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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.