The Famous Five

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You may not be able to predict what questions you will be asked at an interview, but you can know the types of questions to expect. The questions banks ask will generally come from one of five categories.

Competency questions

Loved by graduate recruiters and human resources interviewers everywhere, the aim of this type of question is to establish your behavior in a given situation. This type of question allows us to focus on what the candidate brings to the table beyond their technical skill set, confirms Keisha Smith, global head of recruiting, Morgan Stanley. We want to determine whether candidates have the personal attributes to succeed. Do they have good judgment, are they self-starters, are they influential and can they lead?

Come with at least two answers prepared for each type of major employability skill or competency that you can identify.

Some examples:

  • Tell me about a time when you faced a challenging experience. How did you overcome it and what was the result?
  • Can you describe a situation in which you showed initiative?

Motivation questions

This is the "why this company/division/job" question. There is no excuse for not prepping this type of question correctly. They want to know a) if you know the difference between their bank/division/role and another, and b) if you have a genuine (or plausible) reason for wanting to work in it.

Some examples:

  • Why this particular division as opposed to sales and trading?
  • What set of skills does a private banker need?

Brainteaser questions

These are the apparently cryptic questions originating from the tech geek interview-style espoused by companies such as Google or Microsoft, which have migrated to interviews for banks. Often they will pop up in between competency, motivation and/or technical questions.

There is no right answer. While many are pure mental arithmetic, others are designed to see your logic in working them out.

Some examples:

  • Why are manhole covers round? (If you say, "Because the hole is round," you're out.)
  • What is 21 x 19?

Technical questions

Mostly asked by business interviewers, i.e., the people running the desks in the business area you want to join. They ask these to weed out the time-wasters - students who haven't kept up with what's going on in the economy or markets around them. Even at graduate level, a certain standard of industry knowledge is expected.

Some examples:

  • What is your top stock pick and why?
  • How would you persuade a German pensioner to save Spain?

Your questions for them

Yes, they do expect you to come with questions - at least two. Avoid the classic mistakes at this stage. One, thinking the interview is over now you've reached the "have you any questions for us?" stage. Two, using this as an opportunity to ask about pay, holidays or benefits. Instead, ask questions about the industry, company and the job itself. All safe.

Some examples:

  • I read recently that M&A activity is turning a corner. Would you be willing to give me your view on the M&A trend in the market?
  • How is performance on the graduate program measured?