge with each birth.  They will be on leave roughly 50% of the time though – so be wary of who will fill their shoes when they’re out of the office – could be a Jargon Boy.